Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jaisalmer Jottings I

How about Jaisalmer this winter? I asked excitedly after futile attempts to book in Coorg, Pondicherry, Singapore (exactly in that order). Thanks to online booking, other people start booking months in advance and by the time we mere mortals wake up to the need of a vacation, the best hotels and dates are already taken.

So…how are we going to Jaisalmer? asks my 15 year old daughter, a day prior to our trip. Hmm, we are taking the train, I murmured. Train!!! comes the horrified response. Does it mean we have to go to the STATION?? Stations stink… she announced grandly. What kind of a child are we raising!! I fumed to my husband later that evening.

On D-day we had yet to start packing. Husband was running helter-skelter in quest of a charger left behind in office, medicines to be bought, cash to be withdrawn….With barely an hour left we finally got down to packing and managed to reach the station just on time.


Now this is no ordinary station. This is the OLD DELHI RAILWAY STATION. Prehistoric, smelly (Trisha was right) and majorly chaotic. In the spirit of adventure we decided to be our own beasts of burden. Now try climbing the stairs to the over bridge with your suitcase (crammed with your fashionista-meets-eskimo wardrobe), thrown in an avalanche of humanity surging from the opposite direction trying their best to throw you off the stairs. Even extreme sports feels tame after this. We were panting, scared and wondering why the hell Jaisalmer does not have an airport!

The train was the icing on the cake. As we lunged in, we were greeted by the sight of unexplained muddy pools of water in our compartment. Perhaps it was somebody’s idea of a thorough cleanup. Jaisalmer Express was in no hurry to leave and when it finally did it was in no hurry to reach either. It stopped at every existent and non-existent station. All through the night we had rude people barging in our compartment in a proprietal sort of manner, switching on lights and looking for seat numbers as if they have just learnt to count. The AC did not seem to make up its mind on whether to cool or to warm. I could barely sleep. And when I did manage to doze off sometime near dawn , a young girl found that very opportune moment to wake up fresh as a daisy demanding to know the time every 15 minutes. I knew it was 6 when our diligent TT switched on the lights and parted our curtains to announce Jodhpur.

But the stubborn ass I am, I refused to open my eyes, pretended it was the coziest bed on earth, never mind the book of a pillow and the prickly quilts. Finally woke up to sickly sweet tea. The attendant announced ‘multi-course’ breakfast with ketchup as one of the items. We politely declined.

Did I tell you about the toilets? Now all of you who have ever journeyed courtesy Indian railways know how scary train toilets are. Of course they are dirty, it is their birthright. They are incredibly noisy and shaky as well. But this one was in a league of its own. The thing that looked a urinal (for a moment I thought I had entered the men’s) was actually the sink. The taps were sprightly – squirting freezing water all over you from all directions. The flush did not seem to know where the water has to go. So if I told you I actually had nightmares of me having to make the dreaded excursion to the toilet, you wouldn’t laugh right?

Thankfully we had good company. Played dumb charades, Antakshari (the kids beat us hollow), Atlas, basically any game that has been invented since bronze age. After a hectic round of games we decided to break our fast for breakfast. So every time the train stopped (which was every 10 minutes) the guys would scurry off to fetch anything remotely edible. By the time it was 11, our scheduled arrival time, we had consumed mountains of orange hued pakoras, mirchi vadas, biscuits and chocolates, but Jaisalmer was nowhere in sight.

The eternal optimists we are, we focused on the journey and not the destination. And logically when there is a beginning there is obviously an end. We were pleasantly surprised when we finally did reach our destination albeit three hours late. The majestic Golden Fort immortalized by Satyajit Ray in his epic movie Shonar Kella stood proudly atop the Trikuta Hill and was visible from the station itself. This time we didn’t mind lugging our luggage and soon we were outside waiting for our pick up car from the haveli we had booked. We were being reverentially led to our waiting vehicle – which turned out not to be a car, but a three wheeled fantasy.
Auto!!! The Ray family croaked in unison. Madamjee only autos are allowed inside the Fort area explained our driver patiently. What kind of citizens is our country raising he must have fumed inwardly. Going up the winding roads inside the fort we were all giddy with excitement, the auto horror instantly forgotten. The fort is among the largest in the world and the only inhabited fortress. One fourth of the town’s population stays inside the Shonar Kella. Soon we were outside our haveli with a smiley faced platoon chanting Welcome home. Home?? We didn’t come here to feel at home!! As we climbed up the stairs (there were quite a few) we couldn’t help but admire the beauty of this quaint 350-year old structure. Every nook and cranny of our suite was adorned with brass lotas, matkas and statuettes . The trash bin was so pretty that I actually had to double check with the staff before daring to desecrate it with our discards. We all oohed and aahed, took pics and soon crashed on our beds.

Later in the evening we all sat on the terrace sipping masala tea, feasting our eyes on the stunning view of the town and the Raj Mahal. I had goose bumps all over not from the nippy air but in anticipation of an experience called Jaisalmer.

To be continued……

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