02 Mar - 14 Mar 2015 Jaisalmer

The Golden City in the Desert… 
Matt: Celebrating the boisterous Festival of Colour aka Holi in the crumbling old city of Jaisalmer, the quintessential desert town whose medieval sandstone fort rises out of the arid Thar Desert like a scene from the Arabian Nights, and working thereafter on my camel-riding skills during a 2-day camel trek into the wasteland.

“Sadly, it's much easier to create a desert than a forest.” 

Matt: Exploring the crowded bazaars and delicate havelis (my faves: the subtly asymmetric Nathmalji ki Haveli, the finely decorated Patwon ki Haveli, the strangely top-heavy Salim Singh ki Haveli; all three commissioned by wealthy silk, opium and spice merchants during the 18th and 19th century CE) of Jaisalmer's old city whose streets are flanked with numerous pale honey-coloured facades, covered with latticework and floral designs, and where villagers dressed in voluminous red, orange and white turbans or colourful saris still outnumber the harassed-looking Western package tourists, uniformly exhausted, nervous and unhappy. 

“If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me,
I would do something to shake it up."

Matt: Visiting the ubertouristed 12th-century CE Jaisalmer Fort, made from yellow sandstone and packed to the brim with boring souvenir shops which sell almost identical knick-knacks and curios (e.g. tacky handicraft, fake antiques, useless pottery, non-airworthy carpets, obscene leatherware), listening to the friendly shop owners' and sales guys' mantras ("...made in the desert...", "...Indian prices...", "...guaranteed no fake..."), stopping at a few commercialised Hindu and Jain temples inside the fort, noticing the massive blocks of rock which lie atop the ramparts above the entrance and wait to be pushed down on the heads of any approaching enemy, and enjoying nice views from the barrel-sided bastions over the city and the surrounding barren countryside. 

Matt: Hanging out in the local "government authorised" Bhang Shop and drinking an undisclosed number of very potent bhang lassis for INR 80.- or US$ 1.30 per glass.


Matt: Roaming the countless tea stalls in Jaisalmer's old city (masala chai for INR 5.- to 10.- per glass), meeting and chatting with desert kings and princes, headmen, warriors and jesters from remote villages who came to Jaisalmer to run errands, and snacking on delicious vegetarian street food: (i) spicy "Indian Pizza" aka masala papad for breakfast (INR 20.- or US$ 0.30 per piece), (ii) spicy onion kachori for lunch (INR 10.- or US$ 0.15 per piece), and (iii) spicy masala dosa with cold coconut gravy for dinner (INR 30.- or US$ 0.50 per plate).

“Which of my photographs is my favorite?
The one I’m going to take tomorrow."


Matt: Celebrating during full moon the most vibrant and colourful of all Indian festivals, the Festival of Colour aka Festival of Water aka Holi, welcoming the spring in North India and being bombarded with coloured powder, luminescent paint and ice-cold water.

Matt: Climbing almost every evening up on sunset hill, having for sundowner a quiet beer from the nearby English Wine & Beer Shop (650-ml bottles of ice-cold Tuborg Green Premium Beer with 5.0 % alc./vol. for INR 100.- or US$ 1.60 per bottle), enjoying picture-postcard views over the medieval fort and the Golden City, listening to the mesmerising sound of my friend Surjaram's ancient ravanahatha and watching the sun go down in the Thar Desert where in May 1998 five massive atomic test explosions were detonated only 200 m beneath the desert sand, announcing Incredible India's arrival as a full-fledged nuclear weapons state, certainly not a developing country.

Matt: Satisfying my masochistic needs, hiring the experienced camel driver Ali and his formidable beasts from the nearby village Chhatrel (INR 1,500.- or US$ 24.- for the 2-day/1-night trek, return and all inclusive), climbing into the stirrupless saddle of my 6-year old good-natured camel bull Bublu, exploring on camel back the wasteland-turned-windfarm in the vicinity of the Thar Desert's Makhaniya Sanddunes, located c. 30 km northwest of Jaisalmer, and counting at night the stars on the clear sky over the desert.

