In the evening sun, honey coloured Jaisalmer Fort rises out of the surrounding desert plains like a giant’s sandcastle. The town is clustered around the base of its ramparts in a maze of narrow lanes. We walked through the huge doors of the fort, with their rows of steel spikes 8 foot from the ground to stop any charging elephants, then climbed the steep path up into the fort. The road turning at 90 degrees several times as it climbed to the top, it’s layout designed to stop any charging elephants from building up speed. Businesses, shops, restaurants, temples and about 3000 thousand people live within the forts, so we took some time wandering around. Finding a specific building inside its twisting narrow lanes is hard as the buildings are so tightly packed together in such a small place, even with directions from of lots of helpful locals. Eventually we found a beautiful Jain temple full of intricate carvings and spread across several buildings wedged together. Climbing up onto the high roof of a restaurant we could start to mentally piece together a map of what had been so confusing on the ground, as well as marvel at the wide empty desert just beyond the edge of town. The Maharaja’s Palace was another maze of rooms with delicately carved screens for the ladies in purdah to peer through; and peaceful courtyards all with a fascinating history of battles won and lost. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring all the little nooks and crannies of Jaisalmer’s fairy tale castle .
Beyond the limits of Jaisalmer the wide open desert was calling us. 40 kilometres from town in the beautiful dunes of Sam Sam, you could live your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies on a colourfully bedecked camel. As its the middle of winter, the midday temperatures are a very manageable 25°C, perfect for playing in the dunes. With few other punters at that time of the day for their camel, tented camps, tea stalls and jeep safaris the touts even jumped out in front of the truck to get us to stop. It looked like it wouldn’t be a relaxing afternoon, so we continued further along the road past some villages till we found some smaller dunes just for us to play on. We spent a very relaxing afternoon with just the odd tractor or jeep passing by, then returned to Sam for a sunset camel ride.
That night we returned to the solitude of our earlier spot to admire the stars in the dark skies overhead. It was so lovely and peaceful that the following day we changed our minds about moving on and ventured a little further on where a helpful local jeep driver had told us that there were even bigger dunes. We could see tiny desert antelope on the tops of the dunes and we didn’t see another human all day, the solitude was good for our souls. We heard later from someone we met that although we were still 40kms from the Pakistan border, that the army wouldn’t want foreigners there but there was no sign and no one showed any sign of stopping us as we passed through the village of Sam several times.
Leaving the dunes area the following day, Steve recognised an interesting looking truck from a Facebook picture. It turned out that it was built for specialised small overlanding trips in India, after sharing stories the owner gave us some good tips. So with his advice we changed our plans for our long day’s drive to Pushkar and stopped early in the little village of Khichan. Demoiselle Cranes from Siberia make one of the hardest migrations in the world, over the Himilayas, to overwinter in the deserts of Rajasthan. The villagers from Kichan started feeding them in the 70’s and now up 20,000 flock there. Great clouds of them could be seen flying in formation over the village and we found big groups of them hanging out at a couple of waterholes.
The town of Pushkar is known for its annual camel fair but even outside that time the northern road was lined with cameleers with their brightly bedecked charges. No more camels for us though, we wanted to explore around the holy lake and its bathing ghats. India is a very spiritual country and we’ve been lucky to visit some of its holy sites, to be honest I was rather down on Pushkar finding the people far more interested in rupees rather than souls. But we had a good last evening eating over looking one of the lake’s ghats where the girls enjoyed playing with a friend and things were more relaxed as the sun set.