The long journey to the Golden City

I’m writing this from the golden city of Jaisalmer, which feels worlds apart from hectic Delhi. It is such a beautiful city, with its windy little streets that are full of colourful clothes, bags and jewellery. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in India for nearly a week now. It feels much longer, especially as we’ve done a lot in just the last few days, since we started the tour.

First day

We spent most of Friday just relaxing at Hotel Perfect. We ventured out once to brave the metro and discovered the women’s only carriages on the metro, nice to have the choice, especially if you were travelling solo. We were heading to Tadka 4986, a recommendation from a friend who had been to India a few years ago. It was only a few stops away and thanks to google maps we found it within ten minutes or so.

We had some delicious yellow dal, roti and I had my first lassi drink. I was a little hesitant to order it but the same friend had been raving about lassis and how I had to try them so I decided sure why not. I was not disappointed, it was so tasty, a type of yoghurt drink which compliments any spicy dish really well, it was very refreshing. We met our group and our Intrepid tour leader that evening and got the lowdown of what’s going to happen over the first few days. There’s nine of us in the group, ranging in age from early 20’s to 60’s, mainly solo travellers and one couple. Our tour leader Alan answered all of our questions but he didn’t bombard us with too much information which we appreciated. We had an early start the next morning for our walking tour of Old Delhi.

Day 2 – Old Delhi

We grabbed breakfast at the hotel at 7, checked out and started our walking tour at 8. We hopped on the metro towards Old Delhi and noticed how much quieter everywhere was on a Saturday, it helped that it was only 8 in the morning too mind as the shops hadn’t opened yet either. The first place we went to was the Jama Masjid mosque. It was a very impressive building in it’s size alone. Alan, our tour leader, told us loads about the history of the mosque and the beliefs too. Once we headed in we had to remove our shoes, which Alan minded and if we didn’t want to pay the 300 rupees for electronic equipment, he also minded that.

We were fitted with robes and wandered about inside, we were asked for our photographs a few times, thanks to Alan we also learned how to say no in Hindi, Nahegi, if we didn’t feel comfortable with our photos being taken.

We strolled through the Old Delhi streets, noticing how narrow they were getting too. We spotted a monkey walking along the complicated electricity wires system, venders making marigold chains, a street dedicated to just weddings, which had shops filled with the most beautiful ribbons and bags I’ve ever seen. Alan told us why some shopkeepers had bunches of chili’s and lemons tied to their shutter doors, for good luck. We also stopped for some delicious Aloo samosas, which were filled with potatoes and spices and served with a refreshing coriander and mint dip, yum. 🤤

Our final stop on our tour was the Sikh temple, Sheeshganj Gurudwara. The first thing that I noticed was the music and how much water there was, everyone was washing their hands and feet in the water. We were brought to a private room where another guide talked to us about the Sikh religion and their beliefs. We all had to cover our heads with scarves, of our own or they provided head scarves. We washed our hands and walked barefoot through the water and into the temple. It was filled with music and people praying, they sing their prayers rather than speak them so the music constantly filled the temple. The temple was like a community in that everyone helped out with cooking meals and anybody could come in for food, offerings were given in the temple too. We visited the kitchens where there were the biggest pots of curry that I’ve ever seen. They were very busy rolling out and cooking chapati too and to my delight we got to help out with rolling out some chapati as well. Although it’s debatable whether we were much help to them, haha. Alan told us that they served between 8000-10000 people everyday, we couldn’t believe it.

The temple was right beside one of the busiest streets too, where we learned how to cross the road using the magic hand, which simply was raising your hand to slow down any vehicle, quite a rush walking across the road, similar to Vietnam.

Monsoon time

Once we were back at our hotel a few of us decided to head to a local bakery for some snacks for the 19 hour sleeper train. I noticed some ominous clouds in the distance but didn’t pay any further attention to them, I now know not to ignore those clouds. It absolutely bucketed rain when we were in the bakery, there was no end to the amount of rain that fell. Within the 20 minutes we were inside the streets had turned into rivers and it was still raining. We flagged down a tuk-tuk, waded through the water towards it, hopped in and so began a 20 minute adventure of a journey through the Karol Bagh streets. Our hotel was a 10 minute walk away but it turned out that the driver hadn’t a notion where our hotel was. At one point he got stuck in a pothole and we were all convinced that the tuk-tuk was going to topple over, we clung onto the sides for dear life. He reversed out of it eventually, not before he nearly crashed into a fella driving a scooter mind. Once we showed him our hotel card he knew where we were going. We arrived at our hotel and changed out of our soaking clothes and had lunch, laughing about our gas adventure and showing videos of the crazy water filled streets.

We were driven to the train station in private transport, where once again I marveled at the driving and what kind of system or rules of the road they even had, other than constant beeping mind which seems to be more of a “hi, I’m here and I’m about to pass you out.” I’ve a feeling that the use of indicators and mirrors is more decorative than anything else over here. We sat inside the train station in a circle, finding a spot where there wasn’t a leak in the roof as the rain was still persisting, and we think we have it bad with the rain back home in Ireland 😂.

