Sunday, 17 October 2010

Jodhpur and the Thar Desert

Hello friends and families! We are relaxing in our Jodhpur haveli today, taking some time to chill out after a couple of days in the desert. More about that soon.

Jodhpur has loads of character: blue houses everywhere and lots of narrow winding alleys in the old town, enclosed by a fort wall. It has a very medieval feel to it, and in any other country this old part of the city would be pedestrianised. But this is India, so even though the streets are too narrow for cars (and certainly too narrow for two lanes of traffic), nevertheless the alleys are thronged with rickshaws and motorbikes travelling in both directions with no discernable system, competing for space with cows and walkers. We got a rickshaw through town during rush hour the other day, and it was Utterly Mental. On foot (which we attempted the night before) it is even more bonkers.

There's an imposing fort in the centre, on a hill, which we visited the other day. It was really interesting - they have a very good audio guide which is the first of its kind in Rajasthan. The fort has great views, and various ornate rooms and displays of royal pallanquins and weaponry.

Yesterday we went on an overnight trip into the Thar desert about 65 miles outside Jodhpur. A very nice man called Shiva drove us out and we stayed at his family home. First thing we did, of course, was jump on the back of a couple of camels for a safari round the area (mine was called Lucky and Stu rode Happy). It is very rural; wonderfully quiet after the hustle and bustle of Jodhpur's streets. There are great expanses of desert punctuated by small village huts and farmland, and we often saw wild gazelles. There has been a good monsoon this year, and throughout the sand dunes there are a lot of scrubby plants so the landscape was still quite green. Everywhere on the ground were hardy plants sprouting watermelons and a kind of cucumber (we stopped for a break in the shade at one point and cracked open a couple of watermelons). Despite often feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere, children kept running out to wave at us, shouting 'Tata!' (meaning 'bye!') and 'Thank you!' Camels, by the way, are really big - much bigger than I imagined for some reason. And riding a camel for 2.5 hours leaves you with a very sore bum indeed.

Taking a break in the shade (false perspective here makes Lucky look smaller than he actually is). Lucky is also doing a goofy smile for the camera here:

Stu mounting his camel:

Back at Shiva's home, we were immediately surrounded by kids who were really friendly and inquisitive. They were totally astonished by my tongue piercing (which kept them entertained for the next 36 hours), and also by our camera (we kept taking photos and videos for them to see). We started to get a sense of village life over the two days we spent there, although the slower pace of life took some getting used to. There's an awful lot of sitting around, but once we got used to it it was quite relaxing. And some things are the same everywhere: the kids all showed off their best armpit fart noises with enthusiasm!

Next door to Shiva's home there was some building work going on, and he explained that theirs was a co-operative community - he didn't have to pay any of the men working there, he just provided food for them and in turn when one of them needed some help to build something they would know that the other guys from the village would just turn up. If someone was widowed or disabled, they were supported by the co-operative, and there was a communal emergency fund in case anyone needed to go to hospital. Also, the money we paid him for our stay in the desert was shared with the whole community. He said that pretty much everyone in the village was related by blood or marriage, so they are all really close.

Millet chapatis being cooked in one of the thatched huts:

Surrounded by kids:

Stu and Arjun pretending to be camels pulling the cart:

Shiva, his niece Jammu, and his youngest daughter wearing his turban:

After some delicious home-cooked curry, we went out to some sand dunes by jeep to watch the sunset. It was really beautiful, and of course we once again attracted a group of kids. We stayed up chatting with Shiva for a while that evening, while his niece Jammu drew henna designs on my hand. We slept out under the stars on the roof of his house, which was amazing, although we needed earplugs because there was festival music being played loudly somewhere, even out in the desert (sound really carries out there)! It also got surprisingly cold at night, so we needed warm blankets.

The next day we hung out at the house some more, snacking with the kids on cucumbers picked from the surrounding fields and crunchy lentils that had been dried in the sun. We did a final camel trip to a different bit of the desert, this time by camel cart (to save our poor sore bums), before heading back for a meal and then returning to Jodhpur. The sun really wiped us out and we fell asleep almost immediately after getting back to our haveli - we both felt like we were radiating desert heat for ages afterwards!

Sunset out on the dunes:


  1. Hi. Do you have contact information for your guide?
    We are going in a couple of weeks and he sounds like a very nice host.
    Thank you

  2. Hi P.D., sorry for the delay in getting back to you. We arranged our trip through Singhvi's Haveli in Jodhpur. It's run by two brothers, if I remember rightly one of them is called Alps. The haveli is a very nice place to stay in itself, I recommend it for relaxing after the desert trip! Enjoy your travels!