Day 31: Bikaner to Jaisalmer

Since one of the objectives was to reach Jaisalmer (have heard too much about it), the idea of getting to Jaisalmer is at the peak of my mind. As I wake up in Bikaner and have my morning cup of tea, I know that objective is going to be fulfilled today. Jaisalmer is about 330 kilometers away. And all that is spread over those 330 kilometers is even more of the mind-numbing boring straight sand banked stretch of black tarmac that I had begun to hate yesterday. But then, this is the deal I chose for myself.

The begining is good (like every day). About 70 kilometers out of the city, there is Shri Kolayat, a sort of a holy town with a temple dedicated to Ganga (the largest and holiest river in India and a prominent Hindu goddess). Alongside is a huge lake where many come to take a holy bath before Diwali. Since it was too early in the day on a weekday (or was it? I have lost track of days) there weren’t too many people around. So I leave almost immediately.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

But not before going across a massive brick kiln

From Earning My Quarter Mile

…and the friendly neighbourhood camel.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

The heat was rising and constantly travelling for any longer than 60 odd kilometers was painful – both on the mind and the butt. Mostly on the butt. The fact that I had a defective sprocket which didn’t allow me to go past 80 kmph at any time was not lost on me for even a second. There was but one way to get away from the heat. Sporadic shadow from throny babool trees – the camel’s lunch!

From Earning My Quarter Mile

More than halfway through comes a board which cannot escape the attention of any Indian. Its a tiny sleepy village like thousands others in Rajasthan but has been made immortal by historic events. This village lends its name to the nuclear test site of India. No one forgets this name. There is pride, history and memory of hardships associated with it. POKHRAN.

The first natural thought that came to my mind was – Can I see it? The nuclear test site. I was excited like a school boy. I was jumping in my seat. I ask for directions to the military base. 20 minutes later I was in the military area and before I knew I had gone past the innocuous looking exit towards the desert. When I had travelled 30 kilometers when I was told 13 kilometers, I realized I had overshot. I backtracked and reached an exit. It didn’t look very promising but then I thought that must be due to all the secrecy. 6 kilometers in, it turned out it was a temple. One where women come from far and wide to tie a ribbon around a holy tree so they can have a son (as against a daughter. yes that shit still happens here).

From Earning My Quarter Mile

Anyway, I came back to highway and backtracked more and ended up at the gates of an army establishment. Sufficiently wrapped in mystery and manned by guards suspiciaous of everything, the only natural thing happened. My request was turned. I needed special permission from Delhi. I don’t why this didn’t make sense to me earlier. Watching the border was one thing, this is one of the most high security areas in the whole goddam country. And I thought I could just walk in! Well it was worth a shot.

The sun was coming down on the horizon and milestones increasingly indicated I was close to Jaisalmer. At around 6 pm, I entered the city and in less than 3 minutes realized just how small this city is. One of the major tourist attractions in the country, this city is all of 4 kilometers long and wide. Thats it. So before I could come down to 40 from the 80 I was travelling at, I was a;ready out of the city. I sat down at a tea stall at the outskirts for a drink and to think of what to do. As I sipped my tea, a guy comes up to me and tells me about staying in a tent deeper in the desert. I quite like the idea and call up a friend who had been here earlier abotu what he recommends. He names the same place where I am being offered a tent. 1500 bucks for night stay, dinner, breakfast, a cultural show and a camel ride. Sounded decent to me. So I got the guy as my pillion and off we went for another 45 kilometers into the desert.

The tents are luxury tents with proper showers and nice beds. So the 1500 bucks are totally worth it. The cultural program has already started when I get there. These amazing Rajasthani dancers do some seriously nice stuff. Athletic, twisting bodies going all over the place. One of them actually lifted a razor blade with her eyelashes. Have a look.

From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile
From Earning My Quarter Mile

In a party fully drunk by now, this is the best picture I could manage.

From Earning My Quarter Mile

A later dinner later, I wasn’t feeling too sleep. So I caught hold of the same guy who brought me here and we went on the bike to the sand dunes with a beer to pass time. In a completely still moonlit night the silence was broken only by the occassional noises of the camels. We sat and I heard his story (which seems to be becoming the norm now). Uneducated, married, risen through the ranks of poverty to make a space for himself, he is what one would call self made. The fact that I was sitting there in such circumstances and talking about a story which seemed so alien to me was surreal. Something that I can’t even believe now. I guess it is things like this that keep people on the road.

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