Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jaisalmer, India January 14 2011

Yesterday we rose before the sun, long before the sun, and set off for Jaisalmer by car. Our driver was early. He arrived at 4:15 AM instead of 6 AM. I was already up but the cooks and hotel help were fast asleep. It caused some frantic activity getting our to go breakfast together and making sure we had tea before we left.

The ride was uneventful. Meaning we had no accidents, near misses or general heart palpitations along the way. Daylight comes strangely to this part of the world. We have about a half hour of shifting light in the US before sunup or sundown. The process seems to take much longer here, as much as an hour and a half.

Both Jodhpur and Jaisalmer sits on the edge of the desert. It is a brown desert, not white like the Emirates. Lots of camels, though and about 70 miles of desert separates India from Pakistan in this area. We could see lots of Border Safety Forces the closer we got to Jaisalmer, but there is little or no danger in this area.

Jaisalmer is an active fort. That means there are still people living inside the fortress and primarily working on the tourist industry. Again, it has glorious winding streets going up and down and around. The views are magnificent and the fort and palace exceptional. The royalty no longer lives in the palace but they do put a red light on at the highest terrace when he is in town. The homes in the fortress have been handed down for generations. It is the only one in India, maybe the world, that still has people living and trading and getting on with life inside its walls.

Jaisalmer is known for the patchwork embroidery. The pieces are mosaics of color, texture and grace. The Parsees I mentioned in Mumbai also embroidery but it is done by women. Here it is done by men. Paper Mache is also alive and well here in the form of animals, jewelry and sculptures. I will need to buy some long strings of elephants and camels for my granddaughter to hang outside on the front or back porch.

We visited a workshop started by Mahatma Gandhi in Jaisalmer. Hand loomed woolen and cottons, hand dyed and turned into wonderful garments. I bought a large wool shawl. Devika picked up one embroidered on wool.
I did pick up a camel manbag and ball cap also at the fort. I usually do quite well bargaining, but somehow did not do a good job on this one! I overpaid by about 200 rupees. I wish I had a place to hang one of the embroidered patchworks. They are so stunning.

We have learned much about the staff at the hotel we are staying in. Our cook cannot read or write, but he is making sure his 4 children back in his village are being educated. One of the staff here is from Nepal and others from surrounding villages. Every Indian is looking for a way to improve his situation and in these areas of high tourist traffic, there is plenty of opportunity. Both Jodhpur and Jaisalmer were on the trade routes for silk and spice traders. Today the trade route is all tourism.

It does not take much imagine to visualize how these towns looked and felt centuries ago when the Rajas and traders from Europe and Great Britain mixed and mingled to expand the world’s opulence of goods.

While traditional dress in these areas is still common, it is interesting to watch the mothers dressing their children in western clothing and themselves in modified versions of traditional dress. While I hope the color and sway of the excess fabrics do not disappear entirely, it is being adapted to a worldlier palette of dress.

I have been making efforts to try and send my grandchildren a postcard every few days. It has not been easy finding the post office or getting anyone to agree on what the price of a postcard to the US is supposed to be. I am sure some may never make it there.

Today we leave for 4 days in Delhi, the capital of India. We shall be staying with friends and seeing the Taj Mahal as well. I still have some items on my shopping list I am sure can be fulfilled there and if not, when we return to Mumbai.

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