When I got to Jaisalmer at 4:45 in the morning, I wasn’t left stupid and unprepared. I’m getting smarter as I travel more and I booked a hotel in advance, and had them come pick me up at the bus station! I also decided to splurge on a hotel so I had HOT WATER!
I woke up and wandered outside to fall instantly in love with the town of Jaisalmer. Most of the forts in Rajasthan have long since been out of use, now standing as glorified museums. Not Jaisalmer! The fort still has people living in it! Most of the small city surrounds the fort, sprawling out for just a few kilometers. From the top of the fort, you can see out to the border of town and beyond into the Great Thar Desert, peppered with wind turbines. The fort itself really is magical to walk around. The whole town is built out of sandstone which makes the town shimmer gold in the sunlight.
I just spent the afternoon wandering around and trying not to get into trouble when an Indian guy approached me and asked me what country I was from. This happens at least 10 times a day. I always try and chat and be friendly so long as they never try to sell me anything. As soon as they try and sell me something, ask me to see their shop, or in any other way annoy me, I’m gone. This guy, said that he just wanted to talk and practice his English. The oldest trick in the book. He then asked if I wanted to go to a good place to take pictures and I figured why not. So I ended up spending the whole day with my new friend Iswar. He was 22 and worked for his brother’s clothing store but just spent most of his days talking with tourists and not working at the store. He showed me around the fort and we broke into lots of hotels to use their rooftop terraces for the best viewpoints.
Then I hopped on the back of his motorbike and he took me to the lake on the outskirts of town. All of the tourists stay on the little bit of pier connected to the village to feed the catfish, but he drove me around the tiny lake away from the tourists through fields of pigeons to get some great pictures. Then we grabbed some beers, went up to a hilltop with a great view of the fort and just talked for a couple of hours. It was refreshing getting to have a conversation with a local who a) spoke incredible English and b) wasn’t trying to sell me anything.
On our travels, I also bumped into a couple of Americans. I met them later in the night for another drink. We ended up having such a great time, that we decided to spend the whole next day together too! I soon learned that Scott and Kari were about 25 and met while working at an organic Burger restaurant in NYC. He was an aspiring artist and she an aspiring writer. However, they were in India for a completely unique reason. She had been here before on an internship and to pick up some extra money, she went to Mumbai and worked as an extra in Bollywood movies. This is actually kind of common because Bollywood movies need white extras for most of their movies. What isn’t common is that because of her internship, she also spoke fluent Hindi. She was soon cast on India’s most popular sitcom! She had left the show and they offered her a spot back for a few more episodes. She got got recognized in the streets and everything! I met a real life celebrity (whose Hindi also made my day incredibly easy).
We started our day by looking at the complex of Jain Temples. We were forced up because all of the temples close at noon, but it ended up being worth it. The Jain religion predates Buddhism and follows a lot of the same principles although it is completely different (I think that’s the worst explanation of a religion everywhere and I apologize to anyone Jain who happens to be reading this). The temples themselves are really interesting. They are filled with intricate carvings that are different on every pillar. Each of the 7 temples in the one block had its own unique personality. One temple had the remnants of beautiful colors, another was filled with sleeping bats! Everywhere you looked there was a new surprise.
Scott, Kari, and I spent the rest of the afternoon having a leisurely lunch and then just wandering around the city aimlessly. I was so glad to meet them and get to know them as we spent pretty much the whole day together so I’m sure they were glad to get rid of me and start their 5 DAY camel safari.
You can probably skip these next paragraphs, but for those that want to get nerdy with me, read on! Jaisalmer is an Earth Systems majors dream. The city is plagued with tons of extremely specific environmental issues that all connect in a hundred weird ways. The guidebook tells you that the Jaisalmer Fort is sinking because of the natural rainfall and the age of the fort. They even go as far as to suggest not staying within the fort walls to be eco-conscious. The locals inside the fort claim it’s not happening, but do realize there is a drainage problem. Apparently, the forts drainage was fine when it was built because the ancient fort constructors were smart cookies and built all of the roads to slope a certain way and drain any rainfall out. It was only the modern drainage that changed everything and ruined the smart design.
The tiny lake is also a factor. Now it is run rampant with catfish. Small children sell loaves of wonderbread for 10 rupees each so you can feed the catfish and they all swarm to eat it. However, catfish aren’t native to the lake and were mysteriously introduced just 7 or 8 years ago! Their dominance wiped out all other fish species and now they reign supreme.
A third fun factor is the wind turbines. All surrounding Jaisalmer, the Indian government built wind turbines since the desert is windy and the local military base requires a lot of energy. The locals should be upset because the wind turbines ruin the view of the desert, thus making Jaisalmer less attractive for tourism, the main industry. However, the real reason locals are upset is because they think the wind turbines have altered the wind patterns and have blown the rain clouds away, affecting the local agriculture. While this is patently untrue, it doesn’t change their rejection of the wind turbines. Earth Systems department, go to Jaisalmer!