Friday, April 15, 2005

I do the Lawrence of Arabia thing

Jaisalmer sits in the Thar desert close to the Pakistan border. It is a small town of about fifty thousand inhabitants, all of whom arrive to greet you as you fall in a dishevelled but glamorous manner out of the bus, and on to boiling tarmac heavily encrusted with cow shit. Welcome.
Indian auto-rickshaw drivers have perfected their trade. They can spot a tired Westerner when they see one, and have only to keep up their incessant and incoherent Hindish babble for a matter of minutes before a) you accede to the hotel of their choice, b) cry, or c) yell gross obscenities and curse their mothers.

Today I chose the latter, and needed a couple of Navy Cuts (my chosen cigarette brand in the subcontinent) and a bottle of Thums Up (a sickeningly sickly and orthographically challenged version of Coke) before I could entertain the idea of communicating with any of these wretched little bastards. [By the way, if anyone is looking for a niche marketing idea, India is crying out for a good tourism and hospitality school. Currently they sit in bottom place in the entire goddamn galaxy for customer service].

One of the kids could see my obvious distress and offered me some opium. In my book, anyone that ridiculous gets my vote, so his autorickshaw was my autorickshaw and we sped to the fort and to his very inappropriately titled guesthouse, 'The Himalayan'. What? I mean, we're in middle of the frickin' desert here. It's flat, it's sandy and it's not going to snow for another 300 million years.

The staff of the guesthouse were, well, puerile. We got along instantly, although my paternal instincts were aroused when the actual amount of opium consumed by them in a twenty-four hour period became known to me. Still, why not? If you're going to live in a place where the mercury hits 50 degrees regulary, it's either gotta be drugs or insanity.

My room was dirt cheap and about the size of a Rubik's cube. Interiors and lighting by someone blind, and a cooling system that made me think seriously about hiring a street kid and a large fan for a couple of days. But that would be wrong and politically incorrect. And have to say, I did like the look of my bathroom, because the idea of showering while I undertook daily ablutions (is there a verb - to ablute?) has forever appealed to my senses of hygiene and humour. And now I was able to indulge.

Jaislamer is constructed entirely from golden sandstone. It is beautiful, and if I were that way inclined, it would bring a tear to my eye. It's a veritable setting for Ali Baba and his 40 thieves. I can really picture myelf hear wearing a silver and red turban and runnning about the place with a big fat sword and dagger, but instead I settled on a banana lassi (curd), and wished I been born into a band of Arab wrong-doers.

Apart from the Maharaja's palace and some more very impressive havelis, a good reason to sojourn in this region of the planet is to take a camel safari. Nick, Leah and I opted for a three day, two night expedition that promised to be a bit of a hoot.

Provided my grumbling stomach settles down ...

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