In the endless golden sands, he walked alone
Weary and tired but with a spirit so bold.
The colours he wore were bright but not brighter than his heart of gold.
You will find extraordinary beauty in the most barren places and extreme kindness in the most unexpected situations. This is Jaisalmer, a land of contradictions. The city will take you back in time showing you the abundance of rich culture and history in India while the desert shows you it’s nothingness. And in that nothingness, you will find beauty.
Raised in the coastal city, Chennai, I was used to moderation. It is never too hot or too cold. Everything has a defined limit which increased my fascination towards extremes. I was naturally excited at spending a month in Rajasthan and experiencing the sand dunes. Jaipur and Jodhpur had already made me fall in love with their charm and my colleague, Ranish and I were heading towards Jaisalmer. We spent our first week exploring the Jaisalmer fort and the city around it.
I was still wrapping my head around the fact that we were residing inside the Jaisalmer Fort, one of the few remaining living forts in the world. To have history and culture so closely knit with everyday life was a very new concept to me.
My first impression of Jaisalmer was how colorful if was. Every house had multi-colored curtains, carpets and cushions with a royal touch to it. Even the shops and restaurants were brightly decorated. I wondered whether this was done deliberately to balance the sand-colored buildings and the barren terrain. Irrespective of the reason, these colors create a very festive and cheerful atmosphere.I could not resist buying loads of trinkets and souvenirs to take back, bandhani dupattas and hand-embroidered rugs taking up most of the space. While I was not taking long strolls in the bazaar, I was busy trying every culinary delicacy on the menu from Laal maas, a thick mutton gravy made of yoghurt and spices, to Dal Bati Churma, a lentil based delicacy.
The locals were immensely proud of their heritage and roots, and I was often invited to take a look at their family tree and lineage. Everybody I met was a self-proclaimed History expert excitedly sharing various stories, myths and facts about the fort and the city. Nonetheless, each version was interesting and plausible. After a week of experiencing royalty, we decided to visit the Sand dunes. Sam and Khuri were the most popular options with Sam being slightly touristy than Khuri. We decided to ride through Kuldhara, Khuri and make our way to Sam dunes for the night.
I truly understood the meaning of a desert only after stepping out of the city. A fortnight in Rajasthan had not prepared me for what I was going to witness. Although it took just four hours to reach the dunes, that was the longest ride I experienced with the multiple stops we made. Ten minutes into it, the emptiness of our surroundings got to me. The seemingly- limitless dunes and no signs of life around us caused a very uneasy feeling. There was nothing, just silence and my own thoughts screaming loudly at me. The sun was everywhere soaking up every bit of energy and leaving us exhausted. Whenever we made a stop to rest up a bit, there was nothing we could turn to for shade.
Twice we came across some villagers grazing their goats and stopped for small conversations. Their warm smiles and willingness to share some water or snacks with us put our fast-paced, self-obsessed, urban lifestyle to shame. There was an unspoken rule of living and helping each other to get by that everyone seemed to share. It was the first time I realized how dependent we are on each other irrespective of which community or region we belong to. Interestingly, living in big cities where all our needs are catered to makes us an expert in turning a blind eye to this fact.
By evening, we made it to our camp at Sam Dunes. I was again taken by surprise at how luxurious and comfortable the arrangements were. After a well-deserved shower and some rest, we went to see the sunset. The beauty of the desert was in its full glory now. Silhouettes of men and camels walking across the orange horizon was spectacular. It was complemented by the folk music and dance shows that were conducted in all the campsites.There was a sudden change in the atmosphere and our moods, once the sun went down. The scorching heat was replaced by the cool breeze which became quite chilly as the evening passed.
After the cultural show ended, we had dinner and went on a small ride around our campsite. The desert at night was a completely different picture. We did some star-gazing and some customary soul-searching that such beautiful surroundings seem to evoke and called it a day. The ride back to the city was smooth as I started getting used to the terrain. Once the initial shock subsided, I was able to appreciate the barrenness and the unique beauty it holds.
I don’t remember what I expected out of Jaisalmer before visiting it or what can be expected out of endless dunes, but when one witnesses the full glory of deserts, you find a part of yourself there.