Sweet chai tea on the train

The train was only 20 minutes late so it was pretty on time as far as Indian trains go. Alan wrote our carriage and seat numbers on our arms, we were in three groups. We hopped onto our carriage and we were grateful to feel the cool air-con breeze. There were three bunks across from each other. Alan checked in with us every few hours to make sure we were ok and had enough water etc which was very reassuring. There was one western toilet and one traditional Indian toilet in our carriage. For the most part it was a pleasant enough journey, our fellow passengers went to sleep around 8ish as well and were fairly quiet. I slept on and off but unfortunately I got my first experience of Delhi belly and so my morning wasn’t the most pleasant. Once we arrived in Jaisalmer I had plenty of medicine and everyone on the tour was great for giving different medicines etc. Alan was very helpful and suggested sticking to plain food and giving my body and mind a rest for a day or two.

The Golden City

My first impressions of Jaisalmer were, how beautiful the colour of the sandstone was and how it wasn’t as humid here either, woohoo. We got to check into our rooms at Deepak Hotel, freshen up and pack a small bag for our desert camp trip. We were driven the half hour or so to the camels and our driver pointed out lots of interesting things along the way, one being that we were 150km from the Pakistani border.

Once we got there each of us was guided to our camel. My camel was called Rocket and he was sooooo tall, the initial part where the camel rises up can be scary, you lean back as they rock back and forth to stand under.

We loped along on the camels for about an hour, with the camel cart following behind in case anyone had a change of heart about the camel ride. It was lovely balmy weather and other than Rocket scratching his neck every now and then, to which he would be balancing on one front leg it was a fairly relaxing journey.

The sun was setting nicely as we arrived and we left our bags down at the campsite and walked up one of the dunes to watch the rest of the sunset and relax for a bit.

We were served some lovely snacks of crackers, fried veggies and yummy chai tea back at the campsite. Our beds had been kitted out with blankets and pillows and our “toilet” was over the dune behind us, quite the hike down and up to it. We had a lovely dinner about an hour later of dal, curry, vegetables and rice, very tasty. We chatted for a bit and slowly but surely dozed off under the open sky. There was a lovely gentle breeze throughout the night and I woke up around 3 to a sky full of stars. It’s not often one can say that they’ve camped on an open bed in the Thar desert, quite the experience.

We were up on the dunes for sunrise the next morning and after a breakfast of porridge, toast and bananas we headed back to Jaisalmer. We had the option of taking the jeep or going back by camel, I opted for the jeep back.

Walking tour of Jaisalmer

Back at the hotel we were all very happy to dust off the layer of sand that we had accumulated in the desert, after freshening up we went for a walking tour with a local guide.

It was a really interesting tour and although we were all a bit tired after the last few days it went at a lovely pace. We learned to respect the cows and to always walk behind them. We saw a lovely panoramic view of the outskirts of the fort too.

We visited the inside of the prime ministers Haveli and walked about upstairs, it was so pretty and full of intricate designs on the walls.

We also admired the outside of Kothari’s Patwa Haveli and were accompanied by some lovely singing of Frere Jacque by a local boy too. Afterwards we went to a patchwork shop where we saw the most spectacular blankets, tapestries, pillow cases, table runners etc.

They told us how each piece was made and that some of them used recycled materials, such as wedding saris and belts. There were patchwork quilts, hand stitched blankets, so many unusual and unique designs. After he showed us all of the designs we were treated to an amazing, spicy samosa and the best glass of chai so far, delicious. There was never any pressure to buy anything and we were encouraged to browse around the shop and ask as many questions as possible.

There was one tapestry that was hanging on the wall that I loved the look of but it was too big, they had a similar one in a small tablecloth style that I ended up buying in the end for INR2700, everything was so reasonably priced. We went back to our hotel and relaxed for a bit.

After a few hours we met everyone downstairs, all of us girls were brought into another room with a local girl where we got to choose our own sari and she dressed us and finished our look with a bindi on our foreheads. We met the boys upstairs on the rooftop restaurant where they were also dressed in the traditional clothes.

We had a delicious meal of yellow dal, okra, fried potatoes, poppadoms, chapati, paneer curry and gulab Jamon for dessert, which was a delicious rose flavored dessert, so tasty. It was such a lovely evening, it was lovely to have the opportunity to dress in the traditional saris and to eat delicious Rajasthani food in such picturesque surroundings too.

Last day in Jaisalmer

After having a delicious continental breakfast of coffee, orange juice, toast, cornflakes and a banana pancake at the hotel for INR200 we popped by for the amazing chai again. We were invited back into the patchwork shop where we had a great chat with the owner again and relaxed with some samosas and chai on him, it was such a lovely way to start our free day. We visited the beautiful Jain temples, all five of them for INR200.

Each temple was so different and so beautifully designed, we were all so taken aback by how detailed they were and how you’d see a pop of colour every now and then. We ventured along the fort walls afterwards and then treated ourselves to a dip in a pool at Tokyo Hotel for the afternoon. It only cost INR150 to use the pool, we had another chai there and a lovely lunch upstairs. We relaxed for the afternoon and all met for dinner at 7 that evening to eat outside the fort in a gorgeous hotel called Nachana Haveli. We saw some lovely food markets on the way too.

I ordered the Navratan korma and some plain naan bread. It was a lovely fruity, vegetable dish with chunks of juicy pineapple in it, by far the most delicious meal I’ve had so far, yummy.

Tomorrow we have an early start at 5.45 for a 6 hour sleeper train journey to Jodhpur. I have really enjoyed my time in Jaisalmer, it was such a breath of fresh air after Delhi. There was a great balance between activities and free time here and I loved how we had our own day to do whatever we wanted.

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