The Colours of Rajasthan – Travels with Jules in India!
March 2017 Part 3
After three days enjoying the surreal landscapes and beautiful people of Jawai (see part 2) we were on the road again … 9 hours of pot holes, roadworks, camels, overloaded trucks and goats …. I have to point out that I would never book this routing for clients! As usual, on a ‘busmans’ holiday I was trying to cram in too much! Hopefully soon the roadworks will be finished … but I’m not holding my breath there seemed to be a distinct lack of roads actually being worked on!! After a stop in Jodphur (where we eventually found an ATM with some rupees in it) and a pit stop at the Indian equivalent of a motorway café we entered the outskirts of Jaisalmer province, surrounded by military posts and museums … we were almost at the Pakistan border.
Turning off down a dirt road just before the city suburbs, we bumped along past rural villages until we arrived at The Serai. Another luxury hotel of the Sujan Group (same as Jawai), we were greeted with a welcome refreshing drink and taken to our ‘tent’. Now, I’ve stayed in some tents in my days … more used to sleeping in my swag on my overland truck than luxury tents in days gone by …. But this was a serious luxury ‘Bedoin’ style tent with three separate areas – entrance lounge, bedroom and bathroom (which had a shower bigger than my kitchen) … plus a walled courtyard at the back of the bathroom with a plunge pool / jacuzzi and to the front bench seating outside.
After washing the dust away and changing for dinner, we sat outside the spacious library bar where we could hear the sound of cow bells in the distance. At night, as at Jawai (but with slightly fewer lanterns!), Serai is lit by oil lamps up lighting the beautiful golden sandstone which is locally sourced, blending in with the surrounding desert.
Next morning we were taken by our driver into the Golden City of Jaisalmer where we met up with another local guide. First we walked down to the lake shore where we learned of the previous use of the ancient temple like buildings now ‘floating’ in the water with views back to the enormous fort behind us.
As cars are not allowed inside the fort (and we wondered why motorbikes were – in fact the guide agreed that they should ban all 2 wheeled vehicles as well as the streets are so narrow all they do is cause chaos!). The Fort at Jaisalmer is a ‘living fort’, different to those in other parts of Rajasthan. The difference here is that people have their houses, shops and temples inside the fort walls.. as we entered through the main (and only!) gate our guide pointed out some amusing modern paintings on shops and restaurants such as the ‘best Italian restaurant in town’ and the many ‘English Wine’ shops! (‘Child Beer’ should have been ‘chilled’ beer but the typo stuck many years ago!)
Winding our way past street food stalls, women selling vegetables, the masses of textiles and curios for sale, we continued up hill over the cobbled streets through more arches and delicately carved windows to the centre of the city. In the middle are ancient Jain temples and several viewpoints. Even the souvenir shops here have ‘trip advisor’ ratings in their windows!!
Of course, there was more shopping to be done!! Our guide soon got the hang of the sort of things I liked, having spotted a weathered looking metal cockerel hiding in a dusty corner of a shop window … he carried it for me to be soon joined by a beautiful peacock painting (on silk).
After sampling some tasty samosas and a local favourite sweet pastry we visited a Havali where the owners showed us around, proudly displaying photos of British monarchs along side Maharajahs! The maze of street here truly are a rabbit warren, all the time you are dodging cows and dogs, walking passed peoples open doors giving us windows into their worlds … the scent of jasmine and incense was replaced by spicy street food and round the next corner cows!
Jaisalmer is famous for its silverware and textiles and inside the fort are several cooperatives where craftsmen recreate traditional textiles from tribal ancestors. Out in the deserts, people recycle materials, making mats, throws and other textiles from old wedding dresses and beads to produce stunning works of art.
I finally decided (after John had sat through another hour of the shop keeper pulling out every carpet, scarf and cushion cover in his shop!) on a beautiful piece which I intended as a mat for my bedroom at home … I didn’t like the black border on it, so of course “no problem madam, what colour would you like? Green, OK what about this emerald satin, very nice yes” …. but we have to go, our guide is waiting … “ I know where you are going my tailor will fix in 7 minutes”…. So, having parted (via a miraculously produced PDQ machine from a dusty corner) with another large sum of money, off we went to visit a silver merchant round the corner. Sat on the floor surrounded by bangles learning about this ancient craft from a 5th generation silversmith, there was a bang on the door and down the stairs came our textile man with my rug beautifully bordered with emerald satin!!
One of the many things I love about India is that ‘anything is possible’, people will go out of their way to fix things, source things and find you whatever you need …. Back at Jawai, my newly purchased elephant trousers had developed a rip after climbing out of the jeep (!) so I asked if someone could find a tailor to repair them and 2 days later when we checked out I discovered the managers wife had mended them for me and not charged me a rupee!
So, laiden down again with rugs, scarves and a thousand photos, we left the Golden Fort and headed back to The Serai. After a late lunch and a lazy couple of hours, it started to rain a little… we were told it hardly ever rained there and certainly not in March … ha!
After dinner by the side of the pool terrace and a lovely chocolate cake which had been decorated for Travel With Jules 6th anniversary (thank you!), we headed back to our room listening to thunder rumbling in the distance. Around 1 am there was no sleep to be had as the thunder and lightening surrounded us with torrential rain for about 3 hours! I seriously thought the water was bound to come in but apart from a couple of drips the huge tent folds in the roof seemed to collect it all like giant water balloons!
The next morning it was another packing mission and back in the car for another longish drive of about 4 – 5 hours to Jodhpur airport where we said goodbye to our driver and headed back to Delhi. Back ‘home’ at The Imperial (my 3rd visit!), we met lovely Nilesh and Biju from TWX (Western & Oriental) who treated us to a gorgeous meal in Spice Route, a world acclaimed Asian restaurant inside the hotel. The lovely manager explained how you go ‘around the world’ through the different parts of the ornately carved restaurant…..
Too soon we were back at Delhi international again and even though it was 1 am, the queues to get in through immigration and security took well over an hour! So thank you to Nikhil and all the team at Western & Oriental / TWX in India for another wonderful adventure to ‘Incredible India’, I loved it all and will definitely be sending you more clients very soon!