My first real backpacking trip went to India. And what a trip it was! We went all in, used night trains and night buses to get from city to city, hired a local driver to drive us ten hours to the desert, slept in small family-owened hotels, and only had McD once. In retrospect, our decision might have been a little naive. However, since then my backpacking trips have taken me to many amazing places around the world, and this trip remains something out of the ordinary.
From Delhi’s chaotic traffic jungle to the beautiful tranquility of the Taj Mahal, from admiring the abundance of monkeys on the green hillsides of Mount Abu to the efficient women beating down their laundry on the stairs leading down to Lake Pichola in Udaipur, there is one place in particular I will recommend to all travelers going to India: the city of Jaisalmer.
Arriving from Delhi with its 17 million inhabitants, this little desert pearl’s population of 50,000 greets you as a soothing break from the craziness of the Indian metropolitan. In Jaisalmer you can walk to everywhere, on your own, without getting completely lost.
1. The city is made of gold
The old city of Jaisalmer is build entirely in golden sand stone, and from a light golden look in the early morning sun to an intense rose-golden sparkle in the light from the setting sun, the city appears to be taken right out of Aladdin’s cave.
I love sunsets, ask any of my travel companions and they will tell you that watching the beautiful places around the world soaked in the marvellous colours of a descending sun is something I will not miss. Watching the sun go down with this golden city and the desert as a backdrop was jaw dropping. Find yourself a rooftop to enjoy it from, there are plenty to choose from – we were invited up to a really nice rooftop my a hotel manager, he did not expect us to buy anything, we were just left alone to take in the amazing view.
2. The magic of the old fort
The old fort is located on a hill in one end of Jaisalmer, and walking up through it winding streets, gazing at the historic buildings, and taking in the toxicating smell of spices while looking around in all the wonderful, colorful small shops lying side by side in most streets, you will realise what a gem this city is. We spent a whole day wandering around the old fort. Too busy with looking around to read in our guidebook, we ended up chatting with several people in the street, and were lucky enough to receive a peek into the life of the locals.
An older woman was sitting in her window looking down on the street, we smiled at her and she started asking us, where we came from. Before we knew it, we were standing in her livingroom, being given a tour of the very small apartment shared by her and her husband, their daughter and her family, and their son and his family – eight people in three small rooms. The children were exited to show us their little private rooftop with an amazing view of the city. The picture shows a good luck charm hanging on their rooftop – and everywhere else in the city.
3. The sweet and colourful people
Besides being invited in to the family’s home, later that afternoon we met a man that gave us a private tour of his haveli (a private, small palace he inherited from his father), telling us stories of rich families and successful merchant in the history of Jaisalmer. Of our one month in India, were you as a tourist, let’s face it, constantly have to consider the fact that someone is trying to scam you, this city gave us time to relax these instincts. People were so friendly, happy to see you, and insisting on helping you.
On top of this, the people in Jaisalmer are so colourfully dressed that you get the sense of walking around in a rainbow. Their clothes and jewellery made people-watching an attraction in itself – find a nice cafe in the fort, buy your chai tea, and sit down and enjoy the colourful display, it can only make you happy.
4. Gateway to the Thar desert
Last but not least, Jaisalmer provides you with a gateway to the beautiful Thar desert. We had decided that we wanted to stay a night under the stars in the desert, so we looked around at the many desert safari options provided by numerous vendors around the city. We ended up purchasing the tour from our small hotel, and it was amazing. We got picked up early in the morning and driven into the desert in an open 4WD. As the small roads turned into sand dunes, the camels were waiting for us. We were only three people and two guides, and they took great care of us, cooked delicious food for us, and made us beds of blankets in the sand dunes that evening – but only after having initiated several hours of bonfire singing and dancing. We slept underneed the brightest moon we have ever seen, and woke up to an amazing sunrise (see picture). Before riding towards a small village were we would get picked up by the car, we had time to play in the sand dunes, feeling link children again in this overdimensional sandbox.