Jaisalmer (the rest)

The desert was beautiful, but life out there must be quite difficult, and I wondered what would make people want to settle in such a place. One night in comparative luxury was a taste, though I think my habits would have to change drastically if I were there for any period of time. For one thing, my contact lenses would have to go. 

We took a morning drive back toward Jaisalmer in a jeep, with the driver blasting Bollywood tunes on the radio. The reverb was heavy and someone had sped up the record. If Alvin and the Chipmunks ever made it to Bombay, this would have been their hit. On the way back we stopped at the old city which had pre-dated Jaisalmer, and was even farther out in the desert. There was another Jain temple, and another stream of kids who seemed to come from nowhere.

Back in Jaisalmer, the first thing we did was to shower. The next thing was Internet and food, back near the fort. We went to a Tibetan-run restaurant inside the fort, which seemed to serve every type of cuisine known to man. A group of Indians next to us had ordered chow mein, spaghetti and enchiladas, and the chow mein looked suspiciously similar to the spaghetti. I tired the momos (Tibetan dumplings). I couldn't figure out why people would order enchiladas in India, until I realized that this was one place you could be sure that whatever you ate was vegetarian.

The rest of the afternoon was easy, with another walk around the fort, and a visit to the post office to buy some stamps. The post office was a small doorway up a flight of stairs, with a man inside sitting cross-legged and reading a book. The room was packed with bric-a-brac, and probably hadn't been dusted since Jaisalmer was built in 1156. He entered the sale of each stamp separately in a ledger book.

Walking through town I met up with Ganesh's friend again. I explained very nicely that he was starting to squeeze, and that this wasn't good salesmanship. If he wanted me to go to the shop, he should point out where it was, and maybe – no promises – if I had time, I might stop in, possibly. He asked me when I would meet him later on, so clearly I wasn't getting through. But he did go away, which was a step in the right direction.

That evening we decided to visit the Bhang Lassi shop. Lassi is a yoghurt drink, popular all over India. Bhang is, well ... cannabis. I'm not sure how popular this is with the locals, but it's certainly a big hit with the tourists. At the base of the fort in Jaisalmer there's a café with a big sign, "Government-Regulated Bhang Lassi Shop". There are far worse things regulated by the government in Amsterdam, so I have no reason to believe that they were stretching the truth.

The fellow in the shop was quite the genial host. Many people come in there with a bit of trepidation, and all his talk was geared to putting them at ease: the drink, the process, why government regulation is best. I was surprised that he went through all this for 35 rupees a drink, but if you have a job you might as well be the best at it. He had about 45 minutes' conversation, which was probably the average time that a customer should stay, after which he began to fidget.

We talked about the local dialects, the food and the folk music of Rajasthan, and this was one of the most informative talks I'd had with anyone during the trip. I mentioned that the local merchants would do better to learn how to sell to Westerners. I also mentioned that we were being hounded by one of the local kids. "Oh, it must be Ganesh," he volunteered. "A bad boy. And don't go to his brother's shop. There's nothing there you'd want." Never before has anything in life been that simple and clear.

The bhang lassi did its work. Five minutes previous we said we'd eaten too much and we weren't hungry. Five minutes later we marched off to one of the rooftop restaurants. At that point I was preoccupied with how one might describe the noises of Jaisalmer in writing. My dinner companion, on the other hand, was preoccupied with laughing hysterically at everything I said. We had just ordered our food, and all of a sudden there was a big clap of thunder and a torrential downpour. "Watch," I said. "The power's going to go off."

Another clap of thunder and all the lights went out in Jaisalmer. A table of tourists were worried that no one would show them the way down the stairs. For our part, we were amused enough to stay for dinner in the dark. Someone at another table lent us a candle. The staff brought out lanterns, though contrary to all predictions, the lights went on again in a few minutes. It was a great dinner.

On the way back to our hotel, who should pop out of nowhere but Ganesh and friend, who wanted to take us to his brother's store! We had stuff to do, I told him. "But you're leaving tomorrow. When would you come by?" "You promised." "I waited for you," said his friend, "and you didn't show up." I started to walk away. "Where are you going?" they asked. "Look," I said, "I'm going this way … and you're going that way. Good night." They yelled and called me names, but they actually did what I told them to do. If I had known it would be that easy, I would have done it a long time before.