Jaisalmer: the golden city

“Andrea get out here now!” shouted my mom from outside the toilet. Geez OK FINE. I peed quickly, washed my hands and as patted them dry I heard the banging music. I pushed the old, wooden door open, and as I stepped out directly on to the street I stopped quickly enough to avoid getting stepped on by a multicolored elephant.

My mom pulled me back towards the wall as we witnessed throngs of people, a street band, children dancing, men throwing fireworks and overall joy inundating the street. It all came together once I saw the horse, with the groom sitting seriously on top, determined to get to his destination.

This was lovely Jaisalmer. If you want to get a feel of a dessert city, and get transported to the past, this is it. Only 90,000 people live here, which for Indian standards, it is probably a neighborhood, and I’m sure every single one was invited to this wedding.

Jaisalmer gets its golden city nickname because its fort and all the city’s buildings are made from a yellowish colored stone called Sonar Kila. As opposed to the pinkish Jaipur and the spotted blue Jodhpur, Jaisalmer is truly and completely golden. Once an important stop in the silk route, Jaisalmer lost its population because water is hard to come by. It stands alone in the Thar dessert, and from a high top view you’ll see the golden stone camouflaging in the barren landscape. It came back to life after the India/Pakistan partition due to its proximity to the border. Its people live off tourism and catering to the military base close by.

The day after the wedding that I almost crashed (my mom wasn’t to keen on the idea) we visited the fort, named Sonar Kila after the stone of the city. As opposed to most forts in India, people live inside the Sonar Kila. There are also small hotels and all types of shops inside its walls. So yes, the fort is full of cows, has an open sewage. It’s truly a transporting experience, since it shows how one of these wonderful structures looks like with it’s meant for use. At the same time, all the weight and the addition of more modern structures it’s taking it’s toll on the fort. I was originally sad that we were not staying inside, but once I found out that it’s bad for the construction I felt that staying out of it was the best choice. If I were to go again though, I would like to stay in one of the dessert tent hotels outside of the city.

Nishesh had been pretty emphatic about me trying Dhal Bhati Churma, yet in all of my Rajasthani trip I had failed to find it. Our tour guide, who was fantastic for a change, took us to a pretty great restaurant . I asked the owner if he had the dish, since again I didn’t see it in the menu, but this was our last Rajasthani city, my last chance to find it. He said he didn’t, but if I came back later he would make it specially for me. What Nishesh had failed to mention was that this is a dish prepared for special only. I had been going around Rajasthan looking for the equivalent to a thanksgiving dinner or natilla and bunuelos in restaurants. I was happy because we ordered Palak Paneer and butter chicken and shared between me and my mom, and I think for the first time it was mild enough for my mom to truly enjoy Indian food. She loved it.

The afternoon was for camel riding. And my, was it amazing. These animals have these serene aura, and heading into the sand banks I realized I had never seen any before. Ok fine these were dromedaries not camels, but close enough. We saw the sunset over the Thar dessert while some gypsy girls danced and played music, but not for us, cause we left our money in the car. My dromedary was called dessert boy, and he was awesome. I would say riding on the Thar dessert has been one of my favorite experiences so far, but for people who have already been to the Sahara or other desserts it may be more of the same. A city like Jaisalmer though I’m sure exists nowhere else.

At night I finally had the long awaited for Dhal Bhati Churma. And yeah, it was worth the trouble.

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