Forts and farting camels

Carolyn and I had decided that we would get a car and driver for the remainder of our time in Rajasthan. We went through which is actually run by an ex-BHP employee who ran all the 4WD and defensive driving courses in Perth! Our driver, Mob, picked us up at the hotel in Udaipur and we had a long trip through the desert to the fort city of Jaisalmer.

Mob’s driving is excellent, but the roads are full of deep potholes, and cows wander across at leisure. We saw a couple of dead camels, as well as several dead goats and dogs. Animals here just don’t seem to have the streetwise common sense to get the hell out of the way. All Indians will swerve for a cow though and I’ve yet to see one that has been hit by a car although I’m sure they must cause all manner of accidents and deaths to human drivers. They just don’t move.

The road to Jaisalmer was dry and dusty, and we passed several camel drivers, flocks of goats being herded by turbanned men, and women wandering along with bundles of sticks or water pots on their heads. It’s a little like stepping back in time apart from the thundering trucks and constant motorbike traffic.

Jaisalmer looks like an ancient Arabian city, dominated by a large 12th century fort which sits perched on a rocky hill. Circled by 99 bastions, it’s an impressive sight and a slice straight out of history. Modern times are taking their toll however with the fort slowing sinking into the Trikuta hill due to poor drainage and overcrowding. 3 of the bastions have collapsed in the last decade. has been set up to try and combat this issue, although there are several hotels in the warren of streets inside the fort (and we all love our long hot showers), and this explosion of tourist interest – the reason the town of Jaisalmer exists in the first place – may be the very thing which kills it. Jaisalmer Fort is on the World Monuments Watch list of the most 100 endangered sites worldwide. Like the tiger – see it before it’s gone.

There are several temples inside the fort all boasting intricate carvings on their exteriors, but Caro and I decided to do the Maharajas Palace instead – a beautiful 7 storey sandstone building. Entering the fort through a forbidding series of massive gates and up steep mazelike streets lined with stalls, the palace is well worth doing and the audio tour is included in the price. The views from the roof are worth the admission price in itself, wonderful views out over the fort, Jaisalmer, and across the desert to the many windfarms which line the horizon.

Enter the fort well after dark for a whole new experience. The hawkers and tourists gone for the day, the fort is gently lit with golden light gleaming from the latticework shutters of the rooms above, which accentuates the sandstone. Narrow streets snake away into the dark. Children play cricket in the squares, having too much fun to bother tourists. It’s both eerie, surreal and romantic – and like being on a movieset. We climbed one of the bastions to see the lights of Jaisalmer laid out below. Get out before 10pm or you may be locked out of your hotel, or locked inside the fort!

There is another reason to visit Jaisalmer aside from the fort: camel safaris! They are a dime a dozen so we did the one through our hotel which was just easier. First stop was the Bada Bagh cenotaphs, dating from the 1500’s to modern day, and the resting place of several of the regions maharajas over the centuries. It’s a solemn place, the only living things are dogs, crows and peacocks, and the ancient rulers stare out over windfarms and a pretty canyon.

We also stopped by the ancient capital of Lodhruva, the Jain temples and surrounding walls the only evidence of the city’s former magnificence, and these were reconstructed in the 1970’s. Looking out over a pastoral scene of goatherds and thousands of goats sitting on ruins in the field below, it’s worth the trip.

This was all done by jeep and nary a whiff of camel, soon to be rectified. We met our camel driver, Suret, and Bulldozer and Jindeer (sounded like John Deere but I’m sure he wasn’t named after a tractor). I rode Bulldozer, who had a bad stinky cold, snot all over his nose, and a festering sore on the back of his head where he’d been bitten by another camel. This farting, snorting ship of the desert was a prize-winner though, coming third in the Festival of the Desert and lover of several lady camels in the region. In fact Bulldozer was consistently horny, constantly scouting the surrounding desert for a new lady love. Having the built-in ability to smell a she-camel from 3 miles away, he would rear his head, stick out his tongue and curl it into a kind of bugle, and then make belting noises which sound like very deep wet farts. It does attract the ladies though – on the second day we spotted 3 females wandering round the desert and as Bulldozer started his trumpeting serenade of amour (covering me in strings of spit as I was sitting on his back at the time), the pretty she-camels started coming our way. As I had the reins and was leading Caro who was sitting on Jindeer and tied to Bulldozer, I had visions of Bulldozer suddenly taking off across the desert and attempting to perform the act of love with me still sitting on his back. He was well-behaved though, and as the head of the pack knew exactly where he was going.

Jindeer was the baby, only 2.5 years old, and incredibly pretty although a slight hint of teenage arrogance in his attitude. He also had a cool green and black necklace on, making him look like a surfer camel. When I enquired as to the meaning behind it I got told by the very manly camel driver that Jindeer was ‘his baby’. Bulldozer didn’t have one but then he was 8 years old and perhaps had outgrown jewellery! After 2 hours trekking through scrubby landscape we stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere, where Suret unpacked plates and food and cooked us chipatis and curry all over a little fire, under a tree. Bulldozer was tied up so he couldn’t go wandering after she-camels and was given a massive bag of hay, and Jindeer was hobbled – this consists of tying loops of rope round his front legs leaving him able to walk but not run – and he made his way around every tree in a 100m radius nibbling on leaves.

After lunch we saddled up again, our poor arses aching in protest, and made our way through the scrub and onto the dunes where we spent the night. A few other groups joined us for dinner, most only doing the sunset safari (except it was cloudy and drizzly so no sunset!), and the four of us that were left enjoyed a campfire and then headed to our outdoor hotel! Four stretcher beds, nestled against a windbreak, and piled high with stinky blankets! It was raining – yes we are one of the few people to experience rain in the desert which is bloody typical – although very lightly – so I dove under the blankets and nestled there, warm and snug as a bug in a smelly rug. When I awoke to the call of nature in the middle of the night the stars had come out, and it was peaceful to lie under my odorous blankets, listen to the sound of farting camels in the distance and gaze at the Milky Way.

I now also have a new career: camel doctor. Poor old Bulldozer’s festering wound was getting too much for me – the rope was rubbing into it and it was covered in flies. I patched him up with a wet wipe which I tied around the rope, then put some insect repellent on the surrounding fur. He was very brave – I believe that we came to an understanding because he only shook his head a little bit when I touched the wound despite Suret’s concern I would get bitten or knocked out by a 500kg of camel objecting to medical help. Just call me Dr Doolittle!


john.sackett said…
shine on you crazy diamond