Walk through the Thar Desert with me and relive the journey through a traveller’s eyes.
Calvin and I at the Jaisalmer Fort.
“I saw the whole world in the desert and discovered that the world is too small. In fact, I thought that I was travelling alone, BUT ended up bagging experiences from some lovely people from all across the world including England, Sweden, Denmark, Korea, Italy, France, and Indians as well, off course. This has made the trip to Jaisalmer during the Desert Festival more like a World Tour amid the Rajasthani tinges and tunes.”
Jaisalmer memories from day one
“It wasn’t a night in the SAM Dunes… but that was a pretty good day somewhere deep into the Thar Desert. Jeep ride, playing cricket with the local kids, bumpy camel safari of 5 kms, sunset at the west sky and moon rise in the east sky, Rum and getting up the next morning with a blocked nose “LOL”…”
I always break the rules of the Indian railways… lighting up cigarettes inside the coach of a running train. The usual places to smoke illegally inside the train are the vestibules, bathrooms and corridors between the two doors. I always feared the RPF. They act like sniffers sometimes. But smokers always appear like warriors knowing that they are not going to gain anything but to lose 200 bucks for lighting a cigarette if only they get caught.
Same with me… when inside the train I’m a felon of the Indian Railways over the years and that morning after I woke up I came to the corridor near the bathroom to light my first cigarette of the day. To the other end I saw a foreigner standing at the door looking outside. He was wearing a black and white check shirt, creamy-white trouser and fedora. He was carrying a small backpack that made me to wonder, ‘for how many days is he touring India?’ Anyways I concentrated hard on my cigarette.
After few moments the foreigner came to the other side, where I was standing, and took out a travel guide book on India. I kept staring at him. There was a cute smile on his face when he was reading the book. I thought to interact with the guy and so I did. ‘Hi… where are you from?’ I asked faintly. Well, the first approach was marked by absence of sound but the second one was audible enough that made him to turn to me with that cute smile on his face. I simply kept staring at his candid eyes when he replied politely, ‘I’m from England’. Ah! For once it came in my mind that may be his grandfather and great grandfather were the lordly persons of British India. But that’s now incoherent with decades passing away. I felt proud that day being an Indian I was trying to communicate with the guy from England.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘You mean Calvin Klein?’ I smiled.
‘Oh Yeah’, he laughed out and added, ‘it’s Calvin Davies but I usually introduce myself as Calvin Klein and then I say it’s actually Davies. What’s your name?’
‘Swairik… but you can call me Rik.’ I have discovered that having a typical and unique Bengali name, often people including Indians find it difficult to pronounce my name and whenever I introduce myself I offer them an alternate name as Rik. ‘So… for how many days you are touring India?’ I asked.
‘It’s going to be two weeks now.’
‘…and the places you had been…?’
‘Well… I started from New Delhi, aaa… 2 days in Delhi then visited Agra and thereafter I had a jungle safari in Ranthambore National Park and from there I went to Jaipur. Now I’m heading for Jaisalmer. Do you know where this place is?’ Calvin pointed out a travel agent name in Jaisalmer, which was mentioned in his travel guide book.
‘Naah! You see I’m also a tourist like you and travelling to Jaisalmer for the first time. I don’t have any idea. Although I’ve booked my hotel for the day but I don’t have any plans ahead. Ah! Why don’t you join me? Are you travelling alone? What’s your plan?’
‘Ya… that will be nice. I’m planning for a desert safari… an overnight safari. I was recommended by my friends about this travel agent that organizes such a safari into the desert.’
‘Oh! That’s gonna be fun and adventure. I’m not sure about this travel agent you are talking about BUT a guy from the hotel is coming to pick me up… he can guide you and I guess it will be cheap. I’m not forcing you but you can check it out and the rest is depending on you.’
After deboarding the Delhi-Jaisalmer Intercity Express via Jaipur and Jodhpur on 12th February morning, Calvin and I were escorted to the hotel by Teju, the guy from the hotel. The very first glimpse that I captured of the Jaisalmer city was its quaint havelis in the midst of modern infrastructure. It was approximately 10 minutes of drive from the Jaisalmer railway station to the gate of the fort city. At the entrance there are few shops of traditional attires and restaurants and ahead lies an aslant way up inside the fort. To the opposite of the main entrance there is the main commercial area, bit congested, arraying with shops, restaurants and hotels.
The entrance of the Jaisalmer fort city. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
The ambiance… though buzzed by tourists from all over the world was worth of clicks of the quaint and intrinsic work of the rampart and fort. It maintains an elegant architectural work. There are two turrets at the entrance and the walls are dotted with several distinct windows… seemed homes to several pigeons.
