Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Desert forts and camel safari

We are in the west of Indian now and it is..well..desert. We were about 60km from the Pakistan border at one stage and there is lots of military might in this area. Loads of Army camps and big jet flying over and I even saw a missile launcher, pointed at Pakistan I assume. Let's hope they behave while we are here.

We arrived in this place called Jaislamer and it has a really great fort on top of about the only hill for many kms around. When you see it from the distance it looks like a great big sandcastle that you would make at the beach if you had one of those buckets with the castle shape. It is yellow sandstone and is quite domineering on the landscape. Then unusual thing about it is that it is still a living fort. People still live within the fort walls and have shops, hotels and restaurants. It is a shame though as tourism is killing the fort because the drainage water is causing it to erode from below.

As I was on top of the fort, sitting on a cannon, I could imagine what it would be like to live there in the days of camel trains. You would see the camels coming along time before they got there and be excited about what new things they were bringing. Of course the women of the court were not allowed out, or allowed to have their face seen in public, so all the observing was done from behind lattice work windows. The fittings were lavish by the standards and many servants would have kept them cool with fans, and drapes they hung from the walls covered in perfumed water to cool them down in the summer heat. It gets to 40 or 50 here in summer. We did a tour of the Palace which was excellent.

We went out on a camel safari. It was a bit of a joke as far as camels went, jeep for 45 mins, 1.5 hours on the camel there and 1 hour back. But the best bit was the sleeping under the stars. There is so many out there, and it was awesome laying in the desert sand staring up into space. We had some cooking by the camel drivers and same music and dancing by the gypsies.

There are also lots of havelis here. They are houses that were built by the rich merchants. They have ornate carvings on the outside, there was one with a train, very intricate. In one town they had great paintings of all sorts of things. One had a train, a ship and a plane because people would not have seen these, so it was their way of showing things from outside the region to the people. We have been staying in some havelis, they are good, they have a courtyard, so we are away from the bustle of the town and the rooms have a majestic sort of character to them, like we are living in another era, except that we have running water.

Oh and for the record, it is much warmer here now than up north, if only they would let us wear shorts!


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