Well it’s quite possible that we’ve found our favourite place in India so far…Jaisalmer has offered us up a couple of very unique experiences (in completely different ways) as well as being a great looking city with oodles of character – narrow streets and building with intricate carvings, an ancient fort rising above the town and without out a doubt the best chai that I’ve had in India! I’m going to split Jaisalmer up into two blog posts – one about the city itself and the things we’ve checked out, the other post is about how Jono and I happened to become Indian TV advertisement stars overnight – yep we will be on Indian TV at some stage in the near future! But first a bit about Jaisalmer:
Jaisalmer is a small town (population 60k) in the middle of the Rajistan desert – approximately 160km from the Pakistan border. The journey out there was something I’d never experienced before; a train journey through a desert. Sand went everywhere throughout the train (see photo on the right) and it was hot work but we did eventually arrive and made our way in a safari jeep to Renuka guesthouse (a great family run spot with fantastic people). After a breakfast at the rooftop restaurant, I made my way into the town to have a look around. The main shopping area was a narrow street that ran for about 1km, it was packed with all sorts of shops – stationary, shoes, sweets, juice, leather bags, paint, televisions, food etc and of course a number of salesmen trying to get you into their shop; although it was commercial it had a nice relaxed slow paced feeling to it. That evening Jono and I headed up to the top of a hill at the back of Jaisalmer to check out the sunset (romantic…no not quite). It gave us a great view of the fort with some awesome colours coming through in the photo’s. A few of the local kids were inquisitive and came up to chat with us, they were definitely from very poor families and did ask for money but once we’d established we weren’t there to hand out rupee they chatted to us, had a few laughs and urged us to take photos of them – quite a cool experience. Oh and we also enjoyed a Kingfisher while sitting on the hill surveying the scene!
Jaisalmer is famous for it’s camel safari’s– tourists come from all over to get onto a camel and head out into the Rajistani desert for days. Jono and I, knowing each others patience for heat, sand and camels, decided that a half day sunset trip would probably suit us better so we booked in for 3pm. We were picked up (along with 4 others from our guest house) in a jeep and taken out into the desert; on the way stopping at a temple and a local swimming hole which Jono and I launched ourselves into off the diving spots. We arrived out in the desert and hopped aboard a camel – we all got our own camel and each camel was lead by ‘driver’ a local village person who held the reigns and walked beside the camel as we rode it. I, of course, got the camel that had the least padding on the seat so after 30 mins was suffering from a rather tender butt. Being the desert, we also were quite thirsty and after 2 hours Jono and I had both finished our water bottles and proceeded to get ‘parched as’ until we eventually returned to the guesthouse later that night and knocked back some water – thirsty is an understatement! On our camel trek we traversed some pretty amazing sand dunes, that were all contoured by the wind, got to check out some of the local bugs (dung beetles that roll the camel crap around the desert…quite funny to watch).
The trip ended with us stopping on a dune and waiting for the the sun to set, luckily one of the locals had brought beer along for us to purchase so we sat there with a Kingfisher watching the sun go down – a magic sight. One of the funny parts of the trip was experienced by Jono…one of the girls who was on the trek claimed she’d forgotten her water so Jono kindly leant her some of his, she demolished half of it and put it in her bag! When we dismounted the camel Jono asked for it back only to find that there were a couple of mouthfuls left. The funny part, well for me anyway, was when the same girl pulled another bottle of water out of her bag (that she clearly had forgotten about it) and started drinking it without offering Jono any – I laughed and Jono well, grimaced..? haha – poor bugger! We made it back to town in one piece and drank water like our lives depended on it (which quite frankly I thought it did).
Our other few days (aside from our TV debut day) were spent exploring Jaisalmer town, and enjoying some of the food and drink that it had to offer. We visited Jaisalmer fort (see photo’s below) which was built in 1156 by the ruler at the time and was used throughout the years as a defence against invasion. Much of the old city resided within the fort walls so it was an important strucutre for the people of Jaisalmer! The fort also contained the Maharaja’s (kings) palace which we explored for a few hours…
The food and drink in Jaisalmer was great, as I mentioned above, Jaisalmer housed the best chai house in India (in my experienced opinion!) It was a place I visited daily and got to know the young guy running it (see photo right). It had been in the family for 3 generations and running since the 60’s. These guys churned out a heap of chai and had a delivery service to local shop keepers and taxi drivers! “Chai” is basically a cup of tea India style, they boil up milk and water and tea leaves in a pot – creating a hot milky tea mixture, then throw in some sugar, and mashed cardamon and cracked pepper – to give it a spicy taste. It sounds a little strange but has a unique and rich flavour that had me devouring the stuff by the cupful (they serve Chai in small amounts – say 100ml cups). We really got stuck into the meat in Jaisalmer (Chicken Korma, Masala, Jalfrezi and Mutton Do-Piaza, Sagwala) and have not had any repercussions from it – all in all I think you can eat meat in India provided you a) are eating at a clean establishment b) the curry is hot and c), probably the most key one, there are plenty of Indians eating at the restaurant. Oh my Chipati record…I managed to eat 11 chipati with my Mushroom Masala one night; a huge effort! Chipati is a flour bread cooked in a tandoor or in a shallow pan – we don’t get a lot of it in NZ, it’s probably most like a roti, but with less butter and thinner. We experienced a Rajistani Thali – which is a meal of curries (3 vege curries), dahl (lentil curry), rice, breads (chipati) and riata; all served in a tin tray with dividers. You are served all the food at one go, but they just give you small amounts of each curry which you work your way through…and the best bit…when you’ve finished what’s in your tray they’ll come back and top up all the curry (even with different types) and lay out more bread and rice for you – it’s all you can eat India style and only costs $3 NZD!!! GOLD!
Personally Jaisalmer was my favourite spot in India – the contrast to NZ, the great food and thet relaxed pace of the place made it memorable – OK and some pretty unique experiences (camel safari and TV shoots) gave it the edge! And there have been some great places we’ve visited to to take the ‘favourite’ spot is saying something!
Next up on the blog is all about how Jono and I hit the big time on Indian TV…well were stars in a TV advertisement anyway!