That early afternoon me and Isa said goodbye to Anna Kaba and Tobi, our travel companions, and took a flight to Jaisalmer, the golden city of Rajasthan.
One week had already gone.
So many impressions, stories and contrasting feelings.
But only 3 rolls shot (exactly the same amount of pics I had taken in one day in Bangkok). How was that possible? Something was obviously holding me back but I couldn’t quite define what the problem was.
JAISALMER (Day 8 and 9)
With these thoughts in my mind, we landed in the dusty and isolated airport of Jaisalmer, so small and empty that it had to remind me of the Santa Cruz one, on the Galápagos Islands.
Our new driver, Raam, a lean man in his fifties with a seventies moustache, friendly manners and a good knowledge of English, met us right out of the airport. After all the shit that had gone down with Nagar, our previous driver, we immediately felt quite relieved. The typical Indian stubbornness was, of course, still there, along with a lovely series of body noises, but, at least, we didn’t get lost in translation.
After breaking the ice with a bit of small talk, while driving on solitary roads cutting the barren landscape in two, Raam insisted on taking us immediately to a sunset spot, “the best one in the area”.
Damn he was right! Hundreds of sandstone chhatris/cenotaphs (monuments erected in honour of members of the royal family), towering over an endless stretch of desert. The golden hour swiftly came and dyed every surface and our faces a bright orange. Maybe because of the so desired silence, or for that transcendental light that made everything even more astounding, or maybe because we were close to be the only humans there, we both realised why most people would call India “mystical”.
As the night came, we checked in at Nachana Haveli, a beautiful beyond description 16th century heritage hotel in the heart of Jaisalmer, and got upgraded to a suite. Things got even better when we had dinner at Saffron restaurant, on the hotel’s terrace, pretty much right out of our “personal” tower. We dined with Rajasthani specialities such as: ker sangri (beans, dried berries and spices), kadhi pakora (deep fried gram flour -besan- and onion fritters, simmered in spiced, sour yogurt gravy), gatta masala (boiled and then fried paneer stuffed dumpling made of gram flour, simmered in a rich onion and yogurt gravy), nargisi kofta (fried vegetable pyramid, then simmered in cashew nuts gravy). While comfortably sipping our saffron lassi we couldn’t stop thinking how absurdly VIP the evening felt in comparison to our previous backpacking misadventures.
Following a shower in Indian style (buckets of cold water to compensate an utterly ridiculous water pressure) and a rushed rooftop breakfast, me and Isa left our beloved haveli right after dawn to plunge in what turned out to be my personal highlight of the whole trip: the strikingly beautiful and fairly laid back golden city.
And we started big with the mesmerising Gadisar Lake, an artificial lake and landmark, where neither of us could stop snapping one pic after the other. I finally got that shooting fever that I had craved for. On top of that, for the very first time, we could focus on our business without being constantly bothered by hundreds of people wanting something from us. And it clearly shows on Isa’s beautiful smile and genuinely excited and serene expression in the pictures.
What came after, the majestic, sandstone-made Jaisalmer Fort with its gigantic walls, narrow shaded alleys, heritage havelis and Jain temples, had me falling even deeper. I wish we had more time to actually explore every single back street, dusty handicraft shop and admire the intricate carvings and the panorama from one of the antique havelis’ terraces. Jaisalmer Fort has been rightfully declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, to date, is one of the few “living forts” in the world, hosting a fourth of the city’s population between its walls.
We moved on to the commercial area out of the fort walls, at the foot of the hill, discovered the fruit and vegetables market, and ventured more of the off the beaten track, cows populated, alleys. There we started to connect with some welcoming locals, who gently and enthusiastically posed for us. Amongst those, a street vendor offered us some of his fresh veggies and a sort of solid sugar cane lump and invited us to eat them. Me and Isa looked at each other, mindful of the “never eat fresh unwashed vegetables” warnings, took a small bite, said “thank you” and hoped for the best.
Here, since nobody seemed to be particularly pushy, we took some time to play our best tourists. I bargained hard for a backpack made of dromedary leather (no worries people, no macabre dromedary farms for this purpose: the skin for the leather products comes from animals that have met their fate due to age or disease) and Isa gave in to what most women in Milan would kill for: the softest (fair trade) pashmina on earth!
After the busiest of mornings and a long series of unexpectedly good impressions, we stopped by the veranda of The Trio and ordered a delicious thali, a selection of local dishes, served on a platter.
Next destination: the Khuri desert.
On the trip to get there we made the mistake to tell Raam how cool the vintage Indian music he played was (we didn’t know that that same record would have been stuck on repeat for the following week). In that moment though, and with that arid landscape out of our windows, whose repetitiveness was seldom interrupted by herds of goats (bakarí in Hindi, as we soon found out), those slightly cacophonous melodies seemed to be just perfect.
Once we reached our destination, a camp right on the edge of the desert, Raam showed his true colours, and, like it had happened with Nagar and many others before, tried to rip us off and offered us a tent for an outrageous amount of money (in comparison to the prices shown on our Lonely Planet). I lost my shit and eventually managed to get the tent for less than half of the price he asked for.
Slightly annoyed, but very much excited for what was we were up to, me and Isa set off to a camel ride. We reached a spot in the middle of the sand dunes and patiently waited for sunset while the sound of beating drums resonated.
That evening we joined the fireplace, where they put on a dancing show with live traditional music. Our attention, somehow, got drawn by another show: an utterly shit-faced Japanese lady going through every imaginable phase of self humiliation.
When both shows finally ended, we joined few other “brave” backpackers that have opted for the allegedly romantic option to sleep underneath the starry sky on the desert dunes (with the only difference that they paid the full price they got asked for…). Breathtaking, don’t get me wrong, especially at dawn, when the sunlight painted in slow waves everything in bright yellow. But my head never froze as much as it did that night.
Oh well, checked off!
Olympus OM1, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak Portra 160/Kodak Gold 200 (35)
LC-wide, Lomochrome Purple 100-400/Kodak Pro Image 100 (35)
27-28/11/2017, Jaisalmer (India)