Archive | May, 2013

One perfect day in Udaipur

16 May

With my guidebook telling me that Udaipur was a fairytale of temples, havelis and lakes, I had big expectations for our four days in the city. This was Venice of the East, with two seemingly floating palaces of which one had even hosted Octopussy back in the days when Roger Moore visited the city. I was headed for the most romantic place in India.

Or so I thought. Our stay in Udaipur will for ever be tainted by being on Indian sick leave for three out of four days. Very little romance, let me tell you.

But we did have one perfect day here:

Good morning!

View from our hotel – also very nice when just staying inside.

Breakfast at Namaste

After an unwelcome encounter with Indian curries, nothing beats blissfully bland food. At Namaste, a bakery set in an old haveli (Gangeur Palace), they served up a breakfast of apple crumble to the Englishman and cinnamon buns to the Norwegian.
Oh, they also served lunch:

Early afternoon at the City Palace

The City Palace offered some good views of the lake, though after the splendour of the other Rajput ex-kings palaces it seemed fairly modest as we ducked through low, narrow passageways flanked by whitewashed rooms.

 

Afternoon tea at Fateh Lakash Palace

If you continue past the City Palace and down to the Fateh Lakash Palace, you get the best views in the city and most likely also the priciest menu. But even backpackers can afford a cup of coffee and a juice, which scores us an hour at a lovely cafe right on the lakeside.

Boat trip around the floating palaces

Catch the boat from inside the City Palace (yep, hold on to your tickets from earlier in the day and then pay a bit more) and cruise around the lake for an hour. The type of boat used is the same kind of tourist boat that saved James Bond when he escaped from Monsoon Palace (which you also see from the lake).
The boat stops for 20 minutes at one of the floating palaces (the film mixes the two – so you can say you've been at Octopussy's afterwards). Make sure to sit on the side facing the palaces; the boat goes anti-clockwise around the lake.

Sunset and James Bond at Lake View

Many of the restaurants in town show Octopussy at night-time, but not all have invested in a new video or even DVD since the film first came out. To make sure you get a great evening, walk up all the stairs to Lake View, a small bed & breakfast with some of the best views in town. Turn up an hour before showtime (19.30) and enjoy the view of temples and monkeys to your left and the floating palaces to the right.

 

Two high priests and an Indian wedding

14 May

The girl with arms covered in bangles was still holding my hand when two elderly men wearing turbans and white clothes approached us.

“Where are you from?”

“Norway.”

“We are the high priests of the temple. You can come inside, because you are from Norway. Your prince and princess were with me before”.

And that, my friends, is the gist of how it happened that we joined an Indian wedding yesterday.

Here is the longer story of what happened on this particular lucky Saturday (part one was the motorcycle temple):

Minutes before, we had been seated in our driver Balu's white TATA Indigo. He was trying hard to push through a small village that had appeared suddenly on the highway between Jodhpur and Udaipur. While he would normally have sent a tidal wave of people off the road with his horn, the music and drumming taking place in front kept him in check.

Ahead, we could spot the members of the groom's party making their way to the entrance of a house. I remembered the scene from when I attended an Indian friend's wedding in London. Behind the dancing crowd appeared a slim-built man on top of a horse, sporting an orange turban with a pink feather. Even with his face downcast, it was easy to make out that he looked unbelievably handsome and utterly overwhelmed.

With his car not going anywhere for quite some time, Balu encouraged us to go and have a look. If we had known how to, we would have wobbled our heads back at him in excitement.

Although our intention was to keep a discreet distance, it was only a matter of time before the two pale Europeans were spotted. With loud cheers, the crowd instantly backtracked from the entrance. Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of giggling and dancing people, who all beckoned us to join. There was little time to reply, because soon my hands were held high in the air by bangle-covered arms and my Norwegian stiffness gave way to awkward improvised Indian-dance moves. Together we pushed (or they pushed us) onwards to the entrance of the house.

And that is when the two high priests approached. After happily accepting the invitation, one of them led us through a garden and into a cheery party tent, where he would leave us, he said, for a few minutes. As we settled ourselves down on the chairs, one of the girls who had taken my hand just before pushed through the labyrinthine of giggling children surrounding us.

“You married?”, she asked, appearing now just in front of me.

“Yes, this is my husband”, I said, pointing to my fiance.

“Love marriage?”, she quickly replied.

“Yes, love marriage”.

For a few seconds, thirty heads wobbled around us. Nods of approval all around. The girl with the bangles put her thumb up and gave me a high-five.

