Thursday, 3 October 2013

A cup of tea in the Golden City

Jaisalmer Fort (c) Wikipedia.
Author: Adrian Sulc, User: Hinterkappelen
The train was speeding past the vast sand dunes like an arrow whizzing away from a bow. The babool trees near the railway track amalgamated with the sparse vegetation and the warm wind was hitting hard on our faces. My friend Tashi's fluffy hair was rising up and falling down with the gush of wind blowing past our faces.

We were standing at the door of the railway carriage. While he was busy capturing the panoramic view of Pokharan in his analogue camera I was guessing the distance of the atomic test site from the railway track. Our friends had left for their homes, but Tashi and I had decided to spend our winter vacation in Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer, the golden city, is 575 kilometres west from Jaipur and is the most strikingly beautiful city in India for travellers who have never been to a desert. It lies in the Jaisalmer district which borders with the neighbouring Pakistan. 

Both of us were Mongoloid and being taciturn in nature we could not make any friends in the journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. However, a Bihari man became good friends with us. He had been to Jaisalmer many times and the Collector (Chief Administrative and Revenue Officer of a district in India) being his distant relative, he assured us to provide help if needed.

While walking from the railway station towards hotel, we met few army men. Seeing us they asked, "Have you come to apply for the BSF (Border Security Force)?" Nearby was a recruitment camp and every year many Nepalis came there to test their luck – to get enrolled in the lucrative service. Both of us were well built and in spite of our denial they didn't believe that we were there for our holