We arrived in Jaisalmer so early that it was still dark when the hotel owner picked us up at the train station and took us to our rooms. It wasn’t until after we awoke from our early morning naps that I went outside and saw that we were staying inside a stone fort.
Towers of golden stone rose around us as we wandered the alleys that zigzag through the fort. Arched windows surrounded by intricately carved designs overlooked the small streets.
We made our way to the back of the fort where we climbed up to an overlook to see the city lying outside the walls. A woman, whose little stone house stood right beside the overlook, invited us in. She showed us the view from her round window. Rand said the house reminded him of the houses on Tatooine in Star Wars.
The woman agreed to pose for pictures with us. Not smiling for the photos, of course, because the Indians rarely do. As we left, she held out her hand for a donation and we gratefully handed her a few rupees.
We ate lunch at July 8, a little restaurant overlooking the center square, where we enjoyed apple pie and ice cream for desert. We appreciated the taste of home so much we ate there many time during our week long stay in Jaisalmer.
We became friends with the woman running July 8 and were sad to say goodbye when it was time to go. When we told her that we had received news that Rand’s mother’s cancer had worsened, she told us of her grandmother had lived 18 years after being diagnosed with cancer. I was touched when she promised to offer a special Hindu prayer to God for Rand’s mom.
At dinner we sat at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the fort and city below, discussing how lucky we were to be seeing such amazing sights.
In the day, the fort is packed with tourists, but at night it felt like it was just us and the locals. The shop owners began to recognize us and call out to us with familiarity instead of the standard, “Namaste, come look in my shop.”
The fort at Jaisalmer can be seen in one day, but Rand planned a longer stay as an atmospheric place to take a rest from our long term travels.
We spent the first few nights in cheap backpacker digs before headed into the desert on camels for a night. When we returned we stayed together in a large room where two of the girls slept on stone window benches covered in fluffy padding.
Our final two nights we stayed in a haveli, where Rand and I treated ourselves to the Maharashtra suite.
We began a routine of eating breakfast everyday at a German bakery along the fort’s entryway, where we would people watch as both foreign and Indian tourist flowed into the fort.
We did some shopping in Jaisalmer, gypsy pants, scarves, a turban for Rand to wear on our camel safari, an overpriced bag for Arwen from a shop that claimed to donate money to disadvantaged women in the desert (the bag broke after a week of use).
But my favorite (and most nerve-racking) shopping experience was when we stopped to check out the anklets being sold by a group of women on a stone platform near the fort’s entrance.
As soon as we walked towards the mats where the jewelry lay, we were surrounded by women, each hoping we would buy from them. I was trying to choose an anklet from one seller when I looked over and saw that a half a dozen anklets had been put on Arwen’s leg.
I was lured in with the offer of 10 anklets for 20 rupees, but then told that was only for “the small beaded ones.” I laughed when I was quoted 300 rupees for a cheap metal anklet. We finally settled on 5 anklets for 200 rupees. I just intended to get 4, one for me and each of the girls. The woman kept giving me more “as a gift”, but really hoping I would pay more. The 5th anklet turned out not to have clasp . . .
We enjoyed spending a week in this day trip locale. We didn’t even pay to go into the palace (we saw the palace in Udaipur) or the Jain Temples (we saw Jain temples in Kochi and Mumbai). We just enjoyed living in a fort for a while.
That’s one of the joys of long term travel. You don’t have to run around to every tourist sight at every place you visit. Sometimes you can just hang out and absorb the atmosphere of a town, like we did in Jaisalmer.