India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 198 (8)

Jaisalmer

Wednesday 22nd September

Jaisalmer remains the city of relaxation as far as we are concerned. I kept dreaming about what it would be like when we would be awoken early in the morning by the power cut and the resulting sky-rocketing temperature in the room. In the end, the power cut never came and we woke up at around nine thirty, perfectly relaxed and ready to start the day.

After donning our tourist attire, we set out into town to grab a rickshaw up to the fort. We are getting much better at dealing with the rickshaws now. The trick is not to ask the price but to simply state the destination and get in. This shows the driver that you are wise to the cost of things. Asking the price up front is an immediate give-away that you don’t know what the ride should cost and he is then free to inflate the price wildly – which they do with unfailing regularity. Upon arrival, we simply hand over the correct fare, which we have either previously determined or worked out depending on the duration of the ride.

Asides from camel safaris into the desert, the other major attraction of Jaisalmer is the fort that towers over the small city and the various Jain temples and other architectural wonders that lie within its walls. Jaisalmer is itself a very small place and you can pretty much walk from one end of town to the other in less than thirty minutes. A huge fortress-like wall encloses all the way around the fort with twenty-metre diameter, semi-circular protrusions at regular intervals. The entire complex, including all the buildings within it, appears to be made of sandstone. Indeed the entire city of Jaisalmer appears to be made of this same sandstone and the whole place takes on a golden glow, earning it the name “The Golden City.”

Once inside the main gate we walked up the ramp into the fort complex itself. There really isn’t much different between wandering around in the town and wandering around inside the fort. It only really looks like a fort from the town outside and below, where the fort wall is the only thing that is visible. Form the inside, it’s just like the town itself with the same style buildings and alleyways littered with tourist bazaars and shops. The difference, other than the twenty or thirty or se metres of additional elevation, is the addition of the fabulous Jain temples.

Before seeking out the Jain temples, we went for breakfast at the guidebook recommended Little Tibet. It’s a nice little restaurant run by a group of Tibetans that have a particularly good track record with hygiene. It’s apparently one of the few places where you can eat a salad since they use iodine water to wash the ingredients. Salads are usually a no-no in third world countries because of the problem of washing the ingredients with contaminated water. Ice in drinks is also best avoided for the same reason. Breakfast was very nice and extremely cheap. We fed and watered ourselves for the princely sum of just R155 ($3.5).

Everything in Jaisalmer is within walking distance. The fort sits to one side of the city but is also quite compact and it was just a couple of narrows streets before we bumped into the complex of seven Jain temples. We paid for our tickets to take our cameras and ourselves inside and removed our shoes at the foot of the steps. Removing shoes is always required at Jain temples and I also had the foresight this morning to remember to put my legs on too.

We’ve visited a few Jain temples so far and I thought that the huge one at Ranakpur could not be topped for its magnificently detailed sculptured architecture. I was wrong. These temples are a complete miracle of engineering and artwork. There were the usual Buddha-like deity statues dotted around the place, with an extra-large one right in the centre of each temple, but the pillars and archways, in fact everything inside and out, was of the most incredible detailed sculpturing that I believe to be humanly possible. It was simply incredible and I didn’t know where to point the camera first. I was completely awestruck. Each of the temples was slightly different from the rest but the same incredible detail was common throughout. It must have taken dozens of years if not a lot longer to build (carve might be a better word) the detail to its current splendour. Several Jain priests wandered around inside each of the temples and they would offer titbits of information to us as we strolled around inside. They told us to walk in a clockwise rotation inside the temples as this brings good luck. They also suggested a small offering of a few coins into a tin with a burning candle for additional good luck, although I’m not if it was theirs or mine.

One of the temples was home to a small colony of tiny bats. The ceilings were quite low and we could have touched them quite easily. Every now and then, one of them would fly off and they were quite fascinating themselves but provided only a minor diversion from the awesome temples themselves.

After we had stood in awe of the temples for long enough, we left and went next to the museum, which has been converted from the residence of one of the maharajahs of times past. Its architecture was very different to that of the Jain temples but no less impressive. The same intricate pattern in the balconies and window arches that is prevalent in so many of the other buildings of Jaisalmer was also present here but in a grander scale. The roof of the museum serves as the highest point of the fort and city of Jaisalmer and the resulting vista were incredible.

The mid-day sun had rocketed the mercury to an incredible forty-one degrees Celsius (about a hundred and seventeen degrees Fahrenheit) and we had both reached the peak of our endurance. With a slow and steady pace, we made our way out of the fort and headed back to the hotel to chill out some more. The relief our cool room and a warm shower were both very welcoming.

After a sufficient rest, I decided to half fill a bucket with some warm water and some of our supply of washing powder and washed some of our clothes. For a dollar or so, I could have sent the few bits and pieces out but our departure tomorrow made this a risky proposition.

I had the hotel arrange our onward train tickets to Jaipur yesterday and went downstairs to collect the tickets. Unbeknownst to us, there had been quite a bit of confusion with our booking due to a misunderstanding on the part of the booking agent. Apparently, they booked us first on the wrong train and had to cancel this booking and re-book us on the correct train. In doing so, they had to pay cancellation costs and this wiped out their small margin they made on my booking. We are now booked on tomorrows late afternoon train to Jodhpur, which arrives shortly before midnight and leaves almost straight away again for Jaipur. We should pull up in Jaipur at around five or six in the morning and will have travelled some five hundred Kilometres all told. In the cramp conditions, it should be an interesting trip. It is the same class carriage that brought us here. Even thought it is the same train and we won’t even have to get off, we have different bunk assignments between the two legs to we will technically need to re-locate ourselves after arriving in Jodhpur. We will ask the carriage attendant about arranging for us to remain in the same bunks. Whether this will be possible will probably be down to how the attendant feels, and, more likely than not, the size of my tip. The total cost of the two tickets for the two of us came to R1,800 ($40).

Since we enjoyed our meal so much yesterday evening, we returned there again this evening. It was just as pleasant and we received a few pointers from the owner about how to watch out for ourselves in Jaipur. Jaipur and Agra are apparently the worst places in the whole of Rajasthan for pushy touts and being ripped off. I’m not quite sure what to expect and we don’t know how long we will stay there. As usual, we’ll figure this out along the way.

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