8th Feb’17 was the date that was to be made special, because my parent’s, after twenty-five years of acceptance and tolerance with a swirl of cash in compliments, had finally made it to the silver jubilee of their marriage, happily possible. And me, being a soul flourished with exhilarating ideas backed by hospitality degree in my hand, jumped into my canal of hopes. And February gave me the liberty to choose a place of my dreams…‘Rajasthan’. I thanked my grandparents, one in heaven and one abode, for choosing such a fabulous (not too hot and not too cold) month for my parents’ marriage ceremonial feast.
After having spent almost all my school summer vacations at Nani’s place in Rajasthan, and never had seen the sand dunes yet, have always been a reason for complaining my mother about it. So to put an end to it once and for all, I decided to go for it now. Accordingly I began the Googling…‘
‘Top ten desert safaris in India’ I typed.
I prefer going for the niche, you know. Specially when I had just started earning and the responsibilities were only limited to meet, just my needs and be cheerful. The ranking started with the Safaris in Jaisalmer and ended with Jaisalmer. That’s how the exact location had been chosen in Rajasthan…‘Jaisalmer: The Golden City’. And the camps that topped in most of the travel websites were ‘The Rajputana’ and ‘The Royal’ Desert Camps. Out of which ‘The Royal Desert Camp’ caught my special attention, because of the hospitality sector discount it provided me. And I am not ashamed to mention that, as rest of the things, the tent…the amenities and the activities weren’t anyway clear in any of the camps. The problem was the language (Marwadi mixed Hindi) at the reservation desk or should I say at the reservation dune, because the guys who spoke from the other side of the phone, seemed like were covered in sand and speaking. Just like Sunil Shetty from ‘Border.’ The background ambient sounds and everything gave me such an idea. Nevertheless, I trusted my stars and confirmed the booking.
Still, I was not relaxed. The check-in time was 3 pm and oh! my lord the train (Delhi Jaisalmer Express) reaches at 11:15 am. I didn’t want us to wait at the station on the D day. Oh! no…no. I groped my money bag and booked another hotel room which was decently cheap, for the 7th. And accordingly booked the train which was to be boarded from Jaipur, and then the cab to pick-us-up from ‘My’ resort. Yes, ‘The Tree House Resort’ where I worked, which is practically in the outskirts of Jaipur. So there were no Ola…no Uber.
Everything that was on my part was set and done. Dad just had to worry about their tickets to travel from Bhopal to The Tree House…where we were supposed to assemble.
The train ran well and dropped us right on time on a small and comparatively cleaner station…Jaisalmer, filled with variety of enthusiastic people. As we walked outside, a particular foreigner couple had caught my special attention. Both were dressed-up as colourful as crayons, and their Egyptian crowns were even more colorful than their attire. Bubbling and cheering. I had no clue, what the celebration was about.
The scenario, outside the station, was no less tumultuous. The pickers were shouting almost like hawkers, holding the big banners of their hotels. We recognized ours. His dressing was quite Iranian in style. He was wearing a beige Kurta salwaar with a decoratively designed scarf wrapped carelessly around his shoulders, and he had quite a noticeable persona. It was a task to reach up to him. So what I did, I waived at him and shouted ‘Abu Safari’ almost four times before I could finally caught his attention. He pointed at a cab that read ‘Abu Safari’ and then resumed himself with the hawking. He wasn’t too crazy about welcoming us, you could tell. So we decided to make ourselves home and hopped in the cab. And trust me, it wasn’t as sophisticated as the word itself sounds. That gave me an idea how the hotel was going to be like.
As the cab tasted the city, the celebration seemed to become even more evident and so now the reason. It was the occasion of annual Jaisalmer desert festival. A very right time to visit the city, coincidently. Anyway by the time we reached the hotel, my dad had planned a complete itinerary with the driver. How we can do the city tour today, attend the desert festival in the morning and leave for Sam Dunes afternoon for the camping.
Jaisalmer; A Small City Built Around A Fort Infused With Hippy Culture
Jaisalmer fort welcomed us, as we took the last turn to the hotel, and within few seconds we reached there. A foreigner girl was sitting at the reception who didn’t speak english nor she understood. Suddenly the driver who had brought us, came and assisted us with the check-in. It turned out, he was ‘Badal’ from ‘The Abu safari’, dearest bhaijaan of Abu. I must mention, that man had got the humor. Though he didn’t seem like he had. Because of his tensed face and all. But he really had. It took me some time to know about it, almost till the time we checked-out. When we were complaining about the hot water supply and all, and he suddenly replied: “Guest yaad rakhe, iske liye hum aise karte hai.” It took me a while to figure-out, but then I finally smiled at last. I decided, right at that moment, that I would definitely visit this hotel again. But only with friends.
The hotel turned out exactly the way its cab indicated to me as. Still I was happy that we stayed there. It helped me to get to know the hippy side of the city. It was quite unique, harbouring the hippy culture, being a part of such traditional state with rich historical background.