“Love marriage good”, she summed up.

“And you?” I asked.

“Arranged marriage”, she replied before she disappeared again, leaving me speculating about the qualities of her husband.

The high priest walked into the crowd. Everyone turned towards him. His name was Jai Prakash Sharma, he said. “We are now in the village Sadri, nearby the Jain temple. We are all priest caste, on both sides. This is arranged marriage”.

Before I had time to even ask about the name of his temple, he continued and made my eyes widen even further.

“I am the 16th generation of high priests of the Ranakpur temple, nine kilometres from here. Since 610 years, we have been high priests there”.

I felt rather like I had stumbled into the temple itself. The Ranakpur temple deep in the Araveli Hills is said to be the most spectacular Jain temple in India. A major destination for both tourists and pilgrims. And where we were on our way when an Indian wedding procession made different plans for us. Now we were at a wedding with its high priests?

Half an hour later, we were seated at the main table together with the high priests. As we sat eating vegetarian delicacies, the high priest told us excitedly about the wedding. It was his sister's daughter that was getting married, 22 year old Varsha. Her soon to be husband, Ashish, was a year older.

“When did they meet for the first time?”, I asked.

“Yesterday they saw each other for the first time.”

“What did they say?”

“When we asked them, they said they liked each other. They were happy”.

I would have liked to ask more questions about this, but at the time his phone suddenly rang. And by the time the call had ended, I had a stronger and more childish urge to ask if we were getting more than a royal treatment.

“Did the Norwegian prince and princess see a wedding?”, I heard myself ask without even a hint of shame in my voice.

“No, at that time it was not wedding season. We were just in the temple. I took them around; prince and princess, and small kids, like these girls”, he pointed to the two small grandchildren that were on his lap. “They were on private holiday, and then they went to Goa”.

I wish I could said that we then continued quizzing him on the Jain religion. But my boyfriend and I were rather busy whispering between ourselves until we finally told the high priest:

“We think you look like an older version of George Clooney”.

The high priest giggled, then turned to his son with a big grin.

“They think I look like a movie star!”

Facing us again, he told us excitedly that he had starred in one film, Darjeeling Limited.

And, so obviously I googled this afterwards. It's a 2007 film of three brothers – one of them Owen Wilson – who one year after their father's funeral travel by train through India to try to bond with each other. I checked it out on IMBD, and the high priest – Jai Prakash Sharma – stars as “Man on Bus”. Fantastic – I am so seeing this film as soon as I get a chance.

Eventually – after dal with chickpeas, cashew nut sweets and a myriad other vegetarian delights, we found ourselves seated by a small ‘temple’ set up for the wedding. The high priest, who had ushered us over and insisted we take our seats two metres from the bridal couple, pointed to the four generations present at the wedding. When the turn came to point out his mother, a woman who looked about 90 with her face half-hidden under a pink sari, he lowered his voice.

“I won't join you. I will sit over there”, he winked at us and moved his head slightly to the right. “Because I can't smoke in front of my father and mother”, he said, brightly.

“How long have you been hiding it?”, I asked.

“40 years. Since I began!”, he said and left with a cheery wave.

Opposite the bride's parents, who were tending the holy fire, sat an elderly Hindu priest with thick black glasses and a remarkably strong singing voice. I was seated on a plastic chair at the edge of the temple, observing just how many confusing things I could absorb in one afternoon. As the priest guided the bride and groom through the rituals, they kept their stares mainly on the flames in front. They both looked utterly overwhelmed. The flames flickered higher and higher as the bride's father and mother struggled to pour liquid ghee and rice onto the fire at the rapid pacing demanded by the priest's chanting.

Nodding towards the bride and groom, my boyfriend whispered, “I wonder what they think. Two random white people turning up at their wedding”. I was about to reply when I spotted the transvestite that had also magically appeared. I must have been staring, because the newcomer caught my eye and flickered long, fake eyelashes at me. I could barely repress a laugh. With large golden earrings, a red sari baring a flat stomach, bright red lipstick and orange hair pulled back from a strong-jawed face she was a striking, spectacular contrast to the wispy white-haired, elderly priest in front. “This wedding is brilliant!”, I whispered to my boyfriend. The high priest, who had by now finished his cigarette and joined us again at the ceremony, leaned in to explain: “Not man, not woman”.

This begged a number of questions, but before any could be asked, we were informed that the couple were now married and everyone around us got up to congratulate them.

“After this, she will go to her husband's family near Mumbai. We are all witnesses, so they will never get divorced. In this community we never get divorced or go to court,” the high priest said.

