the last few days have been spent in jaisalmer, one of the last cities in india as you push westward. it’s in the middle of the desert, and is only about 40 miles from the border to pakistan. jaisalmer has become quite touristy over the years, and has a reputation for being incredibly hassley. apparently at the train station, the police have to set up a special barrier to keep the touts back from the passengers. and the touts here are notorious for being incredible liars who will lie to you that your hotel is full in order to take you to another hotel, or will show you a fake business card so you think they’re from one hotel when they’re actually from another. actually, when we first got off the bus, we were mobbed by like 20 or so rickshaw drivers all screaming and frantically trying to get us into their rickshaw. they fought each other tooth and nail, and i was starting to worry that a fight would break out over who got to take (our money) us. also, one of the most popular activities here is to take camel treks into the desert. there is some insane cut-throat competition and every single hotel here sells tickets. we’ve read that certain hotels, if they find out that you bought tickets from a competitior, will actually throw you out of their hotel in the middle of the night. hardcore eh? well, depsite all the crazy warnings in the book, we actually found jaisalmer to be fairly mellow and weren’t hassled all that much other than when we first arrived, and also when we went to the dunes (i’ll mention that later). instead, we found jaisalmer to be a really nice town to hang out in.
the worst museum ever
there are two museums in jaisalmer run by the same guy, the desert museum and the folklore museum. they’re ridiculously cheap, so we decided to check them out. at the folklore museum, we paid our 10 rupee admission fee (25 cents) and walked into what looked like an empty dirt courtyard. was there even a museum here? we walked by several padlocked doors and then just stood around, a bit confused. eventually, a kid walked up and said that he would show us the museum and proceeded to unpadlock some of the doors and swing them open. obviously, the locked doors meant this place got very little business. in a few scattered dimly lit musty rooms was one of the worst museums i’ve ever seen. the displays were behind dirty glass and were difficult to see. everything was in no particular order and each display randomly jumped from one topic to another. the photographs were all faded, the items in each display were just strewn about. when we walked out, i was glad that i only paid 10 rupees.
afterwards, we went to the desert museum and it was more of the same thing. in fact, some of the displays were exactly the same as the other museum. within a few minutes, i just wanted to leave. both museums had large inscriptions that indicated that “all of this is put together by one man!”. who is this man? and why is he putting together such horrible museums? the desert museum also has this puppet show that they have every night. rajasthan is famous for its puppets (the kind on strings like marionets) and we really wanted to see what this was all about, so a while later we were back at the desert museum once again.
the puppet show was introduced with a speech by the man who created the 2 museums. it turns out that he is a retired teacher and he made these two museums because he was so very concerned w/ saving the heritage of jaisalmer. he was sad that everyone hardly cared about education, or learning about the old ways. all anyone came to jaisalmer for was to hang out and ride a camel, but no one cared about the museums. (which is painfully obvious by the fact that most rickshaw drivers hadnt even heard of these museums!). even though he was an old man, and already retired, he just wanted to do his best to preserve his culture. the art of puppetry, he says, is also slowly being forgotten here. indians of the modern day only want to watch tv.. they have no time for silly things like puppets. as he said this, i looked around… in the puppet auditorium, there was only about 8 measily people gathered to watch.
it was all so terribly sad actually. i felt so bad for this man, with his sad little museums and his unattended puppetshows. thinking back, the museums actually *could* be pretty decent… i think it’s really the presentation that’s terrible. if all this stuff was laid out well, in a nice shiny building, with clear signs etc, both museums could actually have been really interesting. as the lights faded and the show started, i sat there thinking about how much i hoped things would work out here for the guy. i hoped that tv wouldnt encroach on puppetry and all other old forms of entertainment and even life as we know it. i hoped that people coming here would see the museums and pay money, and maybe some day there could be a nice shiny new museum here. it’s so inspiring i think that people like this retired teacher, strive against all odds to do something meaningful.
oh, and the puppetshow btw, was incredibly entertaining. there were several different acts, each with its own unique story and hilarious characters. one funny thing that sets rajasthani puppets apart from the puppets back home, is that these puppets have “voices”. well, you could call them voices, but they sound more like the sqeeking sound you’d here if you lit a rat on fire. it’s high pitched and goes on constantly through the show in different speeds and rhytms depending on what the characters are “saying”. it took a bit to get used to, but was really cool in the end!
