Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jaisalmer is Falling

When a person needs to lie around and stare, Jaisalmer in India's Rajastani Thar Desert is the place to do it. There is a conflict between backpackers as to whether to stay in the fort and stare out at the city view, amazing, or to stay outside of the fort and stare at the fort. The answer to anyone with a modicum of ethics is obvious; the fort is falling. Why is it falling? It is falling because it was built in medieval times, and was not built to have water piped into it and drained out of it. That was added much later. The addition of plumbing has taken its toll on the fort, and many of the ramparts have fallen down. Something like 12 have fallen since the early 1990’s. This is all written up in Lonely Planet, and I would read and quote it but I gave my India Lonely Planet away when I left India a few days ago. It is a brick of a book, and my friend can use it for planning tours.

But I digress.

The LP bible states, and I paraphrase in my own language, that people who stay in the fort should be put to death. They don’t recommend hotels in the fort. I stayed at a place, The Shahi Palace, with an outstanding group of people who wanted to attend to me as I lay on the cushions that adorned the rooftop. Listening to ragas and stretched out on pillows while drinking chai and lemon sodas, I stared at the fort and contemplated the obvious damage to the remaining ramparts. The occupants of the fort would stand on the rooftops flying kites that wafted high above the city in the gentle breezes. The color of the fort in the setting sun is a sepia gold, and it is easy to see why Jaisalmer is nicknamed The Golden City.

When I got to Jaisalmer I was an emotional wreck. For reasons I do not care to mention in my blog, I was deeply in need of a nurturing rest. When I got out of the jeep that picked me up from the train at 5 in the morning, Mama Nigama was waiting for me. I fell into her arms and could feel waves of tears shuddering through my body. We went into one of the beautiful rooms of sandstone and granite and talked for several hours then spent the rest of the day walking through the fort and relaxing on the rooftop.

I did not go on a camel safari, which this place is known for. But my friends did, and I went with them as they set out from a village not far from Jaisalmer, and met some of the happy children of the desert. In the Thar desert, life is very simple and needs are very basic. When food, water, and shelter are taken care of, little else is needed. These children exemplify my opinion that children who have less are far happier than children who have everything.

Before heading back we went to the house of Bapu, the hotel manager, and I sat with his mother who was making chapatis in the traditional handcrafted way. After mixing them by hand, she roasted them on a pan over a fire which was fueled by cow dung. The walls of the kitchen are a kind of adobe plaster made of cow dung and sand from the desert. It is quite beautiful. I returned to the hotel to resume my staring activities.

One night after my friends returned and I had regained enough of myself to venture out to other places, we went to The Artist Hotel for dinner. This is a place which is very nice, has an outstanding view of the fort, and houses a group of musicians that play Thar desert music using a harmonium, a drum which dhoops like a tabla, but is played on both sides, Thar Desert Castanets, which are really two sticks in each hand which are played quite deftly, and singing. Before they played, the singer donned his turban, while giving me the look that was to enrapture me the rest of the night. The music was lively and fun, and the singer replaced the names of every woman in each song with my name, and stared at me throughout the night, inviting me to dance. At one point I loosened up enough to go have a castanet lesson with him, but failing miserably I went back to the table, head hung in shame. We had invited the local tollphone walla out to eat with us, and he bought us a bottle of gin which we drank. Before long Nigama and I were dancing. There was much laughter and for a time it was easy to forget my troubles. We stumbled our way back to the hotel, giggling the entire way.

The next day we were hungover, and I returned to my pillows and chai and fort staring activities. I did resume shopping in Jaisalmer, an activity I had avoided throughout my trip until that point. I could not resist the beautiful Jaisalmer patchwork wall hangings done by women in the desert. Tbey caught my eye whenever I would see them, and I finally succumbed to a gorgeous Picasso style turquoise threaded work of art. It is really impossible to describe them, so I suggest you Google ‘Jaisalmer patchwork’ in the Images mode.

We were so sad to leave Jaisalmer a week after I arrived, but we boarded the train late at night and made our way to Jodhpur where we were expected by Govind to work on the Sambahli Project Documentary. The next chapter in my blog.
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