July 3rd - Jaisalmer

Today we gonna have a walk inside the citadel's walls with Mahendra. After a good breakfast (omelette, fresh fruit and butter&jam toasts for me, Indian style with chapati, dhal and potatoes for Franco) Shankar drives us at the Fort's feet, and leaves us with Mahendra, Jaisalmer Karni's italian speaking guide. Mahendra is a big young man, Fortewillingly speaking a good Italian (while our guide in Jaipur strongly preferred speaking english).

We enter the Fortified part of the city crossing asequence of four doors. The last one is calledthe wind portal, and we understand why: We are now up the hill, and a good gust of cool wind is blowing throughit, a real blessing in the hot weather. The first glance is impressing: inside the walls the palaces and the havelis are wonderfully carved in the ocre-yellow sandstone, they really look like stone laces. Windows and balconys seem to pop out right from a fairy tale. The narrow lanes are flanked by small shops and house doors, often we see Ganesha painted near the doors (and we learn fromMahendra this is a gift to newly married couplesfor good luck and wealth. See the photo page for details) and other hindu lucky charms, as the seven peppers and one lime Tempiopuppets, hanging in front of many house doors and renewed once a week. Here and there we see beautifulstretches of coloured clothes and rugs waiting for someone to buy them, fruit and vegetable stalls, restaurant signs, everything seems to deserve a photo, and Franco shoots like a mad even in the little bar where we stop to drink a tea and enjoy the breezing air.

Inside the citadel there are also seven beautiful Jain Temples, all of them made of that same yellow sandstone, all of them silent, quiet, lavishly decorated with carvings and sculptures. We visit a couple of them and as usual the rows of little Jain prophet statuesHaveli strikes us for the mystic naivety they exhale. Near the city palace we visit also two havelis.Inside one of them we meet Mr. Moustache, a guy claiming he has the longest moustaches in the world. He is ready to show them for just 20 rupees. We ask him to unroll his stuff (he keeps the precious hairs rolled under the turban) and take some pictures to witness the weird event! After that we can visit the interior of a haveli, and while climbing the narrow steep dark staircase werealize we're surrounded by bats. After the rats in Desnoke and the monkeys in Galta it may seem easy, but these ones are flying! While Franco reassures me about the good performance of their internal radar, which avoids them bumping into people (or other obstacles) I have to strongly keep my breath Mister baffonot to yell terrorized screams. When atop the palace, anyway, the view makes it all worth. After the visit we "must" visit a carpet shop suggested by Mahendra. We have got a weakness for this kind of handicraft, and after carefully watching to tens of them we obviously surrender and exit the shop loaded with wonderful stuff, paid "only" 250 Euros!

Before leaving that place I also absolutely must buy (surely fake) silver ankle bands and a belt, for Roberta's belly dance suit. I've seen a group of crouched gipsy women selling this kind of stuff just outside a Temple, surrounded by jumping and yelling children and by other people sellling musical instruments. Just to keep my bargaining skills in a good shape I negotiate the price for some time, but without real conviction, so I end up with a quite small discount. shoppingNever mind, the stuff is what I wanted, and the price is really ridicolous for us, but for them is real money and they seemed very happy having closed positively the bargain.

Out from the citadel's walls we meet Gajju, who came back from Jaipur after a 12 hours bus trip. We left Shankar in the morning with a tip for the good job he did for us, and are happy to see again Gajju, perfectly fit after the long trip and ready to serve our needs as usual. He brings us back to the Hotel and insists that we take a little rest, what we do with reral pleasure. We go to slowly swim in the Hotel's pool, enjoying the cool water in the hot afternoon, lazily watching at the beautiful little birds coming at he pool's border for a sip of water, and spying a young fat german woman who has conquered the favours of a local young man...