visit to the dunes
since we opted not to go on a camel safari, we decided that it would be at least worth it to go see the sand dunes one last time. it’s not often you get to see a huge expanse of desert w/ enormous sand dunes, so we figured it would be a shame not to at least go see a sunset out there. luckily for us, the tourism office offers a sunset tour where it takes you out to the dunes for a few hours to see the sunset and then goes back. we got out to the dunes and started walking out into the sand. the moment we stepped out of our jeep, we were bombarded by people trying to sell us camel rides. everyone swarmed around us and wouldnt take no for ananswer.. but we pushed on through. but the camel guys were only the first battle at the dunes. next, we got followed by two little girls dressed in costumes who kept offering to show us a dance for money. no matter how many times we said no, they wouldnt leave us alone, and kept following us as we walked.
were we to get *any* peace and quiet out here? all we wanted to do was to chill on top of a dune and stare at the desert, but no one would leave us alone. these girls just would not let up. eventually they finally left, but by then a guy trying to sell us cokes and chips started following us. this was ridiculous. even eventually when we found a deserted dune, every 15 minutes or so, someone would plop down next to us and try to sell us something. we’d say no, and they would just sit there. well, you can’t *force* someone to go away. they have every right to sit anywhere they please. but it was so damn annoying not being able to just sit and enjoy the desert w/out the constant hassles.
nevertheless, the desert was beautiful. the rolling dunes were great, and i lay down on my side and rolled down them like a little kid. it was cool, and i ended up spinning down the slopes ridiculously fast. luckily, i avoided any glass and camel poop that lay around. it’s weird.. most of the time i’ve just gotten used to camels. i’ve seen them so many times on this trip that now i usualy dont even flinch when i see another. but every once in a while, i’ll look around at all the camels everywhere and think “holy crap!! i can’t believe that i’m really sitting here surrounded by all this”. it’s truly truly incredible that i get to see these bizarre looking exotic creatures almost every day.
jaisalmer shuts down super early each night. by 10 pm, most shops have closed their doors and the city is dark and mostly deserted. by 11, even the restaurants are closed and the town is just dead. our hotel even has a curfew at 11:30, and if you’re not in by then, the huge gate is locked and your outta luck. this night, it was my brother’s birthday and i was planning on calling him to wish him a happy bday. by the time i got his phone number from my parents, it was late, about 11:15, and i desperately was running around the fort searching for a place that was still open to make a phone call. everything was dark, and i ran through the narrow cobblestone streets praying that i would find a place and also praying that i wouldnt step in an enormous pile of crap in the process.
i eventually got to this alley that i hadn’t tried yet. as i sprinted forward, i noticed two huge dark forboding shapes in the night. cows. huge ones. two of them were laying across the alley with only a tiny little space in between them. crap… could i squeeze through? was it safe?
just earlier today, when i was walking w/ an indian guy, he had told me that cows can sometimes get violent and be dangerous. “dangerous? do they actually hurt people?” i asked. “oh definitely. people get hurt by cows all the time” he responded. *gulp*
his words rang in my ears, and i looked at the cows who seemed to stare back in a menacing and angry manner. i could hear faint noise coming from the cows… breathing? snoring? or.. was it growling?! i inched forward, one tiny step at a time. finally, i briskly walked between the two huge animals, and was on my way. phew… the cows hadn’t attacked! two seconds later, i got to a dead end. crap… i was going to have to turn around and walk back between the cows again. just my luck.
back in the hotel, the courtyard was pitch black. 12 am was already 30 minutes past curfew and all the staff were snoozing away. caryn and i quietly chatted in the room. all of a sudden we hear this super loud british voice “HELLLOOOOO?! HELLOOOOOOO?” what the hell? what was this dumbass doing walking around outside our room yelling when everyone was asleep?
“HELLOOOOOOOO!!! HELLLLLOOOOOOO?! HELLO?”
finally his shouts were answeredf my some quiet mumbling…
“YES! HELLO! I’D LIKE 2 KINGFISHERS!. KINGFISHERS!!”
“NO,NO….KINGFISHERS!! YOU KNOW… BEER!! I WANT TWO BEERS!” he yelled.
“WHAT?! OH!!! YOU’RE a *GUEST*! OOPS. TERRIBLY SORRY!”
hahahhaha. we couldnt believe it. the idiot had been asking asome poor tired guest of the hotel for beer. smooth!!!