As befits India’s self-proclaimed most colourful state, several of Rajasthan’s cities are referred to by colour – the Blue City (Jodhpur), the Pink City (Jaipur), and now we arrived at the Golden City, Jaisalmer.
The most westerly of Rajasthan’s cities, Jaisalmer (really little more than a town in size or population) sits on the edge of the Great Thar Desert, some 50 miles from the India / Pakistan boarder. The cities focal point is (another) great fort perched like a giant golden sandcastle atop an 80 meter hill rising up from the surrounding desert. Unlike most of Rajasthans forts, this one remains very much living and breathing with around a quarter of Jaisalmer’s population living and working within its walls.
With the surge in tourism over the last 20 years, Jaisalmer’s 12th century plumbing is apparently now bursting (or more accurately leaking) at the seams, a particularly unsavoury prospect given their very much ‘open’ nature in the first place. Regrettably the resulting subsidence is now threatening the forts structural integrity and visitors are encouraged via the hugely influential ‘tourist Bible’ (Lonely Planet or Rough Guide depending upon your ‘religion’) not to stay inside the fort walls. Taking this guidance we opted for an ‘outside-in’ view, and checked into a guest house with an open air rooftop restaurant and a stunning view up to the golden sandcastle.
Tourists and travellers come to Jaisalmer for two reasons, first for the city and second to take a camel safari out into the desert. Not wishing to break with convention, this is exactly what we intended to do with our 5 days.
We spent the first couple of days ambling around the fort and surrounding town, admiring the views and taking in the incredibly intricate carving of sandstone haveli’s. These are basically status symbol homes of wealthy merchants, built in the 18th and 19th centuries with the proceeds of Jaisalmer’s strategic trade position on the main camel-train route into central Asia.
What we also noticed as we wandered the town was a step up in the sales banter from the densely packed shops selling the usual array of leather bags, shoes, and belts, pashminas, saris and handicrafts, “come make your girlfriend / boyfriend more attractive” being the most amusing / offensive depending on which of us it was aimed at.
While typically crazy, noisy, whiffy and hectic, Jaisalmer’s a fun and comparatively relaxed place to wander around, and we enjoyed a few days doing just that. We also received the great news that in our absence we’d become Aunty Rach and uncle Rich… congratulations to Lorna & Si, and we’re looking forward to meeting you in July baby Samuel!
Safari adventure in part two…