Michael Karlo Lim
THE desert for dessert. The Golden City, Jaisalmer, was another long drive. The highway stretched into a more desolate landscape towards the border of Pakistan. We made it to the desert camp and only had time to settle our luggage into our well-appointed tent before getting on our designated camel to catch sundown over the dunes.
Getting on the saddle was easy enough but staying on it needed some getting used to. Its hindleg-first rise started off the rocky boat before the whiplash the followed when it stood up on its front. The almost deliberate hip sway and forward jolt with each step gave most rickety fairground rides a run for their money. Camels can go for days or even weeks with little or no food or water. This one took snack breaks every once so often into the hour-long ride.
Flora became even sparser until we were right on the undulations of sweeping hills of sands. I swear you’d hear Cheb Mami and Sting harmonizing across the dunes out there. The sun dropped ever excruciatingly slow into the horizon exploding in fiery oranges, violent violets before fading into a beautiful dark blue twilight sky. We were joined by herds of sheep, goats and donkeys on autopilot back towards the desert camp as the temperature steeply dropped with the light.
We were welcomed back with tables set around a blazing bonfire and an entertaining cultural show. We had fair warning that dinner in the desert would be all-veg. The buffet setup allowed us our fill of tarka dal, curried mixed veg, desert bean stir-fry, boiled potatoes, salad and naan. Good as it was it still had me wishing we had something to really chew on. Tandoori camel, perhaps.
The day’s rides took its toll and sleep tugged down our eyelids already weighed down by dinner and the local Kingfisher beer. Hell does freeze over as the temperature dropped further into the negatives. Sports socks and a quadruple layer of quilts got us through to the morning.
“First chapati is for cow. Because she is mother. Second chapati is for dog. For good karma.” No cow nor dog in desert. No competition. Chapati was served with toast, butter, jam and fruit. Chai masala was a neverending story to this story which we wished would never end.
The desert is beautiful in its vast starkness and what rises from the dunes are even more beautiful. Mandir Palace is the commercially converted half of the Jaisalmer royal family’s ornate, intricately carved, ancient home.
The Trio came highly recommended and this duo lay waste to their Tandoori Thali: Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Tikka, Vegetable Seekh Kebab, Paneer Tikka, Mint Sauce, Buttered Naan, Papad, Dal Makhni. Not in photo is the separate order of Murgh Pulao, which had this non-rice eater shoveling heapings into his mouth; the Salted Lime staple and one inarguably good mixed-fruit Lassi.
The Golden Fort is the oldest “living” fort in the world and one wouldn’t wonder why generations upon generations continue to call this place home. The stark stone walls burst into colors further up and into the fort with patchwork quilts and embroidered textiles for sale on full-display. The entire place was abuzz with tourists and residents.
Shops along the pathways sold assorted trinkets and antiques. Each one seemed to have a story behind its storefront. Here we put our bargaining skills to the test and bought the rest of thkue souvenir items for friends and family back home in what we thought would be the last of our purchases.
After dinner at another tourist favorite, The Junction Palace, we swung by a local go-to for dessert. The commercial Havmor and Anmul brands, which they also carry, are great but Kanchan Shree Ice Cream Parlour’s house kulfi has been a romantic epic on a popsicle stick in this desert city since 1944. Pistachio and cashew play rivals in this love triangle with frozen custard, the interplay of all three ultimately winning in love…ours.
Regret came in the end that we pushed back the visit to the Golden City to a single night’s stay as we couldn’t get enough of what was easily our favorite hotel of the trip. We stayed up late to take in more of the room’s feels and to figure out our ever more apparent excess baggage issue but we soon succumbed to the pull of the king bed and the lullaby of the Bollywood movie on TV. We broke fast early in the morning to get a good headstart on the long drive back to Johdpur to catch a flight after noon.
VJ insisted on treating us to lunch before dropping us off at the Jodhpur airport for our domestic to Delhi. He took us to a local favorite spot for Dal Baati. This Rajasthani specialty consists of round baked breads — baatis — crumbled and served with panch kutti dal — the regional dal of five lentils; pickles, sambar and fresh onions then washed down with buttermilk. The spicy, all-veg dish came out surprisingly very filling and even almost meaty. Quite fitting to cap the thoroughly enjoyable segment with Heritage India Private Tours.