We returned to our hotel in Bikaner dusty and happy after our wonderful visit with Hansu and her family. Despite the lack of air-conditioning, we hadn’t been bothered by the 45+ temperatures and the kids had been remarkably well-behaved. As a reward, we decided to take them to the Russian Circus which was performing in Bikaner that evening. I feared for the safety of the performers when I saw the state of the tent (more holes than canvas) and the frayed ropes used to support the safety nets.
There were only four performers who looked even remotely Russian while the rest looked like recruits from local high schools who half-heartedly went through the motions of performing with bored expressions on their faces. It felt like a bad Saturday Night Live skit. The Russian acrobats, who looked like ex-gymnasts, did their best to carry the show, but the end result was a tragic comedy and we bailed at the first intermission. Cirque du Soleil has nothing to fear from the IndoRussian Circus.
The next morning we left early for Jaisalmer, the Golden City, so named for the beautiful golden hue of its natural sandstone buildings. Jaisalmer is one of the most remote of Rajasthan’s towns and has a mystical Arabian Nights quality about it. That night, we headed out into the desert for an overnight camel safari where we would sleep on camp cots under the stars (to keep us out of the way of inquisitive scorpions and snakes).
I had worried about sore backsides after several hours on a camel, but we were pleasantly surprised by our comfortable mounts. Our guide, Devi Singh, was very knowledgeable and informative and spoke perfect English, despite the fact that he’d never traveled further than Delhi.
He told us that he’d learned English by being a guide and had learned about the world from the tourists he’d guided for the past twenty years. He was well-versed in current events and spoke intelligently about India and the plight of its people. Once we reached our camp, we left Devi Singh and Soy Singh, his assistant, to set up camp while we climbed the Khuri Dunes to enjoy a spectacular desert sunset.
As the dusk deepened into night we sat by the fire and enjoyed the best meal we’d had in India, traditional dal prepared by Devi Singh.
As we sat around our fire, Claude read to the children from “The Alchemist” and Devi listened intently to the story of a young shepherd who traveled across the desert in a camel caravan while in search of his destiny. When Claude finished reading, Devi smiled and said that the author was a very wise man who understood the desert and the ways of the world very well. I thought to myself that we had discovered a very wise man ourselves and wished that we had more time to spend with this gentle, intelligent man.
After supper, we tucked the children into bed on their camp cots under the stars and sat up for a while chatting with Devi. As he told us stories of the desert and the stars, I stared up at the night sky like I’d never seen it before. Away from the light pollution of the cities, I could see more stars than I had ever seen before and the sky came alive like a three-dimensional tapestry with the Milky Way splashed across it. This was one of those moments that I wanted to last forever when I felt like my heart would burst with the emotion I was feeling and I thanked God for giving us the courage to take this trip together. Even after we crawled into bed ourselves, I woke every few hours to gaze at the heavens in awe until I drifted off again to dream of flying carpets and magic lamps. Claude and I woke up in time to enjoy the sunrise and watch the dunes change colours as the morning light washed over them.
When the kids woke up, they ran around excitedly looking at the many tracks that crisscrossed our camp, trying to guess which desert inhabitant had made them. Finally, we climbed aboard our camels and returned to the village to enjoy a hearty breakfast before heading back to Jaisalmer where we toured the local fort and bought some souvenirs before succumbing to the heat and spending a few hours by the pool. That evening, we bought some “child” beer and relaxed on the rooftop of our hotel while watching the golden city glow amber in the light of the setting sun.
This was India at its best.
To see the rest of our photos from India, go to our web album.
Tags: India, Jaisalmer, Travel