To safeguard the fort at Jaisalmer, places to stay are few and as much as the romanticism is appealing we stayed in a hotel outside the walls. I think comfortably, because I remember nothing about the first night there. We threw a spanner in the works of Magan Singh by saying that we wanted to go on a camel safari but bless him, a couple of calls and it was planned, so we stowed our bags at reception and set off for an overnight adventure fuelled by masala omelette, coffee and lassi. By nine we were pedal-boating around Gadisar Lake.
In India a lake is quite often a tank, a masonry lined reservoir for irrigation, and Gadisar is one of the most beautiful. The lake was full of fish, a bit like sterlets, large catfish and in the centre an island inhabited by cranes, herons and cormorants.
At points around the edge there were shrines and little summerhouses built for wives and courtesans of princes past. We spent an hour there and never have we been so thankful for our dupattas. We would have had sunstroke without them as the sun boiled us like potatoes in the water.
In town we had one of the few problems of the trip – we had been advised to take travellers cheques – a mistake! We went to cash some and the first bank told us they didn’t do travellers cheques, so we went to the Bank of Jaisalmer and Bikaner, with a really grumpy cashier, where we were told to go to the Bank of Baroda, the first one! This was probably what had given Jaisalmer a reputation of not always being welcoming to travellers. Magan to the rescue, with a bureau de change that had a good rate and free bottled water. A ten year old boy charming a cobra from a basket blocked our way; do they have their nasty stuff milked? But it was worth battling past to reach Natraj, a rooftop restaurant beneath the fort where lunch and lassi (yes I was addicted and I’ll leave it to you to wonder if it was Bang lassi) for 200 rupees.
Off to the desert, so this sand-as-far-as you- can-see sauna is not desert? stopping on the way at an ancient deserted village, Khuldera, where 400 years ago the entire population upped sticks overnight, never to return again. The legend says that a dignitary from Jaisalmer coveted a young girl, the jewel of the village, and wanted to whisk her away to his harem. They thwarted his plans by leaving. Khuldera was in quite good condition, with well built homes and temples, as silent as the grave and you could just imagine them, camels laden and disappearing into the night.
I still haven’t told you very much about Jaisalmer, but you will have to wait until after the camel safari.