Again, I would love to have asked questions, but suddenly the priest from the ceremony stood in front of our chairs. “I told him to put sticker and holy thread on you”, the high priest explained. And, so, while chanting, the elderly priest put red marks on our forehead, added a few rice corns and then tied orange and red threads around our wrists. Now, this wedding is quite something, I thought to myself happily.

The fire was still burning, and the high priest explained that the large, white sweets that were being tossed into the air were “for sweet life and sweet love!”

And that was it. The newly weds were led away and we had to make a move to make it to Ranakpur temple before it closed for the day. Before we left, the high priest told us to find his nephew Manjo and have him show us around. “He’s the one with two thumbs!”

As for our visit to the temple later that afternoon, we did find the nephew Manjo. And as a matter of the day as such, I found it rather fitting that he had an extra thumb.

So, thumbs up for a lucky Saturday!


 

 

 

 

 

Motorcycle temple in Rajasthan

12 May

Rajasthan is the wackiest place. The journey from Jodhpur to Udaipur could have been a long and tiring five-hour stretch in the car. And after the rat temple in Deshnoke, I really believed I had seen it all.

But then we passed through the village of Chotila, where locals worship a motorcycle. Not yet enough wonders for one day, we then met Jain high priests in nearby Sardi, who insisted we joined a wedding because they knew the Norwegian royal family.

The motorcycle first.

Leaving the hotel reception in the morning, a freshly shaven Balu surfaced with a newly polished car. Rows of chilis were dangling from the licence plate, just next to a horse shoe. Balu, it turned out, was superstitious. He wobbled his head in the front seat: “It's Saturday. Lucky day.”

Making our way again through Jodhpur's narrow alleyways in the Old Town, my boyfriend asked how many hours we had to reach Pushkar.

“You going to Pushkar?” Balu mock-flinched. “Udaipur is the lucky city. You have three nights there. You enjoy bazaar, bazaar, bazaar. I am free!”

“Why is it a lucky day today?” my boyfriend replied, then laughed a bit over not knowing what city we were going to. For two people normally travelling slow, a 15 day Rajasthan road trip with a driver was quite a change.

Balu wobbled his head, this time most likely signifying a no: “Lucky day?”

“Today it's Saturday, a lucky day,” my boyfriend repeated.

“Which people told you it's a lucky day?”

“You did!”

Balu laughed, wobbled his head a bit more, but did not offer any further explanation.

Leaving Jodhpur meant also leaving behind the most noticeable aspect of the desert. My boyfriend eyed the rows of green trees, some of which hung heavy over the road: “What happened to the desert?!?” Goats were nevertheless still herded alongside the road. And cows occasionally brought cars, tractors and trucks to a halt. But there were no camels or donkey carts any longer. Now, elderly men sporting thick, curled up moustaches and pink turbans was the new attraction to help us pass the time.

All of a sudden, Balu hit the brake to open the car door and spit some paan on the black road below. In itself not remarkable, had it not been for the small prayer that followed. Picking up on something different from a still boring landscape, I quickly asked why he had prayed just now.

Balu pointed across the road, to a few small houses and three cows in the shade. A truck blocked the rest of our view.

“A small temple, want to see?”

Why not. We were only about half-way to Udaipur and happy to stretch our legs.

It was dusty and in the middle of nowhere. The desert loomed vast behind the few houses, but a steady stream of people were moving towards the far end of the houses. A group of young men passed around a bottle, in the middle stood a young man in golden jodhpurs – the pyjama pants meet riding trousers that the Maharajah once had developed for his own use. Balu nodded: “Wedding. Drinking whiskey, no riskey”.

As we rounded the truck, we spotted a large tree decorated with red and golden threads and glittering bangles. A middle-aged man in an orange turban and a striped t-shirt sat in lotus position on an altar. Next to him, a bowl of incense, another with mung beans, and finally a bowl with a small fire that flickered in the wind.

And that is when I heard an excited whisper next to me: “Kari, this is it! This is IT!”.

Because there, slightly to the left of the altar, people were walking bare feet around a glass monter. Behind the glass, stood an old motorcycle, heavy with flower garlands.

Inadvertenly, Balu had taken us to the holy grail of wierd Indian stuff; the motorcycle temple in Chotila.

Bullet Baba's temple

While in the car the other day, my boyfriend had read out loud from a guidebook about this temple. In the village Chotila, 50 km from Jodhpur, there was a shrine devoted to a motorcycle god. And the people around us with flowers in see-through plastic bags, were all devotees who had turned up to pray for a safe journey.

