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.


Notes from Jaisalmer – At the Police Station

Nobuko stays busy, but still manages to send updates from cyber cafes.

10 July 2012 – Arrival in Jaisalmer

On the first day I hired a guide (some of you have already read about this) at the fort. He started out professional, but about 15 minutes into it, he started to ask me very intrusive questions none of which were his %§$° business, such as how many boyfriends I have had, if I have had pre-marital sex with these guys, and questions that are even worse.

I told him off, and he seemed to panic seeing me being visibly upset, saying “we were just talking about cultural stuff”. But what part of asking me about my sexual experience is considered “cultural”?

After thinking about i,t I went to the police station to file a complaint against him for being unprofessional. However, as I came to learn, the police take such harassment very VERY seriously. Before I knew it, the police found the guide and brought him to the station. When I turned around, there were 10 officers surrounding us with crossed arms.

They spoke in a mix of Hindi (or the local language, I don’t know) and some English, so all I could gather was “tourist”… “guide” … “acceptable”… “report”…. “complaint” etc. I could only see that the guide looked terrified and very upset.

Then he got on his knees in front of me and said “Please forgive me! I have 3 children! They are arresting me!”  So I turned to the officers and asked them, if they really meant to arrest him. They nodded in unison and said that he was to serve two years in jail!

At this moment, it was my turn to panic because having him arrested was not my intention. Although I felt dirtied by him probably imagining me having sex with guys, and perhaps getting excitement from such thoughts, I just wanted to file a complaint. But there, filing a complaint bore such serious consequence to the offender. It was all or nothing. I found out that the only way he does not get arrested was if I withdrew my complaint. So I ended up doing that.

Then the police said “You can go now.”

It really did not sit well with me. I did not know that the police can arrest someone and throw them in jail – not for a few days, but for a few years – solely based on my accusation, without investigating if the accusation is true or false. Later I came to find out through Indians that I met, that the police take such harassment against women, Indian and foreign alike, seriously.

This may be a surprise to some of us who have heard that women in India suffer disrespectful treatment. I think if a woman does not have a husband and/or is from a poor socioeconomic class, then her complaint may go unacknowledged.

I think I decided to report him because I already have had so many other incidents where men verbally harassed me – and my tolerance was maxed out and I exploded. I wanted to retaliate.

I really recommend women to have at least another woman in company when traveling in Rajasthan (especially the western part which is very beautiful, but rural). I do not recommend traveling solo in this part – unless relentless harassment and distasteful advances do not affect you. But then again, experience may differ for women of other races.

I can only tell you my experience as an Asian female (and I am middle aged!) going around alone.

Notes from Bikaner and Jaisalmer, India

Nobuko shares her current travel notes with us.

7 July 2012  in Bikaner

Arrived in the morning by bus from Pushkar. The night ride was not so hot, but dusty!  I had to cover my face with a scarf to get some sleep. This sleeper did not have a sliding door like the others, only curtains that flapped around with the wind – not great for keeping privacy.

I managed to doze off here and there, but when I woke up, I found men staring at me. Although I have normal oral motor control, I often drool when I sleep. It might be an amusing, but not a pretty thing to watch.

The first guest house near the bus station did not answer the door, so I ended up going to Camel Man, which is about 4 km from the town center. The rickshaw driver agreed on 50 rupees when I got on, but argued that I should pay 100 when we arrived at Camel Man.  Mr. Vijay, the owner of Camel Man, was very kind and paid the driver 100 rupees out of his pocket. It must not be easy to be a rickshaw driver, but I really, REALLY dread dealing with them. But without them, I cannot get around.

Bikaner had been HOT, even hotter than Pushkar with 43 or 44°C ( = about 107 F). I did not do much of anything besides washing clothes and sleeping. I met a couple from Denmark and we agreed to do a camel safari the next day. I was not doing so great with my stomach function.

I wanted to be ready for the safari ride, but inside my medicine pouch, all I had was medicine that had expired in 2010. Come to think of it, I have not replaced any meds in the pouch for four or five years. Stupid! I took it anyway, and am happy to tell you that it worked. Pharmaceutical companies should put more accurate expiration date on their products.

8 July 2012 on a Camel Safari

Off to the safari. We started at 10am and rode for two hours. At noon, we rested under a tree shade while guides whipped out a very good lunch (veggie curry, rice, chapati). We thought we start riding again after lunch, but the guys appeared to be getting ready to take a nap – rolling out carpets and lying down on them.

The three of us killed time by chatting and camel watching. Camels seem to munch on something constantly, always masticating. And they can look like a giant, featherless chicken when seen from behind because of the way they fold their hind legs when they sit down.

At 4:30pm, we started again, but this time through a large farming area where people were setting up sprinklers. We arrived at the camp 6ish after being blessed many times by camels’ farts. The dinner was awesome – rice, chapati, dal, curry (different from one we had for lunch!), etc. The beds were placed outside, and I was so impressed that it was covered by a clean white sheet and even came with a pillow!

I love sleeping outside. Although that night the sky was overcast for the most of the time and we could not see the stars too well, it was still heavenly.

9 July 2012 on a Camel Safari

Woke up 7:30 – by this time it was already getting very warm. After breakfast we headed back. The Danish couple left that afternoon. My bus to Jaisalmer was again the night bus at 10pm. The family at the guest house was friendly and chatty, but all I wanted to do was to laze around and cool off which means, I stayed in my room, being kind of anti-social.

10pm was the bus departure time, but it did not roll into the station until 11:15pm. The sleeper I got this time had sliding doors AND curtains. This made me very happy!

10 July in Jaisalmer

Arrived in Jaisalmer by sleeper at 6:45am (scheduled arrival 5:30am). I was the last one on the bus. It must have arrived on time, but no one woke me up to kick me off the bus and they just let me sleep. A taut from a hotel fished me with “a fan room with a private bathroom for 200 rupees”. I took it, but this place was relentless with its sales pitch, always one of eight men asking me every 30 minutes to join one of their overpriced tours. They even came knocking on my door after I finally retreated to my room!  It is called Shiva Palace. Don’t go there.

Jaisalmer is a small city with a magical fort that made me feel like I was in one of those places talked about in 1001 Arabian nights. People still live inside the fort and that makes this fort a place that is very much alive. I met many many local guys (aka business men), but did not find Aladdin…

Here they sell this legal concoction Baad Lassi, made of curd and pot. Perhaps the tales of riding on a magic carpet and travelling the night sky in the desert were born from people drinking this.

The first evening, I saw one of the most beautiful things. Wind picked up its gusto and blew sand all over the city. I was on a roof top, and saw the whole sight become like a picture seen through a sheer cloth. Breathless moment.

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