A walk through the dunes

A walk through the dunes
As the train chugged to a halt at Jaisalmer, the smell of winter crept in through the half-open exit doors — a curious mix of wood burning in the distance and the rawness of the sand-swept wind.

We steadied our backpacks on our shoulders, drew our trolley bags out of the alcove under the bottom seat and got ready to disembark, but quickly realised that the clacking movement our bodies had gotten accustomed to overnight wasn’t going to leave us very soon.

The nip stung at our skins as we made our way out, earnestly searching for our designated pick-up guy, who, we were told, would be holding a placard with the family name. Soon enough, he came in our field of vision and we were thankful for the warmth of his jeep as he pulled out of the station.

Once we had left the tarred main road and entered a muddy one, we could see many sandstone buildings pressing against each other and protruding onto the road, making it rather narrow for a four-wheeler to manoeuvre about. But in no time, we were at the hotel Helsinki House, and our host-cum-driver helped us to our room. Breakfast was served on the rooftop, with the Jaisalmer Fort serving as the backdrop, and we relished every bite. There were fresh fruits, ‘parathas’, ‘poha’ and eggs. Washing it all down with hot cups of ‘masala chai’ was just what we needed, to take on the day ahead.

We visited the Mandir Palace, onboard a tuk-tuk rickshaw, organised kindly by the hotel staff. There are many interesting sights to behold at the palace — the peacock carvings on the walls and pillars, the first automobile used by the royal family, the big copper ‘handi’ that was used to cook non-vegetarian food in the royal kitchen and personal belongings of the royal family, up on display.

We also visited Gadisar Lake, which was created in the 15th century as a pivotal water resource for the arid land. It is flanked by the ‘Tilon Ki Pol’, a gateway that bears the shrine of lord Krishna. The paddle boat ride is a popular attraction here, and there are lots of street vendors selling artefacts on the banks of the lake.

After a quick lunch back at Helsinki House, we left for the Damodra desert camp in Sam in an open jeep, sent by the Damodra management. Time seemed to be a mere onlooker, as the splendour of the desert rose above us in spiralling waves of sheer rapture.

In the evening, we were taken to the sand dunes on camels and it was a rather grand experience. We slid down the dunes on boogie boards soon afterwards, drank tea made by our camel boy on a shifty wood-fired stove and watched the sun sink gloriously into the pink-tinted horizon.

The night was one of merriment and good food. We sipped on our hot teas as the fire eater ate his fire, the dancers balanced their pots on their heads and the folk artistes broke into elaborate rustic tunes. Food was served hot off the skillet, and the music and dance flowed on to complement the fine meal.

We returned to Jaisalmer city the next morning after a hearty breakfast of ‘poori chana’ among other things. The driver was kind enough to unload our bags and leave them in the Damodra city office, while we found a tuk-tuk yet again, this time to take us to the magnificent fort.

The living fort, as it is known, holds together parts of royal residences and temples made of marble, sea fossil and yellow sandstone. It is bustling with fort dwellers who sell traditional arts and crafts for a living, and you’re likely to see at least one of the following, no matter where you turn — antique coins and locks, block-printed and applique bedcovers, souvenirs, shoes and clothes. The view of the city from atop the living fort is dizzyingly beautiful too.

You could spend a few hours here, or an entire day, and still feel like you haven’t seen enough. Jaisalmer is regal and endearingly rustic all at once. Some of the most memorable times in Rajasthan are spent here, on the edge of the mighty Thar.

(The author can be contacted at ronjsponj@gmail.com)

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