After this relaxing interval, at 5 pm we are ready for our camel ride in the desert, the "camelback safari" as our programme called it. Gajju has probably refreshed himself as well, since it is very bright even after the long night trip by bus. The trip to the desert village of Khuri takes about one hour, and while going there we live a strange adventure with the local Police. A Police car comes close to our car ad asks us to stop, what Gajju immediately does. We didn't understand what happened Khuriright after, we just saw Gajju animatedly discussing with the two policemen. After a long negotiation Gajju succeeded to convince them to let us go. The two policemen, really looked more like bad guys than law enforcing people! Gajju tells us that they claimed it is not possible for tourists top go inside the Thar desert, because that is a Park and a special visa is needed for people to get in. That is really ridicolous, the whole village of Kuri makes a living out of tourists coming there to se the desert at sunset! Gajju was anyway firm anough not to surrender, because what the two guys wanted was a bribe to let us go (they explicitly asked for it: "You must go back to get the permit, but we could let you go..."). Well, Gajju scored one more good point, we admired his negotiation skills, he didn't give them a rupee! A bit worried for this event, after crossing what is now becoming a real desert, with sand rocks, camels and all the right stuff, we arrive in this small village of Khuri. The village looks quite poor, even if it's evident that tourism has brought some money. The village houses are mud huts, and seem inhabited only by women (thin in their brightly coloured sarees) and half-naked children. As I already said some times, We are completely off-season, so there's only ourselves, no other tourist is in sight. Gajju drives us to his contact for this tour, a rent-a-camel agency wher we are trusted to our guides, two very young boys and their camels. The two boys give us a water bottle, and after climbing on camelback (a not so easy task) cammelliwe are ready to start. I am very suspicious and a bit afraid, because my previous camel riding experience (In Djerba, in the Sahara Desert) had been a disaster: two terrible hours of seasickness and strain! This time is much better: There's only the two of us, our drivers are very careful and everything is alright, maybe also because the weather is not so hot as it was in Africa... The animals are very tame and obey to their drivers, initially we go quite slowly, but after a while we also try some galloping up and down the dunes! The desert around us is beautiful: A couple of days before it had rained a bit (monsoon forerunners) so a very thin layer of fresh green grass has covered the flat parts of the land. On the sand dunes there is no grass, but the rain has awakened the bushes they are scattered with, and they welcome us with their freshly blossomed beautiful flowers (see the picture page). When we climb the sand dunes the view becomes amazing. The few knick-knacks vendors, players, dancers making their lives out of tourist tips are all for us, they sit with us in the sand and, after trying to squeeze some money out of our pockets, they give up, and we have a good time together. They sing easygoing songs where from time to time we understand they say our names, but we don't care to understand if they are singing good luck for us, or the contrary... never mind, we enjoy this magical moment atop the sand dunes. Teh sunset, as already told, is not the usual pink-red colour: The desert wind preceding the monsoon give the air a milky hazy whitish colour, but the atmosphere is magical anyways.

Well, is now time to get back to our car. Looking at the poor kids coming towards us I think this is the right place to give away the stuff I bought with me from Italy for this purpose. I had a lot of t-shirts, baseball hats, shorts, pijamas and this kind of stuff, Donimany of them had never been worn by anyone, because they were gifts themselves. I had a bagful of them, and I gave one to the few kids coming to cheer us goodbye. The word spread quickly that a maharani was giving free gifts to the children, and soon we saw kids jumping out from everyplace, screaming for their little gift. It's been fun, everyone was laughing, noone fought, but some of them tried cheating, queuing twice for a gift. When they got discovered, they laughed and run away. It's been very nice, everyone was happy in the end, proud with their new hat or shirt. Some of their parents came to thank us, I feel a little bit like Mother Teresa, and regret the fact that I could have brought a lot more. When the gifts are finished, we say goobye to everyone and get back to town.

Mahendra is waiting for us, and he guides us to a silver factory shop. It's almost 8 pm, but we stoically stand our shopping duties, and I end up with some (five, but they are not all for me, there's gifts to be done back in Italy also)! very nice bracelets with inlaid semiprecious stones, and a small laquered box for our pillbox collection. The euros I spend seem really a lot there, but when at home I always regret having bought too little! Ok, our duty is Cenadone now and we can go to have dinner. We say goodbye to our good-Italian speaking guide Mahendra with a small tip, and move to the Trio restaurant, as Gajju suggested us. Gajju was a bit worried because we told him that the restaurant Shankar had suggested us the day before was really good, better than the ones suggested by himself. We were joking, but Gajju took the thing seriously, and this was really a very good restaurant: for as little as 800 rupees we have a lavish dinner on a rooftop terrace with a small group of local musicians playing for us and the other few guests. Real value for money! We are very happy, and heartedly thank Shankar for his suggestion. Before getting back to the Hotel we stop in a street stall to buy biscuits and some fruit for tomorrow's lunch, and some fresh water for the night.

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