Jaisalmer is a magical place, which is why our hostel, Mystic Jaisalmer, was oh so appropriate. Our group of eleven arrived around 5 am rubbing our eyes as we walked off the bus, into tuk-tuks and through the gate of the hostel. The young man working reception led us to the main foyer to discuss our sleeping options for the early AM. There were not enough beds available so we had a choice of 1) sleeping on the floor of the main reception area (which sounds weird but is very common in India) or 2) sleep in the open air on the rooftop of the hostel. The air was warm and we were all travelling with sleeping bags so we accepted the rooftop offer and followed him up two flights of stairs. Spread across the floor under the sheltered area of the rooftop was at least 15 sleeping mats (I wouldn't call them mattresses, a comfortable sleep doesn't really exist here) accompanied by huge, Indian styled pillows and blankets. Extremely luxurious for only 150 Rs. a night, plus with our late arrival we would be staying free of charge score! It was a very cozy nap as all eleven of us snuggled in under the enormous blankets. We technically slept in the rooftop restaurants “dining room” but it really all worked out to our benefit since chai was ready and waiting when we opened our eyes and coffee and breakfast was just a yawn away.
After breakfast we all walked over to Jaisalmer’s gigantic fort, which is located in the centre of the city. Inside you’ll find tourist attractions like the Jain Temple and the fort’s museum, as well as hundreds of different shops, restaurants and hotels. We cruised through the bumpy streets and in and out of all the different rooms inside the beautiful Jain temple. It was extremely hot, the hottest weather we had experienced so far in India, and thirst was constantly a concern. Overlooking the city we sat for some chai and coffee, enjoying the feeling of the sun hitting our bare shoulders. The young man working reception at the hostel told us that shopping and eating within the forts walls was quite expensive compared to the city, so we decided to head back out to eat and relax since the sun was at its highest point and melting everything within sight. Unfortunately he was totally wrong. The food, clothing and jewelry for sale outside the fort was actually extremely expensive and poor quality. I paid at least 30 Rs. more than usual at a random restaurant we found for a plate of chow mein and it wasn’t even chow mein, it was oily spaghetti. After lunch we all split up to get shopping done. I took to a walk around the fort to check out the city. It is actually quite small. A walk around the massive fortress took about 20 minutes and I saw just about everything. Afterwards I wandered back into the fort and bargained for a sweet deal to check out the fort’s museum “but ji, I’m not a tourist, I live here!” and snapped some sweet shots of the city from the highest tower. Just as I suspected on my walk, it truly is a small city. I think Bikaner is probably even double the size. Houses, shops and schools stretch out for maybe six or eight kilometres on each side of the fort which is followed by some greenery then pure desert. I continued my walk through the fort’s museum, spotting Mathilde (one of my new roommates from France) and Eileen, from Scotland, as I exited to the main alley. We took to a slow pace as we walked from the fort to the hostel, extremely sticky from the heat having been in the sun all day. We had all planned to go out for dinner somewhere in the city that evening but it was just too hot. We were all exhausted and too hungry to make an effort to leave Mystic. Fortunately the hostel was quite empty that evening and since we would be sleeping on the rooftop again, we made it our little home, cracking beers, blaring Spanish dance tunes and even helping the chefs cook our meals! It really was a great night.
We all awoke early the next morning, some with hangovers, to pack our bags and head out via jeep to the middle of the desert. We drove away from the city for a good 25 minutes before we reached our next mode of transportation: camels! Each of us got our own. I named mine Foamy. There is only four months in a year that camels have the opportunity to reproduce and unfortunately we were in the middle of those four months. My camel was constantly foaming at the mouth and making hilarious Chewbacca noises indicating how much he needed some “loving”.
We spent the morning riding through villages and getting used to how high off the ground we were on these massive camels. At one point while visiting a small village, the safari guides asked us if we wanted to buy a goat for dinner. It was a serious question and I seriously wanted to scream yes. Fresh goat meat over an open fire?! Call me West Indian but I’M IN!Unfortunately we didn’t end up slaughtering a goat, as some were a bit hesitant, and now I’m glad we didn’t. I’m quite enjoying my year of vegetarianism. Even though I eat 20 cookies a day because I’m already tired of vegetables and lentils.Lunch was spent under a tree in the middle of the desert while four out of five guides made us fresh chapatti and veg curry while the other helped the camels along with their reproduction process. Dinner and a show!
After a short siesta in the shade, we hopped back on our camels (more like struggled back on our camels) and took off through one more village and then into the sand dunes. As we got closer and closer, all our hearts started to race. It was so incredible. In the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Jaisalmer and Pakistan, our little group of eleven was completely alone atop massive sand dunes that seemed endless. We ran, jumped and rolled across them, taking hilarious action shots and exhausting our calve muscles trying to get through the heavy sand. As the sun began to set, we sipped chai and feasted on a dinner of chapatti, potatoes and rice. We spread out our sleeping bags and blankets and all laid together staring up at the stars by the fire side. Our guides treated us to the beautiful sound of them singing traditional Rajasthani songs and their hilarious rendition of “Barbie Girl” by Aqua with lyrics somewhere along the lines of “I’m a camel man, on the desert sand…come on camel let’s go desert”. I’m dying to know who introduced them to the song. They’re a legend.
Waking up to the sunrise was incredible, especially with a nice warm cup of chai in my hands. Breakfast was a mix of toast with jam, oatmeal and hard-boiled eggs, which we devoured before getting ready for another 45 minutes atop the camels. Although everyone’s legs were almost at the point of no return after sitting with our legs draped over the sides of a camel for almost an hour, (seriously, it's so painful) we couldn’t help but smile after such a fantastic weekend. We were picked up in a nearby village and driven back into the city where we enjoyed some much needed shower time back at Mystic as well as coffee and lunch. Nana and I wondered through the shops of the fort again snagging awesome deals on books and harem pants with our Indian-style haggling skills. We then celebrated our great finds with real Italian espresso at Haveli Hotel Suraj with Lala, the sweet young boy who works the rooftop restaurant.
It was 24 hours of travelling for most of the gang, as they were heading to either Naddi or Rait in Himachal Pradesh, but with just 6 hours between Jaisalmer and Gajner, myself, Mathilde and my other new roomie Lachlan from Australia, were all at ease. We made our way through the bus hugging everyone before jumping out at the Gajner bypass while the rest continued on to Bikaner to catch their train.
Within the first half an hour of being home, we all seemed to find our way to bed pretty quickly. I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on their faces as they got ready to hit the hay. It was the same smile I had when I first walked into the house. “Welcome home guys” I said before heading up to my room. And just like that, they were home, just like me.
Somewhere between the edge of Newfoundland and Vancouver Island.