Under the stars in the Jaisalmer desert

Whilst in Rajasthan we spent some time exploring the Thar desert.  From Jaipur we headed west roughly 400km to Jaisalmer.

Another 12 hour overnight train was our transport.  This was to be our 4th long haul train journey and by now they had become much easier.  Our method (if available) is an overnight train which gets us to our destination in the morning.

3AC is our preferred class (again if available) as it is comfort at a low cost (the Jaisalmer train cost us around £10 each).  If you can sleep through the night you wake near your destination relatively fresh and still able to take in some of the new, passing scenery.

This was very much the case as we pull into Jaisalmer station. The earth is arid and the buildings are golden yellow.  We are ready to mingle with the Rajasthani royalty.

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A night in the sand

Jaisalmer is reliant on its trade in tourism.  Steeped in violent, epic history and romantic folklore.  Picturesque as you stand in the shadows of one of the many market streets gazing up at the impenetrable “Golden Fort.

A population of roughly 70,000, it feels more like a town than a city and is not far off the size of Tamworth (although that is where the similarities end).

For centuries water has been the largest commodity here.  However, as the water systems connected Jaisalmer to the modern world like a freshly sprung well, so too sprung the guest houses, B&B’s and travel agents.  Competition is fierce and everywhere you go someone is selling a ‘real desert safari’ or camel ride experience.

The tragic irony is that increased water usage from an increased tourism trade is causing damage to the foundations of Jaisalmers’ main attraction: The Golden Fort.

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We kept things simple and as we were only spending a couple of days followed the 400ish positive reviews on Trip Advisor for Desert Man Sawai Dan.  1,600Rs (£16) for an overnight stay in the desert, jeep ride, camel trek, food by the campfire and use of their guest house before and after to shower and store our heavy bags.

Dan greets us at the station with a sign held high over his head reading “Welcome to Jaisalmer Hannah and Rob”.  His handlebar moustache hangs over his smile and he grips our hands firmly before bundling us into a tuc-tuc.

With his brother, “Antonio Banderas” (his real name is Padam Charan but I suppose he looks a little like Antonio Banderas) Dan operates a simple guest house and tour company.  The key to their success is covering the little details and encouraging people to leave feedback on sites like Trip Advisor.

After we shower and eat (a stand-out Gatta Curry local to Rajasthan).  We pile into a jeep with 7 other guests.  My knees bash against the Spanish couple sitting opposite as we move across the hot road.

Hannah falls asleep.  Her ability to do this in any mode of transport, on any sort of terrain amazes me and I watch her head bounce from side to side, a small amount of saliva forming in the corner of her mouth.  A vulture circles above us.

Roughly 40km from Jaisalmer amidst the shrubs and cracked earth we stop.  A group of 10 camels sit in a circle chewing and farting.  We are beckoned over by another guide and introduced to our rides – Simon and Jonny number 1.

We smile as our camels lift us high from the ground and soon our group embarks for the dunes where the jeeps cannot reach.  Our smiles soon fade as we think on the welfare of the camels and feel bad for them lumbering our bones in the desert heat.

“This will be the last time”, we say jointly.

An hour passes quickly and the shrub land gives way to sand dunes, white-yellow like cartoons.  The sun is still blazing down on us as we reach our camp-site.  Blankets and duvets stacked under a lifeless tree.

Our guides quickly knock up dinner as a Canadian couple bore us with stories of how much they drank on their flight over. Hannah rolls her eyes. We gather round a campfire and tuck into a spicy veg-curry with chapatis, rice and beer. There is plenty to go around.

One of our group, Jay is a singer, born in a Rajasthan village.  He regales us with stories of kings and a couple of local folk songs as the stars take place of the sun.  Camels silhouette the horizon.

Jay breaks into a cover of Yellow by Coldplay.  Our queue for bed…

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Me and Hannah cuddle up away from the group and talk about all we have seen and what the future holds.  The moon illuminates the sky and moves over us like a plate.  The stars hear everything.

I fall asleep and dream about wolves attacking us in the night.  I wake in the darkness and a shape is at the end of our bed.  Heat surrounds my feet and the shape stretches and breathes.  “Hannah, I think there’s a dog at the end of our bed”.  She cares not and moves over so our new friend has more room.

In the morning our uninvited guest is still with us.  Curled and yawning.  His tail wags as he sees us rise.  We pretend he’s ours and not a desert stray and for those early minutes we’re a family waking on a Sunday morning and playing before breakfast.

We hear the Canadians squawking behind us and our mirage is shattered.  At least for now.

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