Wednesday, January 7, 2009

at the end of the world in western rajasthan

Continuing through Rajasthan, we visited Jodhpur. Famous for its saffron lassis (a tasty sweet yogurt drink) and its blue houses piling up toward the fort in the center on a hill. We spent lots of time eating on rooftop restaurants looking over the city, and one day learning about the amazing Mehrangarh Fort. Jodhpur was the capital of the region of Marwar, the land of death, as it is an arid region butting up into modern Pakistan. Mehrangarh Fort is a castle, a palace and a military stronghold all at once. Its enormous measures of fortifications ranged from spikes coating all the doors to lines of cannons atop the fort walls to sheer walls on top of sheer cliffs forty stories high. Needless the say, Mehrangarh has never been taken.

We spent the next day on a safari to local Bishnoi villages. The Bishnoi are people who believe in conserving trees and plants and local animals. Their beliefs are held with such vigor, once the Indian Government tried to come and cut down some trees and each of the villagers threw themselves on the tree to stop it from being felled and the loggers killed dozens of locals. The Indian Government then recognized its folly and granted the Bishnoi area a protected area from development and hunting. We saw nilgai (a large antelope), chinkara (a type of gazelle that bounces as it runs), a jackal and wild peacocks.

We moved on via night train to Jaisalmer, the furthest edge of civilization smack dab in the middle of the Great Indian Desert (also known as the Thar Desert). Wanting to get into the desert landscape, we decided to sign up for a camel safari. We headed out by jeep into the middle of nowhere, where we were dropped off with an incredibly aged-looking 30 year old and some surly camels. We rode atop the camels for hours, across windy plains and soft rolling dunes. We set camp for the night in an area tourists are not supposed to go due to its proximity to Pakistan (maybe 20 miles from the border). We sat and chatted by the warming fire, laid our blankets under the half moon and used all our strength to keep warm and fall asleep with only the sky as our shelter.

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