The story goes that in 1991 the son of a village leader crashed his Bullet motorcycle into a tree, the motorcycle fell into a ditch and the man known as Om Banaji died on the spot. The motorcycle was taken by the local police to the station, though the following morning it was again at the spot of the accident. The bike was seized by local police and this time secured with chains. But the morning after, the bike was again found at the accident spot. Apparently, this happened time and time again. No matter what the police did, the motorcycle always returned to the site where Om Banaji died. News got out, and locals built a memorial – a temple to worship the motorcycle. The fatal tree still stands; it is now decorated with offerings of bangles and colourful threads.

Taking in the sight of the holy motorcycle with a wide grin, my boyfriend remarked: “You got to give it to the Indians, they make the funniest temples!”.

Once our excitement could be kept in check, Balu beckoned for us to join him at the shrine of the motorcycle. Not taking our eyes off the magical Bullet, we followed him in a circle around the motorcycle, only to emerge at the front of the altar. A thumb was quickly pressed to our foreheads, leaving red marks and hopefully also “luck for long life” as Balu explained.

Back in the car, Balu showed us his new red and golden thread. “It is new one. The old one is now placed on the tree”.

Yes, Balu was superstitious.

But it did turn out to be our lucky day.

 

 

 

Jodhpur – the city that is a fort

11 May

In many ways, the city of Jodhpur is the imposing fort of Jodhpur. At least for a tourist. Look slightly lost in any of the narrow streets of the Old Town and a finger is quickly pointed to “fort”. Next to signs of “hygienic food for tourists only”, hotels and restaurants proudly boast even larger ads of “hill view”. And everywhere you look, the fort that seems to emerge from the rocky hill below looms over the blue-painted Old Town.

Making our way to the fort on Friday morning, we quickly realised why the fort is also called the Citadel of the sun. It was nine thirty and the temperature had already climbed close to the 43C it would reach that day.

Within minutes, children however made their way towards us. The first shouted a cheerful “hello” as they walked past, though a pushy few stayed with us for the next ten minutes. Running around us as we slowly walked up narrow streets with chained goats in doorways, some adopted the more confrontational “Hello, one rupees!” with tiny arms outstretched. But, like many before them, the persistence vanished as we started the steepest part of the climb to the fort.

 

Though 500 years old, the fort has never been taken by force. As the audio guide later eloquently phrased it: “No elephant has ever succeeded in battering down its gates. No invading army has ever breached down its walls”. But a few battle scars remain.

In the early 19th century, the fort was under siege for six months. The king had passed away, and according to custom, his fiance, the princess of Udaipur, should then marry the royal successor. But the girl´s father wanted it differently and promised her to the Maharaja of Jaipur (where we are going in a few days). Dishonoured, the coming king ambushed the caravan with wedding gifts making its way to Jaipur. And the battle was on. Jaipur forces surrounded the fort for six months, leaving the residents inside desperate for water and supplies….

Yep, I know. I was also hoping for more there. A nice build up for a great climax. But nope, the audio guide then went “But in all its 500 years it has never given in, not this time either”.

Anyways. The audio guide moved on for a reason – to mingle the present and the past. While on top of the fort, with a view on the length of the bastions lined with canons, the narrator spoke about legends of cannon ball blasts that inspired Aldous Huxley to write from the bastions of the Jodhpur fort, one hears as the Gods must hear from Olympus”.

But then, the word was given to the crown prince. In strong British accent, the voice of a twentysomething man crackled in the audio guide:

“I can remember it as a little child, and the most imposing part of it has to have been the ramparts, when you see the whole sheer city in front of you, and you are sort of towering over this sort of a little empire. To me, the world was Jodhpur”.

India´s aristocratic dynasties may have given up their kingdoms when India liberated itself from Britain, but their titles retain prestige. Today, the crown prince´s world sits a few kilometres from the fort in a 340-room palace. Though, the palace is no longer just a place for kings. The building is now also part hotel, part museum. Like in Jaisalmer, rich Indians and tourists can go and live literally like kings for a night.

Among all the courtyards, pomposity and splendour of the fort, it was nevertheless the story of London tabloids and the visit to the women´s quarters, that I remember the best from the hours inside the fort.

On display next to the elephant hawelahs (seats) were a line of palanquines, means of transport for the royal ladies. While the (holy) king would be depicted with halos on paintings, the royal women would be tucked away in veiled carriages to protect them from “the hostile stares of the men”.

