Enduring Rajastan – A Continuing Journey Back in Time.

If you missed it, make sure to catch up with part one of our Rajastan journey.

We continued on from Bikaner, further into the desert west towards Jaisalmer. Located near the Pakistan border, Jaisalmer has a significant military presence and an impressive fort. Built in 1156 and massive, the 20foot sandstone gates hide dozens of hidden corridors and alleyways, all containing a jumble of shops and spice markets and often surrounded by more of those amazingly elaborate carved doors and windows.

With temperatures near freezing and Jim fighting a head cold, we headed up the hill to check out the fort. Unlike most of the forts we’ve seen so far, Jaisalmer is unique in that about one quarter of the town’s population actually lives within the walls of the fort.

Because we were heading into the desert we needed an ATM and, alas, not only was Jim fighting a cold but his suspiciously undercooked eggs at breakfast were reeking havoc with his system. While he tried to hold it together in the back of our car it would be up to me to stand in line with the dozen or so men at the bank. As is typical in many other cultures, personal space is not viewed in the same way we do and seeing the line pushing and shoving towards the front made my stomach sink! Women in Northern India are not well respected and it’s a very repressive society in many ways. Even as a Westerner, something that has gotten me a bit of status in other countries, I was absolutely considered a third rate citizen and had been dealing with the attitudes of men all along our journey so far. Often I was not allowed to order something different from Jim at restaurants and I was certainly not allowed to sign in our information in the multiple enormous books that were required at each hotel. I would be interested to know how one or two women traveling alone are allowed to even check in!

Luckily, as I approached the front of the line and felt my anxiety rising, one of the soldiers two people up from me noticed my presence, signaled me to come to the front, and shielded me from the other men while I retrieved my money. I will be forever grateful for his help in a pretty minor, but relatively stressful situation.

The desert camp was a small camp, with perhaps a dozen rooms surrounding a courtyard. We promptly got Jim into bed, as by this time he was vomiting with great regularity. Although a sunset camel ride was included in our stay, I was reluctant to leave him but he insisted, more so because he just wanted to lie in the fetal position in peace, than because he thought I needed to head out into the desert on a camel!

Upon arriving back at camp I saw he had not been lonely! It seems every other travelers driver, two or three local doctors and the head of the camp had all been ministering to him with great regularity. Multiple types of treatments were being tried out on him and yet, none worked for long and he was truly miserable!

Because he really did just request some peace & quiet, I did take up one of the other travelers drivers on his offer to show me how to make mutton masala curry.  I am afraid I never did understand his name enough to tell you now, but he was friends with our driver, Eunis, and slightly more modern thinking than the other men I’d met so far. We often talked food over drinks before dinner and he offered to show me his recipe. This began one of the most extraordinary couple of hours I’ve ever experienced. The men were cooking for the entire camp for dinner, all within an 8’X10′ room in the back. With no stove, they did all the cooking on two gas burners, the younger men crouched while cutting meat and vegetables on cutting boards set directly on the pressed dirt floor. I was not able to help, of course, so stayed quietly in one corner, trying to simply stay out of everyone’s way! The driver did go over each step of what he was doing with me so I understood the process and to this day I am still gobsmacked at the amazing dinner these men were able to turn out for the entire camp using extremely rudimentary tools.

And then I saw her. We had become accustomed, of course, to seeing cows EVERYWHERE in India. We had stepped in cow dung, been stuck in traffic jams due to a cow napping in the street, and smelled them all around us.

But this one was different. I had simply glanced out the door of the kitchen and spotted her watching me, the most beautiful cow I’d ever seen. She was black and had enormously long,spiky eyelashes. Around her neck was a jeweled necklace. Decorated cows were not incredibly rare here but her necklace was particularly beautiful. Around each ankle, a lovely bracelet and, yes, earrings dangled from each ear. She had an expression on her face of complete contentment. I knew I had to not only tell Jim about this lovely creature but to get a picture of her, unfortunately, by the time I got back to our room for the camera and back to the kitchen she was gone. Was she a figment of my imagination? Who can say. I don’t believe in reincarnation, and yet I felt my mom’s presence at that moment in a way I can’t fully explain, even to myself. Whether I was just feeling the magic of this country or the romantic notion of being out in the desert had gotten to me, I’m not sure. But I will say that the experience of being allowed through the back door of the kitchen experience, combined with my cow will be an evening I will always remember.

Our evening in the desert was over, with Jim having experienced none of it, but at least he was feeling a bit better and we hit the road once again, this time to arrive in Jodhpur, known as the Blue City because of the large number of buildings painted a lovely blue shade.

It made for a very scenic hike into the fort with the city stretching out blue below us. We, once again, stayed at a beautiful heritage Haveli and were even upgraded to a suite which turned out to be quite unusual in that the bathroom was through a door and up 12 steps to where the toilet and shower lived.

 

Our rooftop restaurant had it all; fantastic chai, views of some of the old city, and monkeys!

India is all about the spices and we had already passed hundreds of inviting spice markets full of tantalizing spices but in Jodhpur, we finally had to the time to actually explore some and found far too much we wanted to bring home and, more importantly, get cooking with. The fort tour was an audio tour this time, an appealing option for us because, no matter how good your local guide is, they all have a particular story and route they like to take and the audio gave us the time to wander freely on our own.

So far, we had seen not a single woman working in a job that allowed contact with travelers and so I was fascinated to spend some time watching the women outside the fort shaping and hand making the bangles every Indian woman, and myself at this point, wore in multiples.

Next stop, Ranakpur, a small town set in the countryside and well known for it’s extraordinary Jain temple. By this time I had acquired Jim’s headcold and was looking forward to 2 nights in one location with some time to just laze about and read. Our bed was one of the more comfortable of the trip and each day we were thrilled to watch the feeding of the brilliantly colored birds at feeding time and watch the antics of the local monkeys.

 

This temple became one of my favorites throughout the country. As I have mentioned often, the Indians are master carvers and we’ve seen one incredible door/ window/ fort after another, but I was overwhelmed by the temple near Ranakpur.

 

Next up, our journey continues through Southern Rajastan with stops in Udaipur, Pushkar, and Jaipur! Stay tuned for more adventures in India.

 

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