Posted by: roamingolivia | October 1, 2010

Last India post: Jaisalmer (including puppet show!)

Okay, this is the last of the India posts. After this I was really ill for two days and basically don’t remember anything and barely left the hotel. It is weird that my whole two-week trip is basically fitting into about five blog posts, but that’s fine. I wish I was writing in a more detailed or analytical way, but I probably shouldn’t on this blog for reputational and employment reasons. Not that I have something negative to say – just that this is too close to my job. This paragraph is getting awkward.

Anyway, the last place we went was Jaisalmer, which is in the far West of Rajasthan, and quite close to the Pakistan border. It is the hottest, driest places we went, but it was actually more pleasant than Jodhpur and for sure than Delhi, because it was so dry.

This is the view from our hotel, the Fifu Guest House, which was pretty good – it didn’t seem to have hot water, but it was pretty hot so I didn’t mind. It had the best cable TV we saw, and I can report that Glee is playing in India. Anyway, the view:

We got in in the afternoon, and more or less immediately went to the market area for dinner. Here’s the street that evening:

The next day, we went to the market and walked around the fort. The whole old city is inside the fort, and it’s more of a living fort. We stopped off for food, but we decided to go for the Italian restaurant which gets rave reviews in Lonely Planet.

I think it’s safe to say that the Lonely Planet is not written by Italians. Although there were Italians in the restaurant, I wondered why and felt bad for them. The food had that plastic cheese you don’t find anywhere in Italy, yet the book called it “authentic” food.

Anyway, then we roamed the fort, so here are some pictures of that:

The Fort – which is basically a walled city – is sinking because there are too many people and pipes and modern things, and thus not sustainable. The Lonely Planet does not list any accommodation in the Fort, and it asks you not to stay there.

Walking around, we ended up stopping at a crepe shop/rug shop/antiquarium (as you do in Jaisalmer), where we ended up talking to the owner a while about conservation issues in the city/Fort. He said the attention that it has gotten internationally, and all the work of the NGOs (indeed there is a lot – see here and here and here and this former link) has actually caused more problems. For example, I think (can’t remember entirely) he said that they keep adding concrete to the ground, whereas it used to be sand and stones. This makes no sense, he said, because now when it rains, it just floods, rather than seeping into the sand. There were other examples of ways they had build and kept up the fort for hundreds of years, and NGOs et al are destroying them.

He also mentioned that when you want to build a new building, you can’t get a permit because of the conservation thing. So, if you want to build, say, the very cafe we were sitting in, you just had to start building after the Government office closed on Friday, build all weekend long, so that the building was a fact of life by the time the Government guys went back to work on Monday.  (I looked up at this point – it did indeed look haphazard.) It is more or less the opposite of how they decided to build things in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games.

Anyway, so that’s the politic tidbit in this post. Now we move on to animals wallowing in dirt and trash:

Do not read the rest of this paragraph if you’re easily grossed out. We also saw cows literally eating out of the most foul-smelling public toilet I have ever been near. Okay, that’s not true (ask me sometime about the airport toilet in Juba). But it was really gross. And a cow was eating out of it. All you could see was the wall for the semi-open toilet, and the bottom half of a cow.

It’s safe again.

The rest of this post is about the Jaisalmer Desert Culture Museum, which is a really charming museum run by this guy (surrounded by girls):

This guy really, really likes the caste system. Indeed, as I took this picture, he was saying how much he liked it. He was explaining how much you knew about a person in the “good old days” (not his phrase but fits), when you could tell everything about a person – his rank in society, her marital status, deaths in families, etc etc – from subtle signs in their dress and appearance. Now, and I quote “people want to get rid of the system, and it is breaking down, and now you have divorces.”

Not surprisingly, he is one of the top caste – the Brahmin caste. He didn’t really mention what other castes’ opinions were. We did not ask.

Anyway, he spent his life as a musician – a desert culture musician, traveling around the desert and playing concerts. Here are his pictures, and basically everything in the museum is stuff he used to own.

I basically love these museums full of someone’s own possessions, so I didn’t mind that he is pretty conservative.

And then we did one of the best things that happened on this entire trip: the PUPPET SHOW. The websites for this museum do not mention that it has a daily puppet show, which is weird, because puppet shows are unique, and awesome. Many things can be taught from a puppet show. First, there’s the actual show:

(It was starting to get dark outside so it didn’t photograph brilliantly.)

(the child performer/musician – presumably an apprentice)

And puppets for sale:

(The puppet show people are a different caste, we found out. I don’t really know how the entertainment industry caste system works so cannot comment more authoritatively on this.)

Then there was another lesson from the performance, which incidentally was really a collection of dances, rather than some story with a plot. There was a lot of discussion during this puppet show about how the craft of the desert puppet show is dying out, losing ground to the television etc. I don’t want to diss the puppet show – I think it is cool, etc. But I am pretty sure that if I was, say, 10 years old, I’d rather watch … whatever it is that 10-year-olds watch on television, instead of these dances in a puppet show that comes once a month to my village. Still, it’s sad if this tradition is dying.

And that is the Desert Culture Museum, which you should all visit.

And that’s the end of my India posting (sad, but good I finally finished). Over the weekend, I hope to write about technology and the future in literature. Hold your breath.




  2. […] As most people do, I left Italy for August, spending a couple weeks working in London and two weeks on a trip to India. At first, the holiday was hilarious because we were supposed to go to Kashmir and there were riots and flooding, but then we went to Delhi and Shimla or Simla (where a monkey ate my notebook) and then to Rajasthan (Jodhpur and Jaislamer). […]

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