I consider Jaisalmer to be my first real adventure and motivation for setting up Don’t Complain Travel. I love to tell people about my experiences in the first sand desert I have ever visited – the Sam Sand Dunes near Jaisalmer City. I’m writing this post almost four years after I have actually been to Jaisalmer, so my thoughts had plenty of time to ripen and so, believe me, when I tell you that Jaisalmer is one of the most impressive cities I have seen in my life so far. What’s Jaisalmer? Jaisalmer is a city in the northwest of India and known as the Golden City due to the yellowish sand color of most of the buildings, e.g. the great Jaisalmer Fort. It is comfortably reached by train from Jodhpur.
I arrived in Jaisalmer at 5 a.m., immediately proceeded to my hotel, where I met my tour guide and friend Muhammad. I had planned to take a camel, ride out into the Thar desert and spend a night under the open skies. I was on a tight schedule, so we decided to drive out to the Sam Sand Dunes that very same afternoon. I was initially a bit cautious, since I was going to sleep in the desert only a few kilometers away from the Pakistani boarder – not being an expert on the India-Pakistan relations, I honestly had not the slightest idea if there was any higher risk. It was all entirely new to me, so I simply decided to stay “street smart” by riding out into an unfamiliar desert bordering to Pakistan with two local strangers I had only known for an hour or so – there was nobody else joining our tour: it was only the guide, the camel owner and me in the vast, empty dunes.
Unfortunately, I had never really understood the name of the camel owner, but I couldn’t be bothered as we immediately jumped on the camel, said bye to Muhammad (who I think went back to Jaisalmer for supplies) and trotted off into the desert. It was nice to ride off without knowing what to expect after the next dune, until after a while, I started to realize that it’s probably just going to be another dune. I quickly confirmed to the camel owner that I would feel comfortable with Babuluji the Camel running faster and so we quickly passed through the desert until we had reached our “camp” – a tiny storage room with some cooking supplies and a bed that we took outside. Shortly after, Muhammad arrived with his jeep from Jaisalmer and we drove to a little village nearby to get some water from the well where I met some funny kids. We couldn’t communicate in a common language, but apparently, grimaces are globally understood. While driving back to our camp through the vast desert, I was deeply impressed to see people actually living in such a lifeless environment. But I couldn’t have been more wrong: the desert was incredibly alive.
That night, I slept under the stars and it was a night that I can still vividly remember. I didn’t sleep very well, as I was a little frightened and kept waking up all the time, which made it even harder for me to tell if I was dreaming or not. It never got entirely dark and so it was easy for me to wander around and enjoy the desert. I not only saw a desert beetle, which left a beautiful trail in the sand, but even encountered a desert hound that wanted to play with me. I didn’t want to cuddle it, but I tapped it a few times on its head as a sign of respect. Meanwhile, I also closely surveyed the nearby areas and discovered to my astonishment that people were actually lying in the sand and just sleeping there – the desert was truly their home. I remember a person lying in a dune covered in a blanket, standing up, maybe even looking at me, walking a bit further and lying down again in the sand. I knew that people were living in the desert, but I have never thought of how they could actually sleep wherever they wanted. After breakfast, I also could see kids walking towards us from a mile away, apparently wandering long distances through the desert without any water – knowing exactly where they are going.
Back in Jaisalmer, completely flashed from my first night in an open desert, I kicked in an energy drink and began to explore the Golden City. Jaisalmer was mainly built around the massive Jaisalmer Fort with its high walls and beautiful Jain Temple inside. It’s very easy and safe to explore. In the Jain Temple of Jaisalmer, there was a polite Jain monk who approached me and pointed out some beautiful parts of the temple. I really think that’s one of the great advantages of traveling alone – people somehow approach you more often. After having had explored the impressive Jaisalmer Fort, I strolled through the streets, bought myself a little jewelry box made of camel bones and passed by a couple of Jaisalmer’s havelis – beautiful private mansions. I finally walked out the city center of Jaisalmer until I had reached Amar Sagar, a romantic shrine in midst of a little lake. Due to a dry spell, however, there was only very little water but many boars and trash surrounding it. I had seen enough of Jaisalmer for a day, so I looked for a ricksha to take me to the Lodhruva Jain Temple about 15 kilometers northwest of Jaisalmer.
That’s when I met Jacob, a ricksha driver, who took my to the Jain Temple near Jaisalmer: Lodhruva. I wasn’t too interested in the Jain temple, as I’ve seen a lot of those lately, so my interest in Jacob’s private life picked up very quickly. After getting to know each other a little better, he surprisingly invited me to visit his house 40 minutes away from Jaisalmer. I usually do not trust strangers and always expect a ricksha driver to trick me into some sort of shop, but I took a leap of faith and agreed. We drove out on the empty streets and passed by a few wind turbines, which I found to be very impressive for the relatively rural Jaisalmer region. And out of nothing, we suddenly arrived at Jacob’s home. He lived with his family in simple houses somewhere along the road in the desert, far away from any other neighbors. After introducing me to his wife, sister and kids, we drank some tea together and sat there rather silently. In Europe, I would have considered it an awkward moment, but in that little house far from Jaisalmer, it felt very natural – the kids and family were curiously observing me, and vice versa. It seriously took about 15 minutes until the silence actually did get a bit awkward and as I still wanted to return him a favor, I asked him: “Do you have any photos of yourself from today, or as a child?”. He said no and so I took several family photos, which I had printed out for him in Jaisalmer. This way, not only I would be able to keep my precious memories of Jaisalmer in 2010, but Jacob and his kids would too.
For more photos of the trip, go ahead and check out the Don’t Complain Travel 2010: India Travel Gallery.
For questions or feedback regarding the Jaisalmer region, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.