THE HOLI FESTIVAL
WE GOT to our hotel at about noon. We all rested a bit, had a good bath, and decided to go to the Jaisalmer Fort for lunch. On our way out of the hotel, I saw a tourist sitting on the sidewalk all covered in pink powder. Amused, I told her: “Oh my goodness! You are very pink!” She laughed and said: “Well, good luck to you!” And moments later, while still inside the tuktuk on our way to the Fort, someone threw pink powder at us! It had me chuckling in excitement.
The celebration of the Holi Festival always takes place early in the morning and is usually over by noon. Yes, we missed it. All we found when we got to the fort were remnants of what was an amazing celebration—people and streets covered in bright pink gulaal! Gulaal is colored powder they use during the festival. It’s mostly organic and easy to wash off.
Right after a hearty lunch of Tibetan vegetable momo, my friends and I explored the fort. It was a holiday and a lot of establishments were closed, we didn’t get to see much. We walked around the fort anyway and met a few locals who were still having fun with gulaal, throwing handfuls to tourists.
The Holi Festival signifies the triumph of good over evil. On the evening before the Holi, bonfires are lit to burn the demon Holika. On the day itself, people go out to the streets to have fun and throw colored powder or colored water at each other.
Many locals say that Holi is also the day when you forgive those who have wronged you and repair broken relationships. It also signifies the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
I hope that, if I ever get the chance to visit India again during the Holi Festival, I will be able to join the festivities, go crazy with the crowd, and come out of it all pink with memories I will remember for a long long time.
THE GOLDEN CITY OF JAISALMER
I stood at a ledge overlooking the city, not thinking about my safety, just staring at all the gold houses below me. It was breathtaking. Houses in this city are made of yellow sandstone, giving them a beautiful golden color from afar.
The best view of the city is at Jaisalmer Fort. This fort, once home to royals, stands on a hill. Its massive yellow sandstone walls look like it is rising from desert sand, almost like magic. Within its walls are palaces, temples, guesthouses, restaurants, cafes, shops, and private residences. Unlike many other forts in India, there are families still residing within the premises of Jaisalmer Fort.
The fort complex is huge and we did a lot of walking. I loved how rustic and how it has maintained its medieval charm. We passed through narrow cobbled pathways, checked out beautifully-designed temples, and dropped by charming little shops. It is difficult not to get enchanted with this place. We also visited the Patwon-Ki-Haveli and museum. We had a glimpse of the life of the people who used to live here. This haveli, like most havelis in this city, was made from yellow sandstone and was designed with beautiful intricate patterns.
Jaisalmer is located in the state of Rajasthan. Although it takes about six hours by train from its next closest city, Jodhpur, it is worth visiting. This city is really more than just its spectacular fort, or its beautiful havelis, or its sand dunes that attract tourists. Jaisalmer has many legends and stories to tell—stories of an exiled prince, of treasure caravans being raided, of abandoned villages, of a siege that lasted years, and the rise to prosperity of a city that was allegedly twice abandoned.
We were supposed to leave Jaisalmer on the day we got back from the desert safari. But my fellow traveler Marky and I decided to stay another day. We loved it here. We also loved the hotel we stayed in. It had a rooftop with a stunning view of the fort. The rooftop was a restaurant, a hangout place, and a cozy venue for Bollywood movie nights all rolled into one. We stayed in the dormitory where we shared the room with other tourists. I can only hope now that my snoring did not disturb anyone. I picked the bed by the window with curtains around it and I felt like a Rajasthani princess, albeit, a snoring one.
On our last day in Jaisalmer, we were set out to do two things—eat dal baati churma and go around the fort one last time. Dal baati churma is a popular Rajasthani dish, and we were determined to find the best one while in Jaisalmer. Marky and I were joined by two of our Indian friends in our quest to look for a restaurant that served the best dal baati churma. We asked around and someone recommended the restaurant just beside our
hotel. So we went. Their gorgeous garden was the perfect setting to try this sweet and spicy dish that we all loved. I’m not sure if they had the best dal baati churma in the city, but all four of us were full and happy.
We spent the last few hours going around the fort and the bazaars. This time, all the shops were open. And there were so many treasures to be found–handmade leather bags, embroidered fabrics, silver jewelry, lamps, carpets, blankets, and all sorts of bits and bobs. I grabbed a few alibaba pants and souvenirs for family and friends.
I felt kind of sad to say goodbye to Jaisalmer that day. Marky and I hopped into a bus to our next destination. It was going to be a long ride, Marky decided to stay in the sleeper (upper) deck and I decided to sit it out. I picked a window seat because I love feeling the wind on my face during bus rides. I opened my window and could see the glorious sunset from afar. Settled comfortably on my seat, I closed my eyes and soaked in the last rays of the sun while thinking about the magical few days in Jaisalmer. I thought about the desert safari and all the awesome people I met. I thought about the kindness of the shopkeeper who gave me a spare key (as remembrance) to a very beautiful lock that I fell in love with but couldn’t bring back to the Philippines because it was too heavy. I thought about the old woman I met in the abandoned village of Kuldhara and wondered what her life was like.
I also thanked the universe for all the amazing experiences and meaningful encounters I’ve had during the entire trip. And because I traveled without a plan, I asked the universe for little surprises. I was lost in my thoughts when–plok! Something landed on my face.
Not exactly the surprise I wanted, but I knew then that this was going to be an interesting bus ride and that this was going to be the beginning of a new adventure.