“On horseback you feel as if you're moving in time to classical music;
a camel seems to progress to the beat of a drum played by a drunk.”

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams...”

Matt: Enjoying together with my friend Tarun a delicious pure-vegetarian farewill dinner with stunning views over Jaisalmer from Hotel Garh Jaisal's +912992253836 excellent rooftop restaurant and taking hereafter the comfortable enough R.S.R.T.C. (Rajasthan State Road Transport Company) government bus from Jaisalmer's filthy government bus stand through a white, sun-leached expanse of dry desert plains with spiky acacia bushes and wind-blown camel thorn to the holy and supposedly beer-free city of Pushkar (470 km, 11 hours, INR 353.- or US$ 5.60 per person; recommendable Hotel Lake View +911452772106) where Lord Brahma, the Creator, allegedly dropped a lotus flower aka pushpa to earth from his hand aka kar, a must-do pit stop on the heavily trodden Rajasthani segment of the Banana Pancake Trail and a laughable vanity fair where young and old backpackers flaunt floppishly their brand-new, hippie-type uniforms, many of them hysterical nutcases with an ecclesiogenic neurosis.

Im Lande Rajasthan liegt die grosse Thar-Wueste und wie in den meisten Wuesten sind auch hier Kamele das bevorzugte Transportmittel. Diese haben breite Fuesse, so dass sie im Sand nur wenig einsinken, und sie brauchen auch ueber laengere Zeit kein Wasser.
Als Vorbereitung bin ich mit meinem treuen Kameltreiber Ali auf den Markt gegangen, habe Gemuese, Mehl, Reis, Salz und Trinkwasser fuer uns eingekauft; Ali's Soehne haben die Wuestenschiffe gesattelt und dann ging es los, immer der Nase nach in Richtung untergehender Sonne. Ali ritt vornweg, danach kam ich auf meinem Kamelhengst Bublu and hinter mir ritt Ali's aeltester Sohn auf seinem eigenen Kamel.
Am Abend hat Ali Gemuese und Reis fuer uns alle gekocht und Fladenbrote (chapattis) dazu gebacken. Anschliessend hat sich jeder in eine Decke gewickelt und in den Wuestensand zum Schlafen hingelegt. Ich habe noch lange wachgelegen und den klaren Sternhimmel ueber mir beobachtet. Zwischen Sonnenuntergang und Sonnenaufgang gab es viel zu sehen. Beim Zaehlen der Sterne sind mir zuerst solche Sternbilder (constellations) aufgefallen, die sich die ganze Nacht hindurch sehr, sehr langsam um den kleinen Polarstern (Polar Star aka North Star) herumdrehen: der Grosse Wagen (Ursa Major), der Kleine Wagen (Ursa Minor) und der Drache (Draco) zwischen beiden. Der Polarstern zeigte dabei unveraendert an, wo sich Norden befindet. Frueher bei Nachtwanderungen beim Militaer und spaeter mit Konni auf dem Segelschiff hat mir der Polarstern haeufig gute Dienste geleistet. Auch das Sternbild des Orion mit seinem geraden Guertel war sehr gut zu erkennen.
Sehr interessant war es auch, sich schnell bewegende Objekte am naechtlichen Sternenhimmel zu unterscheiden. Sie sehen zwar wie Sterne aus, bewegen sich aber doch recht deutlich: (i) Flugzeuge in grosser Hoehe eher langsam, (ii) Satelliten meistens viel schneller und (iii) Sternschnuppen natuerlich am allerschnellsten. Drohnen habe ich nicht gesehen... Als dann spaeter auch noch der Mond aufgegangen ist, bin ich endlich eingeschlafen.
Am naechsten Tag sind wir auf unseren Kamelen durch die Wueste zurueck in Ali's Dorf geritten. - Auf welchen Tieren, ausser auf Kamelen, kann man auch noch reiten?
From India, with Love!

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