Rajasthan: camels and maharajahs in a furnace

After racing through the northern part of India, I finally arrived in the place I was most curious about: the province of Rajasthan, home to kings of legendary wealth, vast deserts, fairytale fortresses, a blistering array of colors on display everywhere. All that and more in an unrelenting 40+ degree heat.

If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘The Fall‘ you probably remember all the incredible, almost dreamlike landscapes and buildings that feature as backdrops. Most of these places are real, in Rajasthan, and it’s been my pleasure to have visited almost all of them. On my first stop in Jaipur I wandered around the¬†mediaeval observatory of Jantar Mantar filled with wonderful, crazy structures scattered around almost haphazardly, punctuated by a sundial almost thirty meters high, accurate up to two seconds.

I then traveled seven hours to visit another location, the Abhaneri step well, a 12th Century inverted ziggurat shape with a well twenty meters down at the bottom. It took an overcrowded bus with reserved seat, jeeptaxi in wrong direction, jeeptaxi back, jeeptaxi in right direction, rooftop of a bus, back of a motorcycle, local bus, overcrowded bus without reserved seat so standing shoulder to shoulder for 2.5 hours, and another local bus. Worth it, though. It was also nice to be out of a big city for a change, away from the noise and rampant pollution.

With that in mind, I was very glad with my next destination. Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage site with a lot of temples. Think 500 temples, 2000 brahmins, on a population of 15,000. It’s a common sight to see people dancing and chanting in the narrow streets. Still, it feels quiet, rustic. No buses, tuktuks, continuous carhorns – such relaxation. I spent four days there not doing terribly much of anything besides wander around the lake on occasion and watch monkeys play.

Then I found myself in Jaisalmer, a massive sandstone fortress at the edge of the Great Indian Desert. It’s crumbling due to overpopulation and generally it’s not recommended to take accommodation inside the fort (as it will only do more damage) but one look inside and I knew I had to stay in that wonderful golden-colored maze.¬†It’s stupid hot there, straight up scalding, so I decided that the best thing to do would be to get on a camel and amble in the desert for a few days. Although the tour was a bit of a wash (if you look back you can see the windmill park), I did get to sleep on a sand dune under the full moon and I got caught in a sandstorm, so that was all cool.

Some random India observations. I have since gotten attacked by a cow, one who came charging at me when I was walking along the road in the evening. And Indian people are weird. I’m keeping a list of all the strange questions they ask me out of the blue. They are very curious and earnest and have no concept of private space. I can imagine how it can get annoying over time, but as I’m only here for a month I just sit back and enjoy it.

Here are some photos. Click to see them bigger.

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