The most interesting story sat inside the most plain-looking carrier, “the one that looks like a neat basket by the exit” as the narrator phrased it. When the present king's grand mother went to England in 1925 this particular basket was used to transport her to and from a specially curtained Rolls Royce. London tabloids quickly caught the scent of the queen and eventually managed to photograph her ankle as she stepped out of the carriage one day. Outraged, the royal entourage bought up every copy of the paper before it found its way back to India.

The strict purda system of the times meant that women were not only to be veiled, but be completely out of sight. Overlooking splendid courtyards and extravagantly decorated rooms for dancing, reciting of poetry and music were thus small balconies, fitted with tight grids. Peeking through the narrow slits at the courtyard far below, I heard the narrator, always the spin doctor, inform me that the women would here “amuse themselves with views on courtyards on two sides”.

Descending flights of stairs, ducking under the ladder of turban-clad construction workers and avoiding a few pickpockets, I emerged in an elegant, though small white courtyard. This was Zenana, the women´s quarters. Its entrance was once guarded by “the most trusted servants.” Though, apparently not trusted too much, because the majority of the guards were eunuchs.

Sitting down on a small bench at the far end of the courtyard, the narrator asked me to “visualise the hustle and bustle of the courtyard, with queens and princesses, male servants and concubines”. I would have done that, if the small office on the far end had not been even more interesting. Previously, when I had passed this small room, the heavily built man behind the desk with a globe on top had handed me a leaflet. He would be happy to read the palms of tourists it said, though a review from Rough Guide copy-pasted on page two reminded girls that his work would not be accurate if you were wearing nail polish. While the queen mother entered the audio guide and shared a few minutes of disappointingly little information, I looked bemused at a French girl with palms stretched out and stifled laughter.

As the queen mother bid farewell, the narrator came back in my ear: “Like everywhere else, life for women in Rajasthan palaces has changed.” Almost as to underscore his point, a group of thirtysomething Indian men that had been eying me for the past few minutes approached as I put down the audioguide. “One photo of you?”

 

Jodhpur – the city

When the temperature fell to the high thirties in the afternoon, we ventured out of the hotel again to explore the city. Within minutes though, my boyfriend wished we had spent more time in Jaisalmer instead.

Making a turn for the clock tower instead of uphill to the fort, the city of Jodhpur unfortunately lost much of its charm. We found ourselves dodging honking mopeds while also trying to stay clear of trash and cow dung. The iconic blue paint of the old city was flaking off crumbling walls. The street we walked on was nothing but grey slabs of concrete and potholes lined with rubble and dust.

But there were also birds. And carved window frames and pastel houses with flower pots on balconies. But I only spotted all of that when I forced myself to look beyond the grime, and dust and the many “one rupees!” When we minutes later passed two miserably looking backpackers zigzagging through the litter and the honks, I also began to miss Jaisalmer.

At the clock tower, we found a cow sleeping on top of a heap of plastic next to a sign indicating “Market, money changer”. And, the plain word 'market' is a more fitting name for this square than the more exiting-sounding 'bazaar'. The stands with mangos, water melons and plastic sandals may have looked interesting on their own, but on filthy streets heavy with garbage they were less than inviting. The appeal was further reduced by the grey cement walls that lined the market.

But again, I tried. The rows of women in colourful saris – minty-green, purple, orange, gold – strolling up and down the market were quite a sight. But as I stood there transfixed on the saris, a small boy tugged my shirt. “One rupee!” he demanded. And with that, I found myself back in a dirty and dusty market place with children practising their first begging tricks and young men coming too close for my liking. There were no other tourists to be seen. “You're getting a lot of stares”, my boyfriend remarked, as if I had not already noticed. He added with a grin: “What was that comment about the girl in jeans, hmm?”

There were simply filth and noise and I felt dusty and exhausted. I shook my head at my boyfriend who understood. It was time to beat a retreat from India today.

Coming back to our hotel, the car park had filled up. On the roof top restaurant, every chair was angled for the best view possible of the now illuminated medieval fort and the children playing kites. The same view I had last night, and hopefully also the same superb feelings I had then about Jodhpur. But, accompanied by Islamic chanting in the background, I, on the other hand, made my way to our air-conditioned room.

 

 

Rajasthan roadtrip: Jaisalmer to Jodhpur

9 May

And we were on the road again, again for a six hour drive between desert cities in Rajasthan.