The architectural work of the Jaisalmer Fort. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
Calvin and I followed Teju towards the hotel passing through the Sun Gate, which has a carved idol of Lord Ganesha and thereafter the windy alleyway lead us to a square where there is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Chamunda. The temple overlooks the royal palace, which is now a museum. To the left of the temple there are few havelis and to the right it is arrayed with shops displaying several craft items and traditional wears and hotels having rooftop restaurants. From the square there are numerous alleys diverging deep inside the fort city.
The Chamunda Temple inside the Jaisalmer fort. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
‘Hey Calvin, how about taking an hour walk around the fort after lunch? I asked.
‘Ya… that will be great.’
‘GAWD… Teju where are you taking us?’ The alley seemed narrowing as Calvin and I followed Teju to the hotel. ‘So… this is it?’ I stood perplex keeping my nonrational feelings on the hotel deep inside my heart. I couldn’t complain anything against the hotel ambiance in front of Calvin. Anyways, it seemed one of the oldest houses having cream colour paint. At the entrance there is a reception desk and to the left a small room. Straight there is a small open space and ahead is a dormitory that has four beds. So that’s “Shiva Café” at first sight… clogged up, suffocating and dim. Anyways I took Calvin to my room up in the garret.
After shit and shower we came down to the small eating space for lunch. It maintains a unique seating arrangement leveling the floor and three Square Tamburil Coffee Tables. The walls were painted with some sprayed letters and also retain an Indian map. We ordered our lunch. I went for my scrumptious Sahi Paneer and Butter Nun and Calvin thought to try out Special Biriyani of Shiva Café.
So then I was a part of the 12th century. The Jaisalmer Fort that was built in 1156 AD by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rao Jaisal is a massive yellow sandstone structure and is also known as the “Golden Fort”. It maintains several merchant havelis and ancient temples.
‘Let’s go Calvin.’ I decided to take a walk circling the fort. The path in the outer walls of the fort is a perfect walk of an hour that circles the entire fort. We started from one of the alleys diverged from the square that lead to the outer walls and winded up at the main entrance. ‘Wow… check this view Calvin…’ I stood perplex once again but this time I could brief my feelings to Calvin seeing the spectacular panoramic view of the Jaisalmer city from the outer walls near one of the cannon sites. Far at the horizon one can even capture an extensive view of the vast area of windmills that stretches from east to west. On our round trip we came across three such cannon sites wherefrom one can have the panoramic view of the whole city. One is facing south, which is close to the square; one facing to the west is approximately 10 minutes walk from the former; and one facing north, which is the smaller one, is approximately further 10 minutes of walk.
The panoramic view of the Jaisalmer city from the cannon site. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
Calvin and I came back to the hotel at around 2 in the afternoon. Teju briefed us the program and we were accompanied by two Indian girls. I gave Teju 300 bucks to buy me a bottle of Old Monk Rum, which I thought would act like a medicine during the cold night in the dunes.
‘Hi… I’m Riva and she is my friend Shelly…’ one of the Indian girls introduced herself and her friend to Calvin. I seemed like a hollow man to those two ladies and hence I also decided to keep numb.
‘Why are we waiting for?’ Shelly asked the driver.
‘umm… actually I’m waiting for Teju. He went to buy a bottle of Rum for me and Calvin.’ I cleared them. So that was the first impression I gave to those two Indian ladies… Riva and Shelly, travelling with one English gentleman and one alcoholic Indian. Both of us… ‘strangers’. Just for the sake of formality I asked one of the girls, ‘would you like to have vodka or whiskey or rum or something?’ After saying, ‘something’, I asked myself, ‘what I actually meant by something?’ Anyways… after a fraction of seconds one of the girls replied, ‘No! Thanks for asking though.’
Ultimately Teju came back and I asked Calvin to put the bottle in his bag as I wasn’t carrying mine. The driver whirred the engine and our program for the day began. Riva and Shelly packed some food from a roadside dhaba and Calvin and I bought few bottles of mineral water for the way. Our jeep headed keeping onto the highway that leads straight to the SAM dunes. After travelling an hour or so the jeep took a left turn diverging from the highway. So that was the time when I came to know that we were not going to the SAM dunes for camping.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked the driver.
‘Sir… right now we are heading to Kuldhara village and then we will drive to another village where from we will travel to the dunes on a camel safari.’
