One with the dune

One with the dune

Travel tales

One with the dune

Ancient writings say Jaisalmer was part of a sea. Natural courses caused the sea to recede and what was left was a sea bed. And what remains today is the majestic desert, which my wife Lopa, mother-in-law Sapna and I visited in April 2015, along with a trip to Jodhpur and Jaipur. As we passed through vast stretches of sandy lands by train, we realised that we could be nowhere but Thar desert. We reached Jaisalmer Station by noon.

We were spotted by our taxi driver who ferried us to our hotel. On our way, we saw the Jaisalmer Fort rising against a fiery sun. Peacocks scurried away on hearing our car. Our driver and guide was Padam Singh. The first stop was the Jaisalmer Fort which was addressed as ‘Sonar Kella’ or Golden Fort by Padam. The fort is made on sandstone hill, rising about 100 meters. We entered through the stone gates and were told by our guide that this is the only fort in India where almost half of the population have been inside for several generations.

The houses and temples are linked to the four main gates.
Inside, we saw that most of the inhabitants had turned their lanes into shops which sold souvenirs, shoes and purses made of camel skin. Some had converted their rooms into cafés. A few meters inside was a Jain temple. The place was abound with life-like carvings of blooming lotuses, lion heads, vines and in the inner sanctum was the statue of Vardhman Mahaveera.

Our next stop was the palace, where chambers and their opulence of gold painted frescoes bespoke of the lifestyle of the royals. The last of the winding staircase led us to the terrace of the palace. Our next stop was ‘Sam’. It is pronounced as ‘sum’ and is 25 km from the town of Jaisalmer. The land turned arid and trees, hardly any, had disappeared. After many miles, we saw thatched huts, walls plastered with cow dung, camels, women with pots of water in their head and a solitary tube well. And gradually, the dry sea bed appeared. As the flat land started taking the form of sand dunes, Padam Singh stopped in front of one of the designated tour organisers. Near one tent sat our new friend, a brown camel.

The camel’s handler beckoned us to climb on to it for a 30-minute-ride. Placing one foot in the leather stirrup and the other across, we felt in control. How wrong we were, as the handler softly whistled in it’s ear and the camel moved. When it rose on it’s front knees, we felt that the land beneath us had given away and as it rose on it’s hind legs, it gave us a jolt. We perched ourselves steadily and the ‘ship-of-the-desert’ ambled ahead. Leaving the periphery of lodges and tents behind, we reached the top of a dune. Out of the blue,  a bearded man appeared with an ice box, holding a bottle of chilled ‘7-Up’ towards me. The camel trudged away, a rise to the top, a slope and again a rise, repeating it several times. The handler then brought it to a halt.

As we drove back from Magical Sam, a board caught my eyes. Written in bold letters was the word ‘Night Safari’.

The experience of spending a night on a dune, inside a tent and watching the sky come alive with millions of stars, would be a surreal experience. Some day..surely

How to get there

 We flew from Bengaluru to Jaipur by Air Asia. The total cost for three people came upto
Rs 15,000. We travelled to Jaisalmer from Jaipur by Jaisalmer Express, by second class (A/C). The cost came upto Rs 550 per head.

Places to stay

 At Jaisalmer, our accommodation was at Club Mahindra. The accomodation was free as I am a member of the Club. The food and services at the Club like swimming, play area and gym came up to Rs 6,000.

Bobby Ghatak
(The author can be contacted on bobby@arrowtextiles.com)

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