After getting fresh and up and all, we decided to have our home packed lunch in the open terrace at the top. The weather allowed us to do so. As we reached the scantily occupied terrace, the fort drenched in winter’s sunlight, greeted us like a soldier. That’s the thing with Jaisalmer, the fort follows you, wherever you are, wherever you go.
The guests, mostly foreigners were enjoying only beers for lunch, lying on the colorful mattresses, that were laid along the walls with twinkled pillows. Abu with his co-partners or might be brothers (as they all looked alike) were too enjoying themselves like other guests. One was sitting in the corner with charcoaled eyes, taking selfies. The other was sitting in the centre with a big music box, playing songs that only he could hear and the one sitting beside him. While Abu, in a huge shawl kind of a thing, right from his head to his toes, getting it dragged all the way he strolled.
Dwelling Into The Past…Connecting It To The Present
The city tour started with the Fort, which was being stocked with oil lamps in and around by everyone; the localites, the domestic as well as the international tourist, for the festival. I must say, it was one of the most looked after fort that I have ever come across. I mean the ambiance and everything is so vibrant and alive, that makes you feel that yes…the government do takes care of it. The Shops at the entrance and around the fort keep even the non-history lovers awake. Though none of us were one of those types. But the yellow sand stone glass that the guide ‘Mr. Jaisingh’ told us about, that helps to cure many diseases, I don’t remember what all. But Blood Pressure was definitely one of them. How am I so sure about it is a long story I don’t feel like to go on about right now. Anyway, it made dad keen to look for it in the market, and finally, buy it. After meeting Mr. Jaisingh, I have realized that any fort tour is incomplete without a guide. Their unique speaking style, special remarks, and added gossips always make the history more interesting, that cling to your mind for a lifetime. So always…‘Forget to take a camera but never to hire a guide…Take it as a tip from my side.’
As we reached the top of the fort, the next destination to go for became clear. It was ‘Patwon ki Haweli’. Its architectural design seemed captivating from the top. And Mr. Jaisingh offered to show it to us in the nominal amount added to what he had asked for before, so we happily fell for it.
He led us through the narrow lanes of the city which were clean and stocked with fancy shops and superbly built houses or should I say havelis. The foreigners and the local tourists were voluntarily taking part in filling the lamps, in and around the fort for the ‘Maru Mahotsav’ or the desert festival. We knew, by the time we move back to the hotel, the fort will be well lit and shiny. And it really was.
Patwon Ki Haveli is a cluster of five Havelis, started by Guman Chand Patwa and was completed by his sons, that took around 55 years to finally gain its complete form. That’s commendable. But what was even more commendable was Mr. Jaisingh’s selfless service to us. He offered to click few photographs of us together in the best places possible and even suggested some poses that we should go to turn out good. And they did turn out good. I was so obligated that I had to click Mr. Jaisingh’s Photo at the top of the Haveli with dad, as a remembrance. Both stood awkwardly though. You can have a look.
By 5:56 pm, we were done for the day and were just looking for a shop that could provide us the variety of genuine and authentic Rajasthani artifacts.
Authentic Clothes Shop From Bikaner, I Could Not Recall Whose Name Now
It was a corner shop on the same lane where the KB Cafe is, right in front of Patwo ki Haweli. The shop even has Bikaner mentioned in its name, but I could not recall its full name. The owners are two brothers who migrated from Pakistan long ago. They have good knowledge of clothes and its craft and were even polite. They showed us the old crafts and the new crafts to make us know the difference. It was a shop worth remembering its name, but still, I could not recall its name now.
Festival started with a colourful procession from Gadisar lake which we missed because we didn’t take an auto. It wasn’t something we had decided upon but it just happened. Just like that. So, we didn’t take an auto and had missed the start. We could hear the procession but couldn’t track it. We fast paced our walk. The roads were getting jammed even for the walkers. Still, we were walking and walking. I could hear my mom cursing behind because we didn’t take an auto before and now were walking so fast for her to cope up. Finally, we were there, a bit distant, but we were there.
We caught the tail of the procession when it was about to enter the winding lanes of the fortified town. There were camel carts carrying beautiful Rajasthani Brides and grooms, all royals, one was Mumal and Mahendra, I could still remember that. And they were the most beautiful of all. Even the Mahendra, because she was a girl as well. That was cute. I remembered my annual functions at school when in group dance we never used to take boys for partners, just girls.
As we moved forward, not too fast, just two steps in a minute then straight fifteen steps in another and then back to square one on another. There were regional dances going on all throughout the procession that kept us engaged, there were men riding the camel, all dolled-up like kings with big mustaches, out of which one had to be selected as Mr. Desert. Slowly and steadily, enjoying the celebration; the dances and the kings with big mustaches riding on the camel, we reached at the front. It was a toiling task. There was hardly any space to move ahead, as the whole city had flocked at their houses entrance and terrace to witness this colorful and cheerful procession. On top of it the fear of being kicked by camel never left us and of stepping on their poop…eew
After taking a complete round of the city, we along with the procession reached a big ground; flagged and structured. The setting suggested…things are not over yet. I looked down at my watch with the growling stomach. 11:13 pm, I guess it was the time for us to leave for the hotel and get ready for the pick-up arranged by the Royal desert camp. We had asked for an early check-in over there, so that we could check-out from the room at Abu Safari as per their standard check-out time. But how I wished we could stay!
