Thursday 14 October
I get up fairly early the next morning (around 7:30ish) as Joshi (our driver from the day before) had invited us to go to his hotel and arrange a camel safari for later that day. Matt is still tired, so he stays behind in bed, and I head down to find the hotel.
It's nice wandering around before the crowds get going. Many of the shopkeepers are just setting up and there's the scent of incense in the air as they make offerings at their small shrines in hope of a good days trading. In the streets, as well as cows, there are several chickens, and also some hairy pigs, with black and cream stripes that look bit like wild boar. One is a mother pig with three adorable little boarlets.
I get slightly lost, and no-one seems to know where the Hotel Namaste is. A few guys sitting outside another hotel ask where I'm looking for, and when I tell them the Hotel Namaste, they tell me that their hotel is owned by the same person, and I should come inside and look at their camel safari packages. I am - naturally - fairly dubious about this, particularly given that they have to consult among themselves before (correctly) telling me that the manager of the Hotel Namaste is Joshi. However, I go inside and find they're offering an afternoon/evening tour including camel ride for 350 rupees each. I say I'll think about it, but before I pay for anything, I do need to go and speak to Joshi. One of the guys then takes me round to the Hotel Namaste, where I find that Joshi is still asleep, but another guy takes me through their camel safari packages over a glass of chai (I haven't yet had any breakfast, so this is welcome). He also confirms that the other hotel has nothing whatsoever to do with them. They are asking quite a bit more, for what sounds like a fairly similar tour. After a bit of discussion he offers me a package at 500 rupees each, which includes a few more stops than the other place. I tell them that I must consult with my husband before I buy anything and realise as I do so that this is a very handy get-out clause for negotiations.
I go back to the hotel and speak to Matt, and we agree it's well worth 150 rupees to go with people we've dealt with before and who haven't tried to get business out of us by blantantly lying. So we have breakfast, and then nip back to the Hotel Namaste, pay, and agree to meet their jeep their at 3pm. On the way, we pass a rug and clothing vendor who clearly has a sense of humour: "Bill and Monica's Rug", "Magic Rug - no need for Viagra" and "Buy this Shirt - Make your boyfriend less ugly" are some of his slogans.
We then go to visit the Jain temples, which are one of the main attractions of Jaisalmer. They are absolutely stunning in their intricate sandstone carvings which cover almost every inch of the interiors. None of our photos came out that well, but someone else has taken some fairly nice ones here
We're shown round by a Jain guide, who is very informative. Jains, we learn, pay homage to 24 Tirthankars or prophets (I seem to remember our guide telling us it was 27, but a quick google give a consensus of 24 - so either I'm wrong, or this was an unusual sect of Jainism.). Each of them is represented by a smiling cross-legged statue something like a Buddha, but there are two easy ways to tell them apart. Firstly, a Tirthankar will have his eyes open, whereas a Buddha's eyes are usually closed; and secondly a Tirthankar has a flower on his chest. The statues all look identical (except for the statue of the one female prophet; who is dressed in a different cloth outfit each day of the year); but they can be told apart because each prophet has his own symbol, which is carved on his pedestal (Elephant, Cobra, Crescent Moon etc.)
There also seems to be some controversy over Jains belief in reincarnation; most websites I can find state that Jains do believe in reincarnation; whereas our guide was quite emphatic that they did not - he likened the soul to a grain of rice; it grows once and does not go back and grow again.
I buy some incense at the temple, which is expensive at 150 rupees, but I'm told that all the profits from it go to provide food and clothing for the poor, so I figure it's quite a good idea, and it smells nice too.
I don't now recall what we did between lunch and heading down to the jeep at 3pm; but we then head out of Jaisalmer: first to the Bada Bag cenotaphs each containing within its foundations the ashes of a Jaisalmer royal. These are dwarfed by the dozens of wind turbines nearby, providing an interesting contrast of old and new.
We then head on to another Jain temple, but when we come out, we find our driver and landrover gone. The man at the temple entrance tells us that there was a problem with the landrover, and he's had to go back to Jaisalmer, but he'll be back in ten minutes. This is of course an Indian ten minutes which is more like half an hour, and we sit and wait at the temple entrance, while the ticket man tries to tune in his old battery powered radio to catch details of the India/Australia test match currently underway. Matt is fretting because I left my camera in the landrover (due to there being a high charge to bring it in, and my not wanting to take any photos), and is nervous that the jeep might return with the camera missing and the driver claiming no knowledge of it, but strangely richer. I think this is simply paranoia; and sure enough when the jeep eventually returns the camera is fine. However, it seems we now have time for only one more sight (a Maharajah's picnic garden of sadly neglected past glories) if we are still going to make it to the start of the camel ride timed to arrive at the Sam sand dunes for sunset.
We pull over at the side of the road where there are about a dozen camels; and Matt and I get on one each. When walking, the camel moves with a pleasant rolling motion (extremely pleasant, if I position myself rightly on the saddle - I may have had a slightly odd smile on my face at points during the journey). When trotting it's somewhat more jolty. I experiment with rising to the trot and with sitting still; and decide that rising gives a more controlled but also more jarring ride, so I alternate between the two.
We're part of a huge camel train of tourists all heading for the same dunes. It's not quite the solitary desert trek I'd pictured; but it's equally fun in its own way. On arriving at the dunes, we dismount and wait for sunset.
Inevitably this number of tourists trapped in one spot attracts a large number of people trying to make money from them. Three women in traditional Rajasthani dress come up to us and start singing and dancing until we pay them money to go away - we give them 20 rupees at which point they spend several minutes arguing that as there are three of them, we should give them 30 so they have 10 each. The third one, who has a baby, eventually realises we're not giving any more money and asks instead if she can finish my Pepsi (which Matt bought from the camel driver, him keeping a small stash in a saddlebag), and I hand it over. She pours some in the baby's mouth too, which makes me give an inner wince as the child can't be more than about 6 months old.
As soon as she's wandered off, a guy comes up to us and starts playing a musical instrument (some sort of droning flute); and during all this time a small boy has been attempting to sell us drinks despite the fact that we clearly already have drinks in our hands. We decide to go for a wander across the dunes and see if we can find somewhere quieter - or at least be a moving target rather than a stationary one.
Eventually we plop down in a gap between two dunes and wait for the sun to set; which it fails to do, instead disappearing from view whilst still about ten degrees above the horizon. Matt and I decide to treat the whole thing with wry amusement. We're also fairly glad we didn't pay extra for the 'campire and night in the desert' which from the restuarants and dozens of tents nearby appears to be equally lacking in any sense of romantic intrepidness.
We drive back to town; and seem to confuse our hotel mightily by trying to get dinner there (that is, we ask about dinner, and are told fine - sit over there, we get menus, make our order, and then wait for the best part of an hour, until someone else comes over and asks us if we're going to be eating). The food (a couple of thalis - the meat thali being exactly the same as the veg thali, only with a separate portion of chicken curry) comes eventually though; and it's actually quite pleasant sitting in an open courtyard, watching the candle on our table burn down.