Jaisalmer…Hot, Hot, Hot!

Jaisalmer came into existence as a town due to its position on the Silk Route and was an important stop for traders as they passed through this fairly inhospitable part of the world. As we approached the town we passed very little for ages apart from the odd village, otherwise it was pretty desolate and while there appeared to be farms it was so dry it was difficult to imagine how anything could grow out here at all. Jaisalmer basically sits in a desert and the only thing west of here is Pakistan and that border is closed at the moment.

We had been warned about the heat here and this is by far the hottest place we have been in India with day time temperatures well over 40 and the temperature not falling below 30 throughout the evening. It feels like a relentless wall hitting you in the face and has meant that we haven’t been able to be too active during our time here.  

We remember when we were driving through Death Valley in Nevada and the car temp gauge reported that it was 47 degrees and we were both amazed. Well here our app is reporting that it gets up to 44 or 45 most days!! The main difference being that no one lived in Death Valley yet here there is a town and villages.

The main centrepiece of Jaisalmer is the sandstone fort and the town spreads out around it. The place is small enough that you can see the start of the desert at the edge of the town. Within the fort walls is a bustling town full of hostels, guest houses, roof top restaurants and Jain temples. Once again the Jain temples have been carved with amazing intricate skill. As it’s quiet time the guesthouses, restaurants and shops all have touts stood outside attempting to get our trade. Walking around in the heat constantly being badgered by touts can be a little exhausting on occasion but we always try to smile and be polite. Sometimes though…

All the buildings in the town are made from sandstone and even the new buildings have to have at the very least a sandstone exterior. The town in full of havelis which are ornately carved doorways and facades of buildings. They are gorgeous structures and while most of the older ones were built in the 18th to 20th centuries it was refreshing to see that some newer buildings (built in the last five to ten years) had embraced the style too. We had a great time wandering around the streets gazing at the wonderful buildings.

The town was a veritable rabbit warren and was pretty easy to get lost in. There was a Main Street running through the centre which was only two metres wide and both sides were lined with shops selling everything you could possibly want and the streets were filled with both parked and moving motorbikes, pedestrians, rick shaws and of course cows and goats and dogs. It was quite an incredible street to walk down and every time we did I think we saw something new. Again though the place felt safe and if it wasn’t for the heat and the annoying touts we could have spent a lot longer wandering around and lunching on superb samosas.

Apart from the fort the other main tourist attraction was camel riding but we had read some indifferent reviews and we decided to give it a miss. It sounded a bit like we just got ferried out by jeep to a spot where we would go for an hours camel ride then sleep in the dunes. As it turned out we were lucky we didn’t go as both evenings there were the most incredible thunderstorms! Just like at home all of a sudden the sky exploded into a rage of lightning and torrential rain. We could see the storms perfectly from or balcony and when the rains came we saw the kids all stood outside enjoying the coolness of the water. The roads all flooded and the worst sight was seeing all the rubbish floating down with the current. The only heartening fact was that it was the first rain for almost a year so it wasn’t that much of a build up considering the time elapsed.

Almost as soon as the storm had come it had disappeared and the heat returned. It was amazing to see how quickly everything dried up afterwards and people were back to normal.

One advantage to visiting during the off season is that some great deals on hotels can be found and I found a great place perched on a hillside on the outskirts of town looking back at the fort. The place looked brand new to us and had to have been one of the best built places we have seen in India. The fixtures and fittings wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of the flash new houses being built on the Sunshine Coast. Plus there was air con and a view of the fort right from our bedroom window!

The hotel itself was situated away from all the other hotels and while the building itself was well built the other houses around the area weren’t so good. The houses were built of stone and had corrugated roofs and therefore were in better shape than others we had seen. The artisan locals living there were all very friendly towards us and it was fascinating watching the goings on in the village. It seemed to be that one family lived in one room and they often escaped the heat of the night by sleeping on their roofs.

The owners of the hotel said that a share of the profits from the business went into helping this local community and as a result of money’s raised by our fees buildings had been built for the people there and help with living costs too. It was really nice to see someone trying to give back to the community.

We had been upgraded to the best room and had a huge balcony outside where we could sit and eat and chat. We had the staff all to ourselves and their grasp of English was good enough that we could have some great conversations. So our three nights in Jaisalmer turned into something of a home stay which was fantastic. We managed to have some superbly interesting conversations with the guys and would love to go back and stay there again. It would be far too long winded to list all the conversations but I will note some points we thought most interesting.

The first point has been covered before and is the issue of arranged marriages. It is interesting to note that although all the staff were married none of the wives worked in the hotel, they remained at home out in the villages. There also didn’t seem to be much love between the boys and their wives. In fact I think it would be fair to say that they would have moved away from India to marry a western woman and earn some money. Although having said that they would move away they all said they would move back to India afterwards. It seems to be the idea of earning enough money to set up a business in India which seems to drive them.

The arranged marriage issue is an incredible difference between our culture and theirs and just when you think how similar we all are it crops up and makes us realise how massively different that choice makes us. I am not saying that every marriage in the west is between two people who have fallen madly in love with each other but the ideal of picking your life partner voluntarily is definitely evident. Whereas in India I couldn’t imagine falling in love with someone and then not being allowed to marry them. Maybe that is why the boys hang out with the boys and the girls with the girls? No temptation so therefore less disappointment.

The other interesting discussion point centred around Indians’ belief in the value of education and religion. Here in India we are lead to believe that education is available for all free of charge and that if a child is smart enough and works hard enough they can go to University and achieve all they would want. We have noticed that people are very proud of how well their kids are doing at school or how smart individuals are. This value in education combined with the teachings of Hinduism have resulted in a practice of living which means that India can survive.

By this I mean that (it was their belief) that the society could cope with the huge numbers of people by having people educated enough to understand issues. Whilst also being taught a belief system which preached mostly about acceptance and finding inner peace. Whether he was right or not it was very interesting to discuss.

On a more basic level it was just nice to relax and feel at home with such an amazing view as a backdrop. It has definitely wetted our appetite for more discussions for we have found that as we have learnt more we have more to ask. T

Jaisalmer Fort and the town in front and the desert behind

Pretty superb view from our balcony.

The fort was lit up every night.  In the foreground its wedding season in India so this courtyard of apartments was set up for weddings every night we were here.

The pace of Jaisalmer.

From above it all looks absolutely chaotic.

The beautifully carved havelis.

Such beautiful buildings all crammed in together.

The entrance to the rabbit warren inside the fort.

Plenty of stuff for sale.

Finding shade and sitting in it seems to be the main pastime of the locals here.  Yes they shout out to see if you want to buy anything but there is no pressure.

Just wonderful walking around the streets here.

All the bags are definitely sun hardened.

In amongst all the buildings were the odd Jain Temple.

Inside the temples were the usual intricate carvings.

The local water man, selling cups of water.

The village surrounding our hotel, it was fascinating watching the goings on all day.

Crazy to see satellite dishes on the huts, but we have seen them on slums too! But great to see the kids all playing in the streets and on the rooftops.

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