Oh Jaislamer. I'm not sure where to begin?! This was my first time to the yellow city and I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting. Look I wasn't let down in any way but I guess I wouldn't say it's my favourite city that I have been to in Rajasthan - and I have oh so many to go. It has everything that a first city should have. A grand yellow fort, temples, a lake, a bustling market place and a vast dessert which sits in a completely separate category to the rest of the city. For me it was lacking something which I can't quite put my finger on. So here goes... my Jaisalmer in two days and two nights.
Where we stayed
Initially we were pencilled in to stay at the ever so luxurious looking Surygarh but as the fates of the Indian gods had it, we missed the deadline to secure our booking and the next split second later the hotel was full to the brim with no rooms to spare - catering for a wedding and a grand 40th birthday celebration. Just only wish it was ours. After frantically searching the next best thing appeared to be a smaller boutique style hotel, walking distance to the marketplace, called Sonaar Haveli. Its very hard to describe this hotel - full of its own quirks and charm. For the first night we were the only guests. We sat alone on the roof terrace with faux roman columns and a view of an Indian wedding which seemingly had very few guests next door.
The public rooms were lined with bright wallpaper in the vein of the Sujan Rajmahal Palace in Jaipur, but didn't quite hit the right notes nevertheless adding to the hotel's eccentricity.
The rooms were lovely and large and centred around an open atrium.
What we did
Our first day was spent walking around the marketplace. We didn't even make it up to the fort! There was a lot of hustle and bustle and very few tourists. It was set up to take tourists with a lot of gimmicky shops, but there were also a lot of gems. Bargaining is king here but I'll be the first to admit that I'm terrible at it. That said if you are happy and they are happy then we are winners. I bought a bag and a pair of traditional leather shoes (they tell us Camel leather but apparently it's lamb leather - who's to really know) for under $10. Winning.
The people watching is the highlight. The women in particular are dressed in their bright traditional blouses and matching skirts with bangles up to their armpits. Somehow they manage to work in these exquisite outfits and carry it all off ever so naturally.
Day two and it was on to the lake and the fort. Here we felt the tourists. The fort is a working fort, unlike say Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. The fort was heaving. It was set up for the tourists and felt slightly less authentic then the market place below. Elephant pants abounded as well as the carpets and knick knacks. The Jain temples were beautiful but the artificial lighting throughout took the mystical element away slightly. A highlight on the way out was the German Bakery at the entrance which had a good honey, lemon and ginger drink to soothe my sore throat and delicious cookies!
So the desert was THE highlight for so many reasons and not just the obvious ones. We met the AustralianTracey from Sodha Camel Safaris in the fort. She has been living in the for the last 16 years, married to her Rajput husband. Very kindly she invited us to join them for dinner in the desert that night as they would be there setting up promo shots for their tour company. And boy were we glad we said yes! Instead of being packed up and put on camels with every other tourist in the Sam Desert, we were met in another town and taken to another part of the desert with not another person in site! Not sure if we got lucky, but we felt very lucky. The jeep ride out was hair raising but worth it to catch the sun dip behind the dunes. We were greeted in song and met family members from Camel herding tribes who have been in that desert for hundred of years. We had snacks and hot chai and feasted on the most delicious dinner of fire cooked chapatis, dahl and vegetables. We saw the tents and beds set up as if for camp and gosh did they look luxurious. The brightly colours kanthan quilts layer upon layer and that was on top of the freshly pressed sheets and Australian canvas swag that you would be tucked into. To top it off we even so a shooting star streak across that large desert sky. The wild west of Jaisalmer town far behind us.