Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March 2011: Enroute to Jaisalmer

After a traditional breakfast of aloo parantha with curd and pickle in Jodhpur, we walk between tuk-tuks, motorcycles and bicycles to a spice exporter, and are treated to exotic aromas of mango tea, tandoori spice, sandalwood, and finally a cup of saffron and cinnamon tea, lightly feeling the delicate stamens on our tongues as the exporter, Mr. Bhandari, tells us he ships all over the world; right from this small shop on the side of a dusty street in downtown Jodhpur.

We walk back to our waiting van, to ply the torn pavement roads, jostling our way to our next stop: a family who looms cotton area rugs on an ancient hand loom, placed on the floor. Meanwhile, we pass a camel auction, seeing hundreds of camels, people and a swarm of children and adults selling necklaces and carvings made from local materials.

We finally arrive at the craftsman's home, and view the large assortment of rigs that he produces; we settle on a price and with our rugs nicely wrapped, continue towards Jaisalmer, and the Thar desert. It is becoming distinctly warmer and the dry air whips the curtains of our van interior. We are all resting from the heat and the steady cadence of wheels on pavement and rocking motion produced by pavemenet that has become rippled with the 47C temps of summer.

Our next stop, lunch, finds us at an unlikely place, a safari camp headquarters, and resort, the Manvar. It is an oasis of manicured lawns, security staff in uniforms and exquisitely designed adobe buildings, eating cabanas and smooth mud and straw floors. The waiter, dressed in British Kaki and white tribal pants, serves us cool white wine "Sula" and fettuccine Alfredo....yes, here in the fringe of the desert. Very shortly our tranquility is shattered by the arrival of three European style deluxe buses filled with tourists, name badges and safari shorts attached, to experience a fully catered tent safari camp in the desert, complete with musical instruments and dancers, just like something out of Africa or "Lawrence of Arabia". As I said earlier, India is full of surprises! We continue toward Jaisalmer, thinking of our own camel trek to come.

Our five hour drive takes for miles through desert scrub, the driver points out that this is where the Indian government detonated a nuclear device below the surface in 1995. The military is very present here, with rows of tanks, officers' messes, various command posts and jets flying overhead. We enter an area of pink Sandstone there are small shops busy cutting the stone with huge, 6-8 foot diameter diamond saws, cooled with water spray. Mile after lie of rock quarries brings us to the outskirts of Jaisalmer, and our hotel. It looks strange set in the middle of rock quarries, along with other hotels under construction. India is indeed a land of contrasts. We are greeted by attentive staff, have dinner and wait for what tomorrow may bring.

Cam Grant

DWC Team Leader

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