Monday, February 9, 2004 Travelogue:  Excerpts from past impressions and experiences in India (see the first travelogue segment we posted)

Rajasthan, Northern India

“The desolate country – this state is almost entirely a sandy waste…”  This is how Jaisalmer’s Palace Museum describes the northern desert-smeared state of Rajasthan.  The temperature has dropped remarkably and I, like every other tourist, have succumbed to wearing shawls (i.e. blankets) around town to keep warm at night.  Our noses are sun burnt red and our lips chapped by the blazing hot daylight sun and contact lenses are an impossibility here in the land of ‘fine desert dust floating through the air.’  Spring is on its way but as we’re traveling north, so the cold gathers.

Jaisalmer – a decrepit fairy tale classic – home to a 12th century fort still standing and housing Indians and havelis – ancient mansions built by once prosperous merchants and although crumbling still romantic to stay the night in.  Arriving in the north has been an incredible shock – Jaisalmer is the type of place one ‘imagines’ when one pictures India.  The fort itself dominates the city; constructed of yellow stone its huge walls rise hundreds of feet to encircle the smaller town within – a Lego castle constructed entirely of yellow Legos.  Cobblestone streets lead from one round castle-topped rampart to another, w/poor houses and havelis in between.

We raced here for the 2004 Desert Festival, being held during the full moon days of February, and drawing hundreds of flabby eyed tourists much too willing to part w/ their money.  We’ve come across so many North Americans I developed a staring problem, as I was so unused to hearing a familiar accent.  The Desert Festival lasted three days – camels and entertainment galore.  New friends all over the place and dances to make your heart stop – I saw a man spinning round and round for thirty minutes or more while he swung an arm full of swords, balancing one on his raised finger, one on his wrist and one on his raised forearm.  While still in motion he also managed to create a peacock from a blue piece of cloth and fly it to and fro.  The women are wearing electric colors you only normally see in your minds eye as headscarves, and their babies eyes are covered in black kohl w/ foreheads appropriately dotted to keep away the the evil eye.  There was a turban tying contest and a Mr. Desert competition, along w/ a beauty pageant, sari tying competition and a tug of war.  Indians and foreigners – igniting a bit of racial tension but the Indians won so all remained swell.

We narrowly escaped a steaming whiz of camel piss while wandering out in the desert for the last day of festivities.  Camels are fascinating creatures – giraffe necked w/ slumped humped backs towering over 10 feet high, knobby knees and short tails which apparently they spin while peeing in order to spray their scent, marking territory.  They are more like dinosaurs than any animal I have seen – furry dinosaurs w/ large teeth and lips that stretch for miles to chew, and Brontosaurus toes.  Camels ROAR.

Camel races and camel decorating competitions and sunset vs. moonrise over the sand dunes kept us busy that last day.  We befriended a 12 year old named Raj who braved the elements to take care of three women twice his age – we would have been eaten alive w/o him as the camel drivers were unable to resist their compulsion to question us LOUDLY at any moment:  “Madame – CAMEL?”  Our first reaction – NO!  We don’t want a @#$^&$* camel…But then I decided it might be fun to take Raj – who’d never been on a camel’s back before – and ride off into the sunset.  Believe me, all sand dunes look exactly alike especially when covered in hundreds of people and no established meeting place.  Just hill after bigger hill of shifting, floating sand soft enough to sink your feet into.  I would have lost Jonit and Maureen for good had it not been for little Raj’s wise eyesight.

Yesterday, while wandering the streets we happened upon a wedding procession.  The bride’s family was weeping the loss of their daughter and she was surrounded by women sobbing their grief.  Before we knew it Maureen and I were balling too while the turbaned husband rejoined the procession, stoic and scared.  All this in a street filled w/ ancient buildings covered in intricate carvings resembled a medieval nightmare.

The intense beauty and incoherent age of Jaisalmer makes it a magical place.  Long haired goats w/ screw shaped horns walk the streets w/o bending their legs.  Handsome illegal-length mustachioed men in pointy Aladdin shoes w/ bright yellow turbans and both ears ear-ringed really bring that encyclopedia book page describing India to life.