Jaggi, the owner of Govind Hotel, Jodhpur, asks me to take a couple of sealed bags of coffee to an Austrian friend of his in Jaisalmer. Dodgy? Maybe, I’m not risking anything. He moved onto Tom who also stood firm. It’s decisions like this that can change anyone’s fortunes. Imagine if it was drugs or a bomb. Imagine 10 years in an Indian jail. Why was an Austrian buying coffee from a hostel in Jodhpur when coffee is readily available everywhere in India? Hmm.
6.45am. An ancient man driving an ancient tuk tuk takes us to the bus stop. We agree to 60R. On arrival we give him 60R. He demands 80R. I tell him firmly we agreed 60R and tell him to fuck off. A verbal tirade in Hindi follows. It’s people like him that drive me insane. The ride costs an Indian 40R. Just because i am white doesn’t mean I have money to burn. I travel this country appreciating and spending my well earned money. Being ripped off is not good for my opinion of India let alone India’s future tourist industry. This early in the morning, I just want a payment to be simple. Maybe Thailand will be easier to pay for things?!
We board our bus, destination Thar Desert. The tuk tuk driver still waving his hands and muttering Hindi swear words at the window.
Again, we are gifted with a beautifully dusty bus, crammed full of Indians and a small sprinkling of tourists. Leaving the concrete of the city, beautiful countryside and small villages replace the hussle of Jodhpur. Jodhpur was nice but you have to be in a certain mood for an Indian city. It drains you. I wasn’t in the mood, neither the lads.
The sky is clear and a beautiful blue. The landscape becoming drier and more baron but still littered with a little greenery. I notice mud hits with straw roof structures, Netsky 2 blaring on the iPod, the road is almost decent enough to be able to write. Smooth roads and tarmac are scarce in India. Sleep is not an option. Enjoy the smooth part of the journey while you can.
At every village we stop at there is a flurry of small children surrounding the bus selling fried vegetables wrapped in a newspaper. In fact they’ll sell you anything. They’re eager. I pay 10R for a pani bottle (water) this’ll see me hydrated for my journey. Water has to be downed all day, it’s hot, dehydration not on my shopping list.
We pull into a larger village for a 10 minute stop, I need the toilet, 1 litre of water to deposit. I’m lucky it’s just number ones. The alley leading me to the facilities was piled high with rubbish. I clamber over it. I’m in a large field, three buses, a few cows, human excrement and tons of rubbish greet me. This is the toilet. A field. I pick my spot next to a cow eating plastic and a stream of sewage. Rats run around my feet. At this point in time, I take back all the nasty things I’ve ever said about the services on the M25.
Touts work hard at Jaisalmer and we are pestered at stops on the way as well as on the bus. We arrive at Jaislamer to a torrential downpour of screaming, pushing and pulling. It’s almost violent. There are people calling our names, ha. The deal is, the touts ask you your name and then have someone wait for you at your destination. There were three people with our names. We grab our bags and jump into a jeep. We have been touted by someone but who cares, we have to sleep somewhere. We drive through the gates of the mightily impressive Jaisalmer Fort. The buildings beautiful in structure, all made from yellow sandstone and hand carved.
We decide to look around a few hostels first, the sales pitches from eager hostel owners is intense. We’ve made friends with a couple of Danes, Casper and Simon, which makes our hostel prices drop as there are now six of us.
We are offered rooms for as low as 30R each. This may sound great at the time but advice from backpackers and from the travel books warn us about guests being thrown out of hostels at any time if they don’t buy the camel safari from them. These camel safari’s make the hostels some really good money so competition is fierce. We meet a tout called Little Johnny. He speaks good English with a South African accent. I like him. We settle at the Hotel Deep Mahal. Next to the spectacular Jain Temples inside the fort, its rooms are lush and the rooftop offers WiFi all for under 70R a night. That was the toughest, most intense experience of hard selling I have experienced so far. Hard work. Mentally exhausted but settled, we can enjoy Jaisalmer and search for the best camel safari.
We descend onto the narrow winding streets. Fresh produce, textiles shops, cows, motorbikes, leather shops, goats and authentically dressed beggars line the streets. I get my hair cut for 50R. I wouldn’t pay any more, this was more of a cut than a style but I can live with it. I meet a three times world camel racing champion. I think he’s talking crap but I like his attempt to sell me a camel safari.
We locate some Old Munk rum again and settle on the rooftop of our hostel to listen to Little Johnny give us his sales pitch on his camel safari. There are three rates. Tourist safari, deep desert and really deep desert safari. We go for the later but are met with a 1500R per day price tag all inclusive. We haggle this down to 800R and we go in 2 days time. We’ll be in the desert for 3 days overall. Lovely jubbly! That gives us tomorrow to rest and prepare. I’m excited.
At this moment in time we think we’ve mastered the art of bartering, but in reality Johnny was one step ahead.