The tour started at Gadi Sagar Lake – where people still live, and camels and goats and things still use the water, but it is very polluted, so people only bathe in it. We saw people – priests who live around the lake – bathing in the morning.
There is a large gate to the lake, and a prostitute built the gateway over a six year period. The stonework is very elaborate, as is most of the work in Jaisalmer.
The king at the time was supposed to pass through the gateway for special occasions, but because it had been built by a prostitute, he ordered to have it torn down, rather than pass through it. The prostitute constructed a temple at the top of the gate overnight – making the gate a holy place that could not be destroyed – so it still stands today.
Our guide met us this morning at 9 am at our hotel. Hukam drove all of us over to the man-made lake, where our tour started. Mr. Prakash was our guide. He was a Brahman who lived at the Fort – only Brahmans and warriors in the caste system – still very much in effect here in Jaisalmer – are allowed to live at the fort.
So Mr. Prakash started telling us about the history of the city of Jaisalmer – the golden city. Water was a big concern, since the city is in the desert, but a canal was built, so now the town has plenty of water from the Himalayas. The people outside the city still have problems getting enough water, though.
After we left the lake, we went to the fort on a walking tour. We started at the bottom, just outside the fort – we parked in front of a Government Authorized Bhang shop –Mar-he-whana. They had a ganja Buddha on their sign. We saw “cow parking” outside the gate, and a girl walking a tightrope.
(Water damage to foundation of fort due to tourist and excessive water usage of the hotels at the fort.)
We also saw many people selling things – Mr. Prakash asked us not to buy anything from them. He showed us how all the hotels that have been established within the old homes in the fort use so much water and the water has weakened the foundation of the fort. The tourism is both good and bad – it also provides jobs for just about everyone at the fort.
There were many shops that have been set up inside the fort, as well. They hang all their wares out on the walls – it looks more like a market than a fort, Mr. Prakash said.
We visited the Jain temples inside the fort – the two that they allow tourists inside, anyway.
(Jain monk, or priest, I'm not sure what is the correct title, if either of those... Some Jains wear a covering over their mouths as to not breathe in insects, which would cause harm to the insect. Others will carry a broom and sweep the path before them, so they do not step on and harm any living thing.)
They were beautiful. Mr. Prakash set us down for a little background talk before allowing “free-time” to take photos and explore.
Mike talked with Mr. Prakash a bit more – I took some photos.
We then got to visit the top of a hotel in the fort for a birds-eye view of the town.
After the temples, we went to see some of the Havelis in the town.
It was very interesting getting to walk around and see the city life, not just whooshing around on a tour – it was a living museum, as Mr. Prakash put it.
There were many, many cows.
(Yes, I know this is not a cow )
I had rushed down the alleyway at our hotel to snap a photo of a cow up close, not from the moving car, this morning before the tour. Now, with so many cows up close everywhere, I’ve stopped taking pictures of them. Well, I still take pictures of some of them :) Mr. Prakash told us that all the cows belong to someone. They are milked in the morning, then free to roam. They know where they live, and will return there at night. Homing cows. Everyone puts out scraps in the stone troughs (pictured here) to feed the cows – they believe it will give them points towards a better life next time.
The birds – the pigeons, he said, are also sacred, so people feed them, as well. We asked if the dogs were sacred too. Mr. Prakash said that, yes, all life is sacred, but the dogs not so much. I asked if the dogs were like the untouchable caste of the animals, and he laughed.
Our guide said that if he were to take us to visit his home, his grandmother would ask him what caste we were. He said that any caste would be welcomed in his home, except untouchables – which in that case we would be asked to leave if we were part of that caste. Artists are 5th in the caste system, I believe is what he said. 4th or 5th. Mr. Prakash said that he doesn’t like the caste system – he believes we should all be treated as humans – but the tradition runs old, especially here in Jaisalmer.
