India - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 199 (9)

Train to Jaipur

Thursday 23rd September

Today was our last day in Jaisalmer. We’ve both been very impressed with this little oasis in the middle of the desert. The small and relaxing atmosphere, with very little traffic and very much less pressure from the touts all around town, has made this one of our favourite places so far.

Technically, we had to check out of the room by nine in the morning but the staff were happy for us to sleep in and take a leisurely breakfast before storing our bags under lock and key in the cloakroom. We grabbed a rickshaw up into the fort to Little Tibet again for breakfast (why break with tradition?) and generally took things easy today. We strolled around a bit but never really found anything new in the fort and we eventually stumbled into one of the many Internet cafes dotted around the place to catch up on some e-mail. One of the websites I frequent quite regularly is the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree travel board. Although only one week into India, I’m still very much thinking of the logistics that lie ahead of us with regards to the countries that we are yet to visit. One of the problems that has been playing on my mind has been the national holiday that will take place across China in the first week of October. It’s looking more likely now that we are not going to be able to avoid this, due mainly to the more rapid than anticipated progress through India. I posted a message to one of the Thorn Tree members that lives in Xi’an (a teacher that I have agreed to visit when we get that far to spend an evening talking with some of her English students). I’m trying to ascertain just how much of a headache (with regards to accommodation and travel arrangements) being in China at this time might be. One possible solution that we’ve started to discuss is to fly from Delhi to Hong Kong as planned but to then fly to Beijing via Tokyo and spend a few days in Japan. I wanted to include Japan in our itinerary to begin with but I could never get it all worked out with the RTW ticket. We are already very near the maximum thirty four thousand miles capacity on our ticket as it is so including Japan on the main RTW ticket was never a possibility. There is still a little scope for some additional flights in our budget but not a lot. We’ll have to see if we can get some last minute flights or something and just try to wing it. The other problem with this solution is that Japan is an inherently expensive country to travel through, so I’ll have to spend some time examining the budget carefully to see if we can afford it. I hope so.

Having done what we could at the Internet café, we strolled back into town and wandered aimlessly around a bit, more to kill time than anything else. Next to the restaurant where we’ve eating the past couple of evenings is a rather nicely architected old building that just happens to be the very first in Jaisalmer that was built outside of the fort itself. It’s a rather important building, obvious from the artistry in its balconies and facades, and was the residence of the prime minister of Jaisalmer over four hundred years ago. Still occupied by the descendants of this local dignitary, part of the building is now a museum and for just a handful of Rupees, a guide took us around the place and showed us all it’s hidden secrets that reveal something of the life of it’s original occupant. The tour culminated, as might have been predicted, with the obligatory stop at the gift shop and the offer to buy something. We declined and left. As usual, although we run into some wonderful things each and every day that we are on the road, to do so is simply impractical.

We decided to stroll back to the hotel via a slightly different route than usual and, taking us completely by surprise, stumbled into a palace. We were particularly surprised to realise that this palace was not more than about two minutes walk from our hotel. How we missed its presence to begin with is something of a mystery. We wandered around inside the palace grounds for a bit a snapped a few shots before the heat of the day forced us back towards our hotel.

With little else to do for another couple of hours or so before we had to head out for the train station, we broke out the deck of cards that we brought with us and started a quick game of whist in the reception area. A couple of the staff members seemed to be eyeing us with intrigue and curiosity so I invited them to join us. I eventually persuaded first one and then two of them to join in and we had a lot of fun teaching them the game and just generally relaxing with them. It turned out to be a lot of fun and it’s these interactions with the locals that we enjoy most of all. If you stay in a place long enough and get to know the people a little more, the barrier between customer and service provider slowly breaks down and you get to experience the people behind the smiles. These are the people we enjoy most and we will now add this brief encounter to our slowly growing list of highlights of the trip so far.

The clock slowly edged towards our departure time and, as if by magic, a rickshaw driver arrived to take us to the station – arranged by courtesy of our new friends at the Jaisal Palace hotel. We bid our farewells, and with a handful of business cards to hand out to other travellers, we left to join our train.

The train station was empty compared to the bedlam at Jodhpur a couple of days ago. Just a handful of backpackers and a slightly higher number of locals were waiting to embark the train that was already standing there. Our carriage this time is practically empty and we now see that each of the bunks can be converted into chairs and benches. The air conditioning was already on and it was quite pleasant this time around. Although we will not be leaving the train in Jodhpur, we have two separate tickets and the seat assignments are different on the Jodhpur to Jaipur leg. The first thing I did after we were allowed onto the train was to speak with the attendant about securing our bunks for the entire journey so that we will not have to relocate ourselves when we arrive at the half way point in Jodhpur. We will almost certainly be asleep by this time. The second leg of the trip to Jaipur will take place through the night with an estimated arrival time of between five and six in the morning. Being the capital city of Rajasthan, the station at Jaipur will likely be just as chaotic, if not more so, than it was in Jaisalmer. We’ve already called ahead to a hotel from the guidebook and there should be someone there waiting for us. Having already gone through the experience in Jaisalmer, we should be better prepared for the onslaught that surely awaits us.

The journey so far has been a much more relaxing and less shocking experience compared to the previous one. It’s really quite enjoyable to travel this way and we’ve been chatting with various people up and down the carriage, including some kids that jumped on temporarily at one of the many small stations that we’ve so far stopped at. A civil servant with the Indian customs department sat with us for a while and told us all about the re-opening of a train line between India and Pakistan that will pass through Jaisalmer. This is one of the signs of the easing of tensions between the two nuclear powers and this must surely be a good thing.