Four Countries in 2 Weeks: Turkey, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and India
India Day 9 and 10 – Arriving in Jaisalmer and staying at the magnificent Suryagarh with a show and dinner in the garden on the first night. Visiting the main sites of Jaisalmer, including Jaisalmer Fort, Bada Bagh, and Lodurva jain temple, followed by a massage, a search for ghosts in Kuldhara and a breathtaking dinner in the desert on the second day.
Leaving Jodhpur, I had a four hour drive ahead of me to Jaisalmer. Suryagarh had generously sent a car to pick me up.
The driver showed up in a smart and traditional dress with a bright orange turban. The car was a comfortable white SUV with the hotel’s seal painted on the door. The driver offered cold drinks for the ride and there were recent magazines available for browsing.
I was too busy looking outside and admiring the desert landscape we were passing by.
On the way, we stopped for lunch at Manvar, a desert resort. I enjoyed a tasty kebab with nan.
Back on the road, we saw a car swerving across lanes and braking erratically. The car was full of young guys and the driver was either crazy or drunk. At one point we were stopped in traffic around a curve and the drunk coming full speed behind us, slammed on his brakes and screeched to a stop. The smoke from his tires enveloped our car.
My driver called someone and then accelerated to stay in front of the car. In the next town he stopped a bus moving in the opposite direction then the person he called earlier arrived and they all pounced on the drunk driver, who was trapped behind us. My driver took the keys and they started arguing. The guy held up his hands in apology. A huge crowd formed.
We soon left the drunk to the lions. Talk about taking matters into your own hands.
The rest of the drive was not as exciting, though I saw many manned tanks and military trucks lined up on the side of the road and under camouflaged netting.
They are always ready! said my driver.
We are right next to the Pakistani border after all.
A few kilometers before the hotel we meet up with two guards who greeted me and then stood up in the back of a jeep and escorted us to the hotel.
On my arrival to the fort-like property, a large group was standing for a warm welcome. Musicians performed and I walked through the gates and met the manager, Nakul. The hotel priest blessed me before walking through the threshold of the hotel when suddenly a shower of golden marigold petals fell around me.
Wow. What an impressive welcome!
I was shown to my room, an opulent suite on the second floor.
Entering the inner courtyard, Nakul introduced me to the owners, Mr. Singh and Manvendra. They warmly welcomed me.
At 7 p.m., there was a Rajasthani Dance & Music event. I sipped on a local Indian whisky with water as I took in the performance by Mehboob Khan and Companions.
After the show, I went downstairs and met some distinguished guests. They were a jolly group composed of many different industries such as design, travel writing, and public relations.
After a few drinks, we moved to our dinner arrangement set up on the lawn in the garden of the hotel.
We were served snacks and wine while seated on cushions around a table, facing the hotel. The walls were magnificently lit up and in the distance perched on the top of one of the platforms were the Rajasthani singers. Their crisp voices carried across the dry desert night.
Wine somehow led to tequila shots and other indulgences.
After the performance, we sat at the dining table and partook in a special meal created around the delicacies of the goat. We tasted almost every edible meat including the brain, ears, testicles, and innards. Each serving was carefully prepared and presented. I never really enjoyed animal innards before, but this fire roasted meal was delicious.
Our night ended with lighthearted conversation and plenty of drink.
I had a feeling I was going to enjoy Jaisalmer very much.
The next morning I enjoyed breakfast in the courtyard.
Later the owner’s two golden retrievers joined us. Alex, the well-trained older dog, created a real homely feel and the puppy, Simba, just hobbled around to be cute.
After breakfast Nakul prepared a car to take me on a tour of Jaisalmer.
Unlike the museum fort in Jodhpur this fort is a part of the living city. A quarter of the inhabitants of Jaisalmer live within the walls of a fort built in 1156. The dusty yellow hue of the fortification walls and the sandstone city is where the nickname “Golden City” came from.
Once a strategic trade position in the medieval times, the fort area now caters to tourists with museums, shops, and restaurants.
We walked through and visited the Raj Mahal, Jain Temples and the Patwa Haveli, an ancient mansion converted into a museum.
Our next stop took us to a collection of royal cenotaphs in the middle of the desert next to a wind power farm.
Jai Singh II, a Maharajas of Jaisalmer was one of the first monuments at the entrance of the park.
The area was very empty besides one other tour group and some kids running around.
Lodurva Jain Temple
Lodurva was an ancient capital of the area but most of it was destroyed along with the temples in 1152. The current temple is rebuilt in the 1970s.
It was similar to the Jain Temples seen in Jaisalmer Fort.
Back at the hotel, it was time for lunch. I found the group sitting at a big table in the courtyard and joined them. We were served plate after plate of fine Indian specialities while conversing on topics ranging from movies and Indian pop culture to travel and hotels.
After I had a massage scheduled at Rait The Spa. In the seating area I was offered tea and chose my treatment. I had a 15 minute realignment therapy followed by a hot stone massage.
The massage was a perfect way to unwind after a day of exploring.
Later in the evening, Neha the travel writer and I went on a haunted tour…
We got into the car with our guide and a driver. First we went to a village which was completely dark, because the locals believed that lights would attract evil spirits. The SUV’s lights lit up the houses as we drove by slowly. It was eerie to think all the huts were filled with people.
We stopped at a lake that is supposedly haunted and always full, even during a drought. Many battles were fought on the grounds here and we saw the tombs from four hundred years ago.
Back in the car we drove to the village of Kuldhara as our guide explained the history. The village was a well established wealthy community started by the Paliwal Brahmins in 1291. At one point the leader of the village had his eyes set on the daughter of one of the Brahmins. As he was of a lower caste, the father forbid the union. The leader wouldn’t take no for an answer and gave an ultimatum.
So in the middle of the night the entire village was abandoned to avoid death and dishonor. They also cursed the grounds so that no one would be able to live there again.
Present day, the village can be visited during the day, but it is forbidden at night. A guard was assigned to the village and one day his whole family mysteriously died. He kept the job because he didn’t want the same to happen to the next watchman.
As the main entrance was closed, we drove in some side road with the SUV.
Walking through the village was actually pretty spooky. We went into the temple and the house of the Brahmin father and his daughter’s room. Crossing the threshold I felt a shiver run down my spine…
Back at the hotel, we were just in time for dinner.
Dinner in the Desert
The group assembled in the courtyard then we took two cars and started our drive.
I had no idea where we were going and I didn’t ask. I enjoyed the suspense.
After about a 15 minute drive, the last part of it off roading in the desert, we exited the vehicles and started walking along a candle lit path into the desert.
At the ridge of the dune, the entire evening set up was visible. There was a valley with a seating area facing a dune lit up with candles and large bonfires. On the other dune was a table and cooking station set up. The whole layout and the amount of organization was very impressive.
We sat in the valley at a long low table and covered ourselves with blankets. The famous singers of Mehboob Khan appeared the ridge. Their performance in the fire-lit desert night was an unforgettable experience. Two female dancers even came down the dune and I was somehow solely volunteered to dance with them around the fire.
We watched the show with a glass of wine under the crystal clear night sky. The audience was transported back to an ancient time and into the shoes of royalty that would merit such a performance.
Dinner was served at the ridge of the dune behind us which we went to after the show. The table was set around a large central chandelier. Everything was over the desert sand.
We indulged in several courses of expertly prepared Indian dishes.
Everything about the evening was spectacular. The performance, cuisine, and preparations were flawless. Great times with delightful company.
This was how Suryagarh hosted an evening and I was very fortunate to be a part of it.