Off the bus from Khuri, I headed back to Jaisalmer, for a night at the lovely Mystic Jaisalmer hotel. Jaisalmer is famous for it's (UNESCO recognised) hill fort, the 99 bastions appearing to have been carved out of the rock and sand around it – and they really do!
Jaisalmer has a tiny population compared to the places I'd been thus far (Khuri aside) and it was really nice to be able to walk around somewhere so much more manageable. My fellow travellers and I explored the inside of the fort, winding our way through the narrow streets and shops selling typical Rajasthani textiles and knick knacks. It only dawned on me then that, with a leg in New Zealand to come, I would have to careful about anything I bought whilst travelling through India and SE Asia because of the rules on bringing in wooden and earthen products to New Zealand – lucky I haven't splurged on anything yet!
Jaisalmer was a very chilled out place and, perhaps having over done the sight seeing in recent days, I took most of the following day off, catching up with people back home and mooching around the hotel. Oh, that and wait 3 hours in a train station to be told that they couldn't book my ticket from Mumbai to Goa for me, as I could only do that in Mumbai. Not a completely pointless exercise as I did end up having a nice chat with an Indian soldier from the nearby barracks. The queue I sat in was pretty much 50% soldiers, all waiting to either get their transport home for leave sorted, or (like the one I spoke to), making a booking in an official capacity (in the case of my new friend, he was sent from the medical core to book a ticket for an injured soldier to go to Jaipur where they have a larger medical facility).
It seemed mad to me that all these soldiers were having to 'waste' their day queuing up with me and the local people to get train tickets, but perhaps equally mad that they only had one person on duty. It was interesting to see that, just like in every country, there is always someone who thinks they are too important to queue. What I found refreshing was that this was simply not tolerated by the rest of the people there. I've no idea what words were exchanged, but it might as well have been “I don't care how many stripes you have on your arm mate, there's one queue for all of us so get to the back!”
A word on Jaisalmer. My edition of the LP guide (2009) actually made the decision to not suggest any accommodation within the fort; one I have found out they went back on in later editions. The reasoning (which as far as I understand is still an issue) is that the fort is subsiding and, in some places, falling apart completely. The vast increase in population, tourism and in particular the water, sewage and drainage needs of this are constantly damaging the foundations of this truly amazing fort. From the outside, you could clearly see examples of what was essentially damp, blighting the stonework and I read that 3 of the original 99 bastions have actually been destroyed.
There are attempts to safeguard and preserve the fort, but it appears that getting the locals to buy in to changing their living practices and adopting more sustainable behaviour is proving difficult (evidenced by the fact that the main group looking at ways to save the fort is from Europe).
There is an obvious problem here that the locals, who rely on the tourism the fort brings in for prosperity, are slowly but surely destroying the very thing that generates their income. Perhaps something of a leap, but I found it quite a poignant allegory for so many of the larger problems we all face as we are encouraged by politicians, pressure groups and each other to live our lives in a more sustainable way, leaving as little trace as possible on our surroundings. From above or objectively, it can all look so obvious but, down at the other end, for those living it, it can be an altogether more complicated story.
That's about enough proselytising for one post. That evening I was catching an overnight train to Jodhpur. Back at the hotel, I had some dinner, took in my first Bollywood movie (shown for free in the rooftop restaurant of the hotel!) and said goodbye to my travel buddies of the last week, who were all heading north. The free offer of a lift to the station from my host was too good to turn down, even if it meant me and my backpack squeezing onto the back of a scooter. By now I feel like I'm getting the hang of the trains and enjoy the bustle of them, wallah's selling everything from tea and crisps to cooked biryani in takeaway tins! At some point I'll write a standalone post about the trains, along with some other things I've found – to quote 'uncle Stephen' – “quite interesting”; perhaps as a monthly round up or something. But for now, it was time to get my head down. I was due to arrive into Jodhpur at 6:30 with the plan being to grab a few more hours sleep in the station; check my bag into the cloak room and then explore the 'Blue City' for the day before jumping back on the train that afternoon for the long trip down to Mumbai – see you there!
*Would be good to know if people think the addition of photos to the blog is a good thing or not. I've had anecdotal feedback on both sides, and am just working out the best way to proceed. One alternative would be to keep it to just text, and then have photo only “gallery” updates. Any thoughts, please let me know.*