Perhaps it was the insanity of the driving or the monotony of the scenery: a rush of scrubby, sandy landscape broken up by women in brightly coloured saris balancing improbable loads on their heads, oh and the odd camel, but I slept through the Great Thar Desert. We were deposited in the middle of what seemed like a building site where the road seemed to end with our hotel at the end of it. At night the garish lights of the ‘Artist Hotel’ were like a beacon in the darkness guiding us towards shelter.
During our two and a half days in Jaisalmer I discovered that I could read maps. It’s kind of a handy skill to have in a place where street names are dispensed with and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to town planning. The Fort hangs precipitously over the town, concealing the chaos of clothes, book and fabric shops that fill it’s every corner bathing it in cacophonous colour. The mob of bored salesman and rickshaw drivers in the main square watch cows jostling with each other; only the high pitched scream of a sari clad Indian woman raises them out of their torpor to throw water over the otherwise docile creatures. Streets weave away to little doorways filled with mouth watering smells which lead up to breath taking views. From above there is a hint of a
My memories of Jaisalmer and the Havelis below the Fort are like gliding back to a time when Princes wooed the most beautiful Princesses in all the land on their trusty camels. Acrobats bounced precariously on the tight rope, while musicians beat out a syncopated rhythm, the strange high pitched string accompaniment weaving in out of the beat. I could also imagine the women in the Jaiwana (women’s quarters) spying on the proceedings on the other side of the intricately carved stone screens. The further you wandered away from the Fort, the closer you came back to the modern day of Gin & Tonics and rampant consumerism: Special offer, almost free. Buy this shirt to make your man more handsome. Bedspread, good for two. And there was conflict; the khaki uniform tucked into heavy black boots was forever present reminding us that the
Jaisalmer was also filled with disparate characters, most of them staying at the Artist Hotel it must be said, but there were a few that we bumped into in the Fort. The little British/Israeli girl who obviously recognised my British tone from three tables away and came to share her sequins and holiday anecdotes with us; Then there was Tog-mei the Tibetan ex-Buddhist monk who taught me how to make a singing bowl hum while making Estrella and I tea and giving us blessings. I couldn’t resist purchasing a bowl and although I did make it sing in a way that its vibrations seemed to come from all around and radiate through me, since, all I have managed to do is make a scraping noise which drives Tibo to distraction.
So the Artist Hotel is unsurprisingly in the middle of an Artist colony and Artist’s being what they are, we could be woken by the sound of traditional Rajasthani music at any time of the night. Likewise we could purchase the best Malai Kofta ever (a kind of doughy ball of vegetables and fruit in a yummy sauce) or bus tickets at any time. It seemed that Anna the chain smoking Austrian who sent the boys out for her cigarettes, tissues and what nots, all in a huskier and huskier voice that kind of made you want to tell her to quit smoking, was also ever present. Anna’s husband Wolfgang, who put a look in every now and again, was also a bit of a chain smoker and quite partial to leather trousers. Now the temperature does drop quite dramatically as soon as the sun goes down, but well, let’s not go into too many details about Wolfie’s trousers. Sister Mary and Sister Benedicta had been working on a children’s mission outside of Jaisalmer and were due to leave the next day. Mary pointed out the important articles in the newspaper, why the leader in Gujarat was a dangerous, untrustworthy character and that we weren’t far from the