On our way back from the desert festival we finally found a restaurant; shy and tucked away from people, donned with colorful sarees that the owner’s wife might have refused to wear anymore. But the idea worked well. The restaurant was looking attractive. And what was above all was that it served yumtastic home made parathas of three different kinds that finally gave peace to our growling stomach. But what mattered me the most was that my mother too gave it five stars. It really seems like an achievement, if we could find a proper place that could match-up to her food expectations. It really does.
The driver was on time and so were we, all stuffed and charged-up. The camp was just an hour drive from the hotel…not too far. But the view had changed drastically from the roaded city to plain dried land with overgrown vachellia. I could hear the sand and could even smell it. Yes, I could.
It took its time, but the dunes finally showed up, with generosity. Our camp came along, rustling and bustling with the wind. There was no welcome done as it was mentioned in the package. But I didn’t get sour about it, as we were before time.
After we had been allotted the tent and the luggage was sent…Dad asked for the tea if it could be served in the room. The Man, Mr. Shiva, who took care of the formalities for the tent allotment, showed the way to the dining hall. It was a brilliantly decorated hall that surely gave the feel of the region. After having tea and all, dad took a stroll in the hall while me and mom clicked few selfies. Dad was actually trying to reach the host to ask about the red wine I had asked him to ask about. The host told they have the stock. Dad gestured at me and I walked up to him. I felt quite funny when he took the bottle of ‘Sula Red wine’ from the fridge.
“Red wine…in the fridge?” I said
“Actually madam, guest ask for the cold one because of this hot weather out here.”
“Hmm..?” I exclaimed. “Okay, please take one out from the fridge, we will have one in the evening.”
“Okay madam.” He agreed.
We didn’t do much after we got in the tent, just slept for one and a half hours straight to kill the time before the activities start. The tent was so cozy, very well equipped and had a touch of the warmness of the weather. I loved it.
Camel ride was arranged as soon as we came out at the main gate. There was a boy with two seated camels, one with red saddle and another with yellow. We walked up to him with lazy steps and mushy eyes…but I knew Mom and Dad were wide awake by now, especially after seeing the camel, Mom with excitement and Dad out of nervousness. The first thing Mom we did was to get acquainted with the boy, such stuffs really excite her. The little boy name was Salim. Mom instantly asked, “Where is your Anarkali?”, which he pretended to overheard. Salim introduced us with his camels, the red one was Babloo and the yellow one was Laloo. And that’s how the connection was established that turned into a bond after we rode on them to the sunset point.
The weather was getting colder and colder. We were sitting on sand, admiring the sunset and the naturally drawn waves on sand. The sand beneath our feet felt like silk and the wind was making its presence felt by it roaring sound. There were two men going family to family like us sitting on dunes to entertain them by playing instruments (Been and Dafli). We were about to leave when they reached us. But we made time for them and sat a little more to listen to the song of of course Mom’s request; Banna re Baga me Jhula.
The welcome was finally done when we reached back the camp. A traditionally dressed girl with a ‘Thali of Aarti’ was standing at the gate with a routine smile. I looked at the thali and imagined how a few minutes back, it must be carelessly kept on the reception desk like any other stationery. This is the drawback of being an hotelier, ‘you see what other’s don’t’. Anyway, we all skipped the welcome drink that came later, as it was already too cold for a lemonade.
The Rajasthani music and dance troop was warming-up at the stage and open backstage. That somewhat made us rush to our tent. The time we took to get ready was not much, approx 15-20 mins. The music outside didn’t let us take time beyond that. First, who went out was, of course, my dad, followed by my mom. I got a little late because the fewer lights in the tent didn’t allow my earrings to easily find the holes of my earlobes. Finally, I went out, only to come back to get rid of them, in eighteen minutes or so. I wrapped myself in a shawl and joined back the anniversary couple, fighting over to which song to request for.
I was awake all night, because of the chilly tent. My feet covered with two blankets never got warm, that’s how chilly the tent was. As soon as the sun became brighter I quickly came out of the tent and made myself comfortable at the sit out. It took me around fifteen minutes of natural microwaving to come to my senses. Dad was constantly reminding me the time so that I get ready before the driver honks the horn. It was time to leave now, but I don’t know, I just wanted to stay a bit more, listening to the tunes of the dunes. But I knew, I am going to come back and that’s going to be soon. And that’s how I made my adieu with the dunes.
Sonam Dave is a hotelier-turned-travel writer from the city of lakes, Bhopal. She is a connoisseur of art who loves to ponder in the lap of nature, and always ready to take the inviting calls of the beautiful lakes and river for a rejuvenating plunge. When she is not travelling, she likes to play the rumbling chords and riffs on her guitar. She proudly proclaims herself as a theatre enthusiast, an avid reader and a movie buff. She likes to call herself a rootless wanderer who wishes to choose the roads less travelled.