We arrived in Jaisalmer, the western-most outpost of Rajasthan, as the Christmas Day sun was setting. It was the gateway to the desert and our ultimate destination after two days of bus travel. The girls had made arrangements for our accommodation hours earlier at the bus station in Jodhpur, but it was still an unexpected surprise to see a crooked-toothed young man wide eyed and parted hair jostled in amongst the touts and rickshaw hustlers holding a tissue paper sign in block print sharpie: JENNY, EMILY, BREYAN.
The Hotel Jaisal View rests on the northern rim of the city. The rooftop provides a great view of the urban center below spilling forth from the 12th century era fort. To the west a smattering of windmills and to the east miles of scrub desert out to the horizon. It is out there that the Indian army tests and buries their nuclear weapons. Not the cheeriest conversation piece perched on a crisp morning awaiting the sunrise.
The hotel was run by a man named Anna who drove a motorcycle with his name emblazoned upon it. He was a schmoozer, always appearing mildly but pleasantly intoxicated. The rate was $3.30 a night. After three days the room tab would be dwarfed by the beer tab.
We woke up in the pre-dawn to scramble and stumble up a cow path to the point for optimal sunrise viewing. Unaided by caffeine. Somewhat unfortunately that would become a theme here in India. They grow a lot of coffee in this country they just don’t have much interest in drinking it.
Waiting for the day to break we met a man of the Bhopa caste, folk musicians. (Jenny had met and befriended musicians of the same caste indigenous to Rajasthan when she was in Pushkar and posted this video on YouTube). He insisted on us accompanying him back down to his house. We slunk past three children lingering in different stages of sleep to meet his pregnant wife in the back room cooking chai over an open flame. She made jewelry and sold it to the tourists from a roadside blanket in the fort. We agreed to stop in and see her that afternoon when we were sightseeing. The two boys awoke, crawled into our laps, fed Brian bidies and told Jenny jokes. The young girl cried and everyone laughed sympathetically. An offer was extended to return for dinner and a private concert. We marveled at the course our morning had taken.
The fort at Jaisalmer was built in 1156 and people still live there. About a quarter of the population lives inside and many more venture in every day to ply their tourist trades for at least four months a year. This place bakes in the summer. There are crowds and vendors but it is easy to slink away and see the living parts of this giant. We find friendly people. A man takes us up to the rooftop of his brother/cousin’s homestay. We spy three big touring motorcycles outside and smile. (As a side-note Jenny and I have seen three groups of touring bicyclists thus far. One on the bus ride through rural Rajasthan to Jaisalmer, one in Udaipur, and one at the train station in Mumbai.)
The towering fortress with its elegant havelis is always going to be under threat. Climate change and plumbing infrastructure are the most immediate concerns. The place was not built for water. It became listed as a world heritage site and it would be a great achievement for mankind and for all the people of this city if it were preserved. Smithsonian has published a good piece on the town and the fort.
Wendy, ethnobotanist and ex-patriot from Madison, joined the crew making us four strong heading over to the bhopa community for dinner. Brian straggled behind humoring the masses of street kids. He arrived and found the ladies cross legged on a patio awaiting the musicians. He couldn’t get those street kids off of his mind. So cute. So excitable…so dirty. Little dirty dirtballs. 12 Pig Pens. Grabby, germy fingers and snotface. Did he really eat a grape out of that one’s hands? His mind took an abrupt turn down into the depths of obsessive compulsion. There was no hand sanitizer. Invisible things were crawling on him spreading up from his own throbbing hands. He excused himself and took off for the hotel.
Brian and his mustache are very popular here in Jaisalmer. This contributes to his natural proclivity to wander. So it wasn’t shocking when he returned an hour later comfortably cleaner and slightly drunker.
The food proved to be fantastic. The chapatis cooked over the open coals still rank as the best we have had. This is quite a feat considering chapatis are a staple of every meal. Overall it was a tremendous experience meeting this family in the morning, visiting with them working that afternoon and feasting as guests of honor with their musical friends that evening. Not something you will find in the Lonely Planet.