NORTH OF GUJARAT LIES RAJASTHAN, HOME OF BRIGHT COLOURS and impressive moustaches. En route to the desert city of Jaisalmer, we spent some time walking the length of Shiv’s main street taking photos of the Rajasthani people in the market there. Toyota Innova MPVs have transformed road travel in India and this journey, albeit quite long at nine hours was again a pleasure compared to the 12 hours of slow-moving bus torture the first time I did it. On the other hand, Jaisalmer is sadly not the evocative desert fortress that it was on my first visit in the 1990s, now that more than 2500 wind turbines surround it. Unfortunately I am yet to see the fort there lit up by a golden sunset on this tour, in my last four visits the sun has dipped prematurely into either rain or dust clouds. In the evening we made a short visit to the desert festival and together with thousands of local people we enjoyed watching some local musicians and dance acts. It was a little bizarre to be herded into a foreign tourist pen and forced to sit down to watch the performances. Next morning we took our usual city tour of golden sandstone Jaisalmer, starting with the Jain temples in the old fort, then continuing on to a city view point, the old havelis (intricately decorated former merchants’ houses) and finally ending up at an excellent fabric shop where the ladies battered their plastic!
The streets of Jaisalmer are packed with interesting people and things at which to point the camera and a few hours hardly do it justice. Jumbled shops, ornate temples, weathered faces, huge moustaches, bright colours, fortress architecture and numerous wandering animals provide at least one million interesting subjects. Jaisalmer thrived during the height of the silk trade but with the partition of India in 1947 all cross border trade ceased and it became a sleepy backwater at the end of the line. The rise of tourism has changed its fortunes recently along with tensions between India and Pakistan, which has resulted in a large military presence here. Again as usual, we saw many Indian Gazelles (or Chinkaras) on the journey to the east through the Thar Desert, which is unsurprisingly the world’s most densely inhabited desert, on our way to the small town of Khichan. We paused for photos of these as well as a gang of vultures, crowded around the carcass of a dead cow near the town of Phalodi. Following the disaster of Diclofenac, almost all vultures in this area are now winter visitors from further north in Asia and this flock comprised Eurasian Griffons and at least ten impressive Cinereous Vultures.