After a 5 hour car trip along the bumpy and largely empty roadsides we found ourselves in the equally brown and dusty border town of Jaisalmer. Situated in the very western region of Rajasthan along the border with Pakistan, Jaisalmer is ruled by an amazingly fortified fort overlooking the intricate and deteriorating havelis (old mansions) of the main town. One would think that this far west that there would be few tourists, but this is not the case. There are hawkers and hustlers at every corner, yet we managed to scope out the truly good-hearted and passionate artists that still exist. As seems to be the Indian custom, while one seems openly genuine and trustworthy, they are really taking 30-40% commission and so it is difficult to trust anyone who recommends a shop or offers to show you the way. As the title suggests, everyone tells us we are their first sale of the day. Regardless of the time, we somehow manage to be every one's first sale of the day, thus implying discounted prices. Please! We may be newbies to India, but we know a huckster when we see one!
However, the gregarious and charming Gappu showed us that true Indian hospitality does exist and that the revival and continuation of traditional arts is being maintained through his efforts and others like him. We met an extremely talented and humble miniature painter, Kamu Swami, who we found ourselves returning to time and again. Naturally, each time we returned we drank never-ending cups of chai and bought more paintings, they were all so tempting.
After many days wandering around we found the most delicious samosas we have ever eaten. Flaky and puffy and filled with a spicy mixture of peas, potatoes, and peppers you buy them piping hot from the stand, break them open and squirt sour tamarind sauce all over and try to eat them as daintily as possible. All this for 6 rupees (45 RS to the dollar)! Our love for these samosas led us to the charming Mr. Desert. Mr. Desert Emeritus (D.E), 4 time winner of the Jaisalmer Mr. Desert Beauty Contest, now runs a camel safari outfit in the center of town. To his credit, Mr. D.E. claims the Mr. Marlboro Man of India, 4 international commercials, and 1 Bollywood part. This charming gentleman accompanied us into the desert for our evening under the stars. Mr. D.E. is quite a talker and makes a mean spicy Rajasthani curry. Around the fireside with the most incredible stars I have ever seen and camels farting in the background, Mr. Desert Emeritus told us his life story from being raised in the desert to becoming an overnight success. This was certainly one of our highlights in India (even though Mr. D.E. tried to feel up a few of us ladies along the way).
We now find ourselves once again along the Pakistani border, but in the very different state of Gujurat. More on that soon. For photos of Mr. D.E. please look at our Picasa album!