According to the locals the Kuldhara village is a haunted place. It is one of the unexplored places in India and is approximately 25 to 30 kilometers far from the Jaisalmer city. The village dates back to the 17th century and today most of it is in ruins except a dome shaped turret and a temple that is dedicated to Lord Krishna. I was taking hold of every bricks of the ruined village esteeming myself as Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay, who was one of the Indian archaeologists and historian and was a member of the Archaeological Survey of India. The ambiance recollected me the scenes from the box buster bollywood flick, “Kachche Dhaage”, where Aftab, a character played by the popular actor Ajay Devgn, smuggled goods across the Rajasthan border into Pakistan and Dhananjay, Aftab’s step brother, a character played by the ‘Chota Nawab of bollywood industry’, Saif Ali Khan, lived a corporate lifestyle. The story reels into the ruins of the Kuldhara village when both Aftab and Dhananjay were kept as hostiles.
Nonetheless, the ambiance is a perfect place for photo shoot and hence the girls went on with clicks, clicks and clicks.
‘Hey… we are going to miss the sunset… hurry up,’ I reminded and prevised the girls.
Calvin, Me, Riva and Shelly posing at the Kuldhara Village.
The ruin of Kuldhara Village. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
‘So… how much time it’s going to take to reach our camp site?’ I asked the driver after getting inside the jeep.
‘Couple of hours more Sir!’
I didn’t want to miss the sunset and to capture the changing colours at the west sky was one of my motifs on this trip. After 45 minutes or an hour drive we reached to a village where we were accompanied by Michael, Raju, Papaya and Jackson. Guess what! These names are the names of the camels and we were seated on it. The porters started to gear up the camels by loading stuffs like mattresses, pillows, water barrels, foods on their back. Within few minutes the children from a nearby village came running to us and requested me and Calvin to play cricket with them. Later Riva and Shelly accompanied them for a snap.
Calvin, Riva and Shelly with the local kids. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
So our safari into the dunes started. We were four of us, two porters and six camels. But where we were going actually… I wasn’t aware of the destination.
‘hum log kaha ja rahe hai?’ (Where are we heading?)’ I asked one of the porters.
‘ret mai… (into the desert)’, he replied.
‘areye woh to mujhe bhi pata hai… par ek naam to hoga na? (I’m aware of that but at least there is a name of that place…I guess?’
‘Dundee’ he cleared.
I took out my handycam because taking still pictures were impossible on that bumpy ride. Though Calvin took some still snaps but Jackson seemed bit naughty and I kept dancing sitting on his back.
Shelly and Calvin ready for the Camel Safari. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
‘Shelly… can I ask you one thing? Are you from North-East?’ I asked.
I noticed a change in her looks and Riva started to laugh. ‘Naaaaaaa…’ she replied.
‘but look like one of them…’
‘ya… we also pull her leg saying that…’ Riva jested.
The Camel Safari to the dunes of Dundee
Slowly the sun was weakening down to the horizon and we were moving deep into the desert passing through thorn shrubs and other desert plants. On the safari we spotted some deer, rats and the sky was dominated by a flock of eagles. Up down…up down…up down… the camel safari to the dunes of Dundee seemed to ache my back. I kept on shooting the ride and interviewed each of them. It was painful but was fun and by 6 we reached at the base of the dunes, which was our campsite. There were four thatched huts in the midst of vast tilth. After getting down from the camels we headed high on the dunes to capture the sunset and the porters busied themselves to set the night on fire.
Sunset from Dundee Dunes. Photo Courtesy @ Swairik Das
It was tacit and romantic… an exceptional moment that still beats my pulse. Slowly the sky started to change its colour…from yellow to orange and from red to dim. I kept staring at the horizon to capture each of its changes without a blink of an eye till I was knocked by the North-East Haryana girl, Shelly Singla, for some photography. To the west sky the sun was setting down and to the east sky the moon appeared to shine bright reflecting on the dunes that slowly turned silver.
Finally it was time to break the silence and Old Monk seal that was idly placed in Calvin’s bag. Calvin wasn’t aware of the taste of Indian Rums. Hence, Old Monk being the traditional, cheapest and best of all the Rums… I suggested him to try it out. We sat on the dunes with four glasses and the result… Calvin and I ended up with 7 pegs each and Shelly a 30 ml peg and Riva with a glass of pure Indian water. At the same time I filmed a small interview of the two Indian girls, Riva, who is from Chandigarh and Shelly, who is from Haryana.
Interview of Riva and Shelly
[Statutory Warning: This video does not promote any kind of alcoholic beverages. It is solely presented as an experience from author’s end and contributed as a part of this article. Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health.]
Well… the night after that is not in my memory.
To continue with Day 2 … English tongue and desi flavour… European smile and desi eyes