Purportedly the golden city of India, Jaisalmer is dusty, hot as hell, full of cows and touts and yet somehow really quite a charming place. The train journey to get there however was far from charming, in fact it easily wins a place in my top ten list of most miserable nights of my life. But I must not digress, and the full horrors of that night (slight exaggeration here, don't mean to scare off you Indian train enthusiasts out there) deserve another post of its own.
So yes, it is all very golden looking indeed. Hotel pickup was right there waiting for us, an open jeep to whisk us away from the throngs of touts to Hotel Renuka, sister hotel of Hotel Ratan Palace (more of a small shack than a palace).
I really liked this guesthouse and recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone heading to Jaisalmer. Room (about 400rs) was clean and decent with an attached bathroom. It's a double room but they kindly let 3 people share it with no extra cost, so even better. Everyone was super friendly, most speak perfect English, the restaurant serves up awesome food, not too pricey though not exactly dirt cheap but keep in mind that most hotel restaurants ain't cheap. The owner gave us great travel advice and was generally very helpful. Laundry provided, by piece though, 10rs per piece irregardless how tiny that piece may be, so that turned out to be pricey. However, the bathroom had a sink and the room had a window and proper ventilation, so to if cutting cost is what's important, not too hard to just wash your own dirty laundry. There's internet at Hotel Ratan Palace, just 2 minutes of a walk from Renuka, 20rs for 30 minutes. The only negative that comes to mind right now is the rampant power cuts that made the heat seem worse and lost me a painstakingly long email, but hey, you are not in Jaisalmer to spend too much time online and with no ac, it's hot anyway.
So as I said, there are lots of cows and bulls. In some places, more than people. They dominate the place, and everything - traffic, locals, touts, tourists- moves around them. The only things I saw those creatures eating was newspapers, rubbish or once, a very delicious looking chapatti (hand fed by a local lady, no less!).
It's a tourist town so there's the usual harmless calling out of "hello! madam! where from!", the usual local boy trying to convince you to go for a drink with him (or go on his motorbike) and of course the ubiquitous touts, but nothing too aggressive to difficult for the average traveler to handle. Shopping is nothing much to scream about, the items seemed rather dusty at times. As for food, plenty of restaurants that cater to tourists, fancy lighting, elegant layout, gorgeous menus but at a fraction of the price you will (probably) pay back home for that kind of setting and food. All very classically romantic, if you can look past the heat and occasional smattering of cowdung outside.
I've heard that the havelis are gorgeous, but due to lack of time and a generally fondness of lazing about gazing into air, we gave them a miss.
We did, however, walk all the way up to the top of the fort! You can take an auto, some people do, but I personally like to walk. The view from up there is amazing, and the viewpoint we ended up at (after some generous, unasked for and entirely helpful directions from a local guy) was completely devoid of tourists. Or anyone else, for that matter. It's a lovely fort, people are still living there and although the stench of urine and shit here and there made it a bit challenging for nauseated old me, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Close to the fort is the Jain and Ganesha temple. Small temples, but once again, just too gorgeous to handle! Unfortunately, no pictures from the inside of these temples, as there was an extra fee for cameras which we didn't pay for the major reason being I think cameras should be allowed free (since we were already paying an entrance fee, and it seems like such a rip off to charge extra) and the minor reason is well, impoverished students traveling on a tiny budget have to try cut whatever cost we can. Don't miss out on the temples though, the entrance fee is worth every penny.
Writing this is making me miss Jaisalmer. I wish I can go back right now and spend a few hours at the top of the fort.
Up next: The camel safari experience!