Cruising the sands of Jaisalmer

Munirah Kheraluwala
Saturday, 25 August 2018

A thrilling ride on an open-backed vehicle, a camel ride for a sunset safari, mesmerising folk dances and authentic Rajasthani cuisine — the desert tour was nothing short of magical

I watched the vast stretches of sand before me. The sand dunes, a molten gold in the mellow evening light, changed shapes with every draught of wind. The landscape looked different every few minutes, and yet in this restless movement, there was a matchless serenity. A wind picked up and blew particles into my face. I shielded my eyes and turned around to realise that my vehicle driver and guide were patiently waiting for me while I took in the dramatic scenery. 

Once in the Jeep, the desert became a playground.  I was asked to hold on tightly to the bars in the open-backed vehicle. In the 20-minute ride that ensued, the vehicle rode the dunes roughly and dived precariously into deep pits of sand and out again at a furious speed. Much as I enjoy adventure, I heaved a sigh of relief when it was over and I stepped out near a tea stall planted right into the desert sand. I sat on a charpoy, sipping cardamom-flavoured tea and watched other tourists — some in their vehicles, others taking pictures or sipping tea. 

My adrenalin rush now calmed, I was transferred from the Jeep to the back of a caparisoned camel for a sunset safari.

A little boy guided the camel across the undulating dunes. I struggled to keep my balance as my camel was a rather spirited creature with a tendency to swoop down suddenly and come up with a jerk. Soon, we ambled up a slope; perched on the top, I observed the contrast in scenery — soft sands on one side and thorny bush on the other. The boy told me anecdotes about desert life and animatedly pointed to three different locations where Bollywood film shootings had taken place.

I sat on a dune to savour some solitary moments. The magnitude of the desert was inspiring and I took the opportunity to reflect on my life’s dreams. A sudden change in the light jolted me back. Dusk was setting in rapidly and the visibility was blurry with a sandy wind blowing. We hurried back. Just before the golden lances were replaced by resplendent stars, we reached the entrance of the resort where I had a booking for a cultural evening. 

An open-air stage was set for the post-dusk cultural programme. I made myself comfortable with floor cushions and bolsters and indulged in banter with the other guests. A large number of foreigners were present, evidently intrigued by the Rajasthani hospitality and heritage.  

While sipping a welcome drink, my thoughts went back to Kuldhara village which we had passed by before coming to the Sam dunes. All that is left of the once prosperous village established in the 13th century AD is rubble. Inhabited by Paliwal Brahmins, the village was abandoned in the early 19th century. Different reasons are given. One is that the water supply was insufficient, while local legend suggests that the Maharaja’s Divan, Salam Singh, who wanted to marry one of the girls from the village, was responsible. On being refused by the girl’s father, Salam Singh threatened to marry her by force. This led the entire village to vacate overnight with a curse that Kuldhara would never be lived in again. Strangely, many villages have mushroomed around there, with the exception of Kuldhara.

Soon, the mellifluous notes of Kesariya…padhaaro mhaare des filled the still evening air. The audience listened in silence which was broken by a rapturous applause at the end of the rendition. Some more folk songs accompanied by traditional instruments built up the mood for the dance performances. Kalbeliya and Ghoomar dances were performed by gypsy-looking girls, gorgeous in their vibrant dresses and jewellery. 
Their every move was graceful and the beats got our feet tapping. 

At the end of the almost hour-and-a-half-long show, we were led to the dining hall to relish a sumptuous Rajasthani meal, served with warmth and love. Gatta Sabzi, Daal Baati, Lasan and Imli Chatnis, Rotis and Gur, Marwari Pulao, Kheech, and Gulab Jamuns were some of the items on the menu. The hosts themselves came around again and again to fill our thaalis and bowls, and to make sure that we were having enough and enjoying the food. 

“Pher aaya Saa”, said the hosts as I was leaving. I thanked them, and the sands of Jaisalmer for providing me with an oasis from city life.  

ST READER SERVICE

Best time to visit: October to March.

Getting there: One can travel by road from Jodhpur to enjoy the scenery. Bookings on state-run buses are available easily as the frequency of the buses is good. Taxis are a good option too. 

Desert safaris: Bookings for safaris to Sam or Khuri Dunes can be arranged on arrival at the hotel concierge.

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