The Thar desert had not been as I had imagined it. A hard rock and sand surface with occasional thorny bushes. None of the wavy sand dunes I thought a desert was all about. And somewhat surprisingly, scrawny goats had made this desert their home, munching away seemingly on sand as we passed them in the car.

The remoteness of Jaisalmer became even clearer as we made our way to Jodhpur. With not even military installations in sight, the kilometres of road and surrounding sand seemed empty and eerie. Remembering the secret village of two days past, I asked Balu whether there were any houses or villages around that I simply didn´t see. He shook his head, “no, not here”, before revealing himself as a poet. “Not out and about, sleep in the house”, he delivered with a rhyme that made him shake with laughter.

Half-way to Jodhpur, we nevertheless passed a short stretch of sand dunes which suddenly made way to a slightly hilly landscape requiring the car to move around bends and not simply continue straight ahead. OK, I admit that my desert descriptions might be fairly tame reading. And, normally a pale landscape of lightly green-coloured trees, rocky hills and dry grass would not be something to write home about. But after hours of seemingly nothingness, even the plastic rubble along the roadside was something exciting to look at. When we passed the first few splashes of colours, I even sent the women long, happy stares.

Entering Jodhpur, six hours away from Jaisalmer, was also like speeding up in time. There were still one or two carts pulled by camels, turbans and saris. But Jodhpur is a city of one million people, and the diversity of these people also showed in the city landscape. We had again entered a chaotic and modern city of traffic lights, mopeds and cars, plastic garbage, colourful ads on brick and glass buildings, and jeans. Yes, jeans. After days of kurtas, saris and pyjama trousers, seeing a girl on a scooter in jeans felt somewhat remarkable.

“I miss Jaisalmer”, my boyfriend mumbled next to me. And rightly so. As a first impression, there was nothing charming about Jodhpur. In the front seat, Balu was busy honking the streets clear of people.

“I was afraid we would hit that cow!”, my boyfriend whispered to me. “I am more concerned about the people. They´re not holy, are they now!”, I replied with my teeth clenched. Because by now also people were jumping clear of Balu. Passing some particularly slow-moving mopeds in a narrow alleyway, Balu let out a stream in Hindi. “Your mother is a camel”, my boyfriend interpreted in the backseat.

“What? You understand Hindi?” Balu laughed. “I said, 'You're deaf? Get your mum!'

Arriving at our hotel, Balu turned to us and asked if we wanted him to drive us around the old town tomorrow. We politely declined. “I think we can walk”, I replied.

And that´s when we saw the reason why were also seeing other tourists in this city. (Six of them so far.) Overlooking our hotel in the old town was a fort just as imposing as in Jaisalmer:

Jaisalmer – a real life sand castle

9 May

“Do you use these now?”

My boyfriend winked at the local tour guide, who winked back: “Just if we get tourists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Taliban”.

While the imposing hilltop fort in the middle of the Thar desert has not been invaded for centuries, round rocks and long tubes made of yellow sandstone still lie in wait on top of the 99 ramparts to be rolled down on approaching enemies.

The Jaisalmer fort only has one entrance, but stroll through it as a friendly tourist and you soon find yourself in a maze where Hindu and Islamic architecture have mingled over hundreds of years. Exploring the narrow winding streets that are flanked by charming, yellow sandstone houses, my boyfriend kept repeating how Jaisalmer was his highlight so far in India.

“This is my favourite!”

“Why?”

“It´s an old fortified city which has incredibly narrow cobbled streets with meandering little alleyways with people living on top of each other. And the place literally looks like a giant sand castle.

He paused to breathe and then added: “And stuffed with bookshops!”

Today, the entire city of Jaisalmer is made up of 75% Hindu and 25% Muslims. 3,000 of the 75,000 residents live inside the fort. Perhaps not surprising, most of them rely on tourism for a livelihood.

There may not be anyone approaching the fort with bows and arrows any longer, but its foundations are crumbling under the many tourists. The fort is built on a foundation of clay, sand and sandstone. Due to poor drainage system, much of the increased water consumption of the 400,000 annual visitors seep into the ground beneath the fort. Today, the fort is among the World Monument Fund's 100 Most Endangered Sites.

Tourists are advised not to stay overnight in the fort to not put additional pressure on its foundations. A piece of advice that is in the interest for anyone to follow, and not only for heritage reasons. For purely selfish reasons as well, you should stay in one of the hotels in town. You see, most of them have roof top restaurants. So, come night-time, you can sip a boiling hot cup of milky tea and marvel at the most magnificent fort you could ever imagine.