Outside the houses many had a Ganesha mural with writing below it, and a date. (You can see one in this photo, just above the woman's head.) Mr. Prakash said that was what was painted when there was a wedding in the family. The writing below was the names of the couple and the date of the marriage. They would put it up a few days before the wedding as an open invitation to everyone in the town to come and celebrate (around 4,000 people, just in the fort!). He said it is the custom for the father of the bride to pay for everything. About 1 million rupees is what it costs to feed everyone (about $16,000 USD), and provide the costume and jewelry, etc. for the bride. “I have three daughters,” Mr. Prakash said, and shook his head.
People don’t have to pay rent to live here – so living expenses are low. We visited a women’s cooperative shop. When a woman’s husband dies – traditon prohibits her from remarrying, so to provide an income for her to survive, many will sell their weaving, embroidery, patchwork, etc., to make a living. The shops sell the things for the women. The government pays the shopkeepers a salary – so they are not dependant on sales. We got a camel wool/silk blanket – woven on a loom. Amazing detail, and so soft. It was my birthday gift. I love it, and can’t wait to use it back home!
We then walked to a silversmith’s house – Jaisalmer is also known for its silver and other jewelry. I bought some earrings with garnet and an anklet. The man, Om, showed us how to tell good silver from fake – he had a stone that he rubbed it on – the real silver leaves a bright silver streak – the fake leaves a dull streak. His daughter returned from school and pouted for some chocolate. (Om excused himself to retrieve some for her. )
There were many motorcycles within the fort – not much room in the narrow alleys for much else. Even our guide rode a motorcycle. He said that when he takes his wife places, he cannot take her directly from his home on his bike – she must walk to the center square and he will pick her up. Then he must drop her off there to walk home, out of respect for his neighbors. He also said that when he is at home with his wife and mother and aunt, his wife must cover her face with a veil, and they are forbidden to talk with each other. There are also other customs – such as the women will not drink tap water – they will only drink water from a certain well – but the men are forbidden to drink that same water. Also the girls are married at 13 to boys of 15 or so.
(Orange handprints outside a temple, indicating sati - or when the wives of the king commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of enemies, when the king dies. Often they would throw themselves on the funeral pyre of the dead husband...)
We finished the tour, and Mr. Prakash rode with us back to our hotel to get his motorcycle. He shook our hands goodbye. “God bless you,” he said.
We got some warmer clothes for our camel ride out in the desert. The Camel Safari. We were dropped off on the side of the road, and got on our camels.
Mine was sick or something. His tongue hung out of his mouth a lot, he made loud burping and farting noises, and he had a sore on his nose, and lots of flies on his head. It was kind of gross, actually.
The camels were cool though. I felt bad about their nose piercings – they put these large plugs through their nostrils to attach the reins to, and pulled them by their noses.
We rode for a while. It was pretty bumpy, and the camels are really tall, so we were up pretty high in the air. Mike and I went with Sandy and Mary – the “old ladies” as our driver calls them (apparently their driver calls us the “newlyweds”), who are also on the Rajisthan tour with Namaste. We passed many more camels, and eventually arrived at the Sam sand dunes to watch the sun set. There must have been thousands of camels – stretching as far as we could see out on the dunes – all the way to Pakistan, it seemed, which was very close to where we were.
There were many touts on the dunes – selling beer, pop. One kid came up to me and asked if I wanted beer or cock. (Just like in an American bar.) I didn’t try to explain that he had the pronunciation wrong (Coke). We just kept saying no.
There were lots of men with their young daughters – I’m guessing – doing gypsy dances to music and singing. The girls looked 5 or 6 years old, in full makeup and dancing around. We didn’t take photos or make eye contact. A woman with a crying baby was begging, too.
When the sun went down, it got cold really quickly. I was even happier that we hadn’t camped in the desert. We got back on the camels and rode them back to the cars.
Afterwards, Hukam reserved us a table at a fancy restaurant, so we went to the hotel to change. I put on one of the salwar camis I bought, and wore my new earrings. It was rooftop dining, and had a nice view of the fort. It was very crowded – Hukam said that you can’t get a table unless you have a reservation there. They had some local musicians playing and singing for entertainment. They came over to our table and asked our names, then they went back and played a song and sang all of our names to the music. I saw two cats – the first of the trip – up on the roof. One was walking around under our table by our feet looking for food. The dinner was nice, and afterwards, it was only a short walk back to our hotel rooms.