Notes from Jaisalmer – Going on a Village Safari

My friend, Nobuko, is reporting from her trip to India. At the moment, she is still in Jaisalmer, Raijasthan, India. Jaisalmer is one of the major tourist attractions and a cultural hub in South Asia. Located in the western Rajasthan region amid Thar Desert, it is also close to the Indo-Pak boarder.

A few more days in Jaisalmer (The Golden City), July 2012

I got used to moving like a sloth and not doing much while temps are in the upper 40°Cs. I usually dip the sheet in water and then sleep on it to cool down. Laundry dries up in a mere 2-3 hours which makes it easy to wash clothes daily. After all, the hot desert climate is not too bad.

I joined two nice South Korean men for a Village Safari, a two-day trip. A tour called Village Safari does not sound good – like we are going to see village people like others see animals  at the zoo. But the tours are there to let tourists see and take part in the village life for a cultural experience/exchange. An old Indian guy told me that there was a time the villagers invited tourists since they genuinely wanted to get to know them.

But not now. The villagers, after 35 years of a continuous inflow of tourists, seemed jaded, and now are interested only in financial gains, not in any sort of person to person exchange.

But again, I think this is a natural development. A whole family may live on less than $1 per day and we come into their community loaded, wanting to take pictures of exotic people wearing exotic clothes and ornaments / hennas, singing and playing bewitching folk songs and music. Having said that, we felt less than welcome there.

While we did not understand what the villagers were saying, it was clear that they made fun of us – I realized that this type of laughter can be so offensive and hurtful. We left prematurely before our time was up. I wish they denied entry rather than receiving us, only to exploit us.

This tour had a camel ride included which we all enjoyed. Jaisalmer offers dunes – though small – and for this reason it is a better place to do the camel ride than any other places in Rajasthan. Also the price was nearly half (800 R) of what I paid in Bikaner (1500 R). I love sleeping outside. The sky was cloudy and stars could not be seen, but it was so nice to sleep without a roof above.

Jaisalmer Fort is such a great place to wander around. It is so small that one will not get lost despite the countless winding small lanes resembling a mini-maze. Jaisalmer has several bookstores selling books in English. I have been hunting for a book called Shantaram as it was recommended by three people on this trip. I found it, but it was a whopping 600 R – it’s not that much, I know, but when my hostel room costs 200 R per night, I have to think about such a purchase. I decided to wait until I go back to Udaipur. Instead, I bought a Hindi dictionary. But I am getting only 50% of its worth since I only can look up words in the English-Hindi part, not in the Hindi-English part…yet.

I have learned some words and used them when I bought an entry ticket – “Ek ticket (one ticket)” is all I said, but the attendant broke into a big smile. This made me want to learn more and use what I know, no matter how broken I sound. I also learned “Challa (let’s go)” and “Tola Tola ( or Tora Tora? means a little) which I love saying, because it sounds cute to me.

I have met a Japanese couple at the hotel. They have been on the road for an indefinite amount of time, drifting around North Africa – Middle East – India – South East Asia. I enjoyed their company. Many times I find the Japanese I meet during my travels to be stand-offish, and not wanting to hang out with other Japanese. But this couple was very open and friendly. They have mastered all the To Dos, e.g. eating finger food without spilling or messing up oneself like a baby who needs a bib (a.k.a. as me), drinking local water without getting sick, using the toilet without needing toilet paper, etc etc… I apprenticed under their tutelage for two days, but it was not so easy…

We visited a Haveli *(mansion) which had a room covered with mirrors and colored tiles on all of its walls, ceiling and floor. It was like entering a dazzlingly blinding disco even during the day.

In cities of the Gujarat and Rajasthan regions, one can hear prayers from mosques five times a day. It is such a soothing sound and it is one of the things I enjoy here.

* Havelis are huge ancestral mansions with open courtyards,  and were built in Rajasthan for Wazirs, i.e. ministers and landlords. Some of them have been converted into hotels, restaurants, and museums. Believed to be of Persian origin.


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