Tag: Thor Desert

Industry Bloggin’

In my latest post for World Nomads, I talk about how Jaisalmer’s famous fort is being loved to death by locals and travelers alike.  Check it out here, or copied below:

How Tourism Conquered India’s Oldest Fort

Jaisalmer Fort, situated along the Thar desert in western Rajasthan, is one of India’s most impressive  historical monuments.  The Fort, built in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisala, rises out of Trikuta Hill and is surrounded by golden sandstone walls dotted with 99 bastions that radiate in the desert sunlight.  Jaisalmer Fort is a living museum – claimed by some to be the oldest still-inhabited citadel in the world – with a palace, temples, hundreds of havelis, and over 1/4 of the old city’s population – about 2500 people.  The Fort is also one of the world’s most endangered monuments.

Jaisalmer Fort, from a distance

Bastions lining the Fort's outer walls

Jaisalmer Fort is being destroyed, and the primary culprit is tourism.  One of the most popular attractions in Rajasthan, the Fort has endured an explosion of hotels and restaurants along its narrow cobbled paths.  These water-intensive businesses require the Fort’s aging water system to pump 120 liters of water per person through its pipes – over 12 times its intended capacity.  Exacerbated by poor building practices and overcrowding, these drainage issues are causing the Fort to literally sink into the hill, collapsing buildings, walls, and bastions in the process.  Since 1993, over 250 historic buildings have fully or partially collapsed, including 3 of the 12-century bastions.

Jaisalmer Fort is falling down

As a result of tourism’s negative impact, nearly all guidebooks covering Jaisalmer strongly advise against staying within the Fort’s walls, and some ask that travelers do not eat at the Fort restaurants either.  But not all residents feel this boycotting approach is good for the local industry.  Not surprisingly, all of the business owners I spoke with within the Fort adamantly protested against the guidebook advice, claiming that the Fort’s condition is most certainly stable, and without tourism, their livelihoods are in jeopardy.  Outside the Fort’s walls, opinions were mixed – some agreeing that tourism should be controlled within, others more sympathetic to the struggling hotels inside the Fort.

As a responsible traveler, you have to make a choice – support the struggling local businesses who desperately need your rupees for survival, or support the ban on staying within the Fort’s walls to help curb deterioration.  I chose to stay outside the Fort, but after meeting a few locals impacted by the ban, I’m not sure what the most “responsible” choice really is.

For more information on saving Jaisalmer Fort, check out the very impressive accomplishments of the charity, Jaisalmer in Jeopardy.

A Camel Safari

Though we didn’t quite know what a camel safari would entail, we had been told we had to do it. So that’s how we found ourselves in the back of a van being driven for miles west of Jaisalmer into the Thor Desert. We were not sure where we were headed exactly, but it appeared that our final destination was just an arbitrary mile marker (rather a kilometer marker), because that is where we met our guide, his young apprentice, and our camels.

I can’t remember when or if I have ever hung out with camels before, but they are pretty funny looking things. Their facial expression reads a combination of curiosity and ambivalence mixed with annoyance, and they audibly chew their cud at all times. Not exactly cute and fuzzy, but somehow kind of endearing.

Suiting up on Mr. Rocket for our journey

Sideways chomping

Regardless, we were excited about our adventure. Ted’s camel’s name was Mr. Rocket while I was on Johnny Walker. Getting on the camel is no problem as they are kneeled on the ground, but when they need to get up, you’d better be holding on and leaning back or you will surely fall off. We made it up incident free, thank goodness. We were led by our guide and our little helper, who was no more than 12, was pulling up the rear.

Cruising the camel trails

Our guide and his apprentice

As we set off into the desert, there were still signs of civilization for the first half day, but as we continued west, it was just us and the sand. After a couple hours of camel riding, we thankfully took a several hour lunch break. Between the heat of the day and the need to stretch our legs and rest our bums after riding a relatively uncomfortable camel, we were happy to relax and nap.

Relaxing in the shade

Fresh curry and chapatis for lunch!

A couple more hours into the desert and scenery changed completely – rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see. It was an incredible place to watch the sunset while our guide prepared curry and fresh chapatis for dinner. We slept under the stars on the dunes – no tents or pillows for us, just a simple mat on the sand. We were only a few short miles from the Pakistan border and from where we camped, we could see the glow of the giant spotlights the Indians use to patrol the boundary.

Cruising the dunes

Sunset in the desert

The Dunes

The Dunes at Sunset

The second day we headed back in a different direction to an equally arbitrary finish point as where we started. We’d had a good couple days on our camels, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that we were ready to be done. With super sore bums, a hot shower and a proper sand-free sleep were in order!

Sarah and Johnny Walker

Getting a camel to stand up can be difficult

Kinda like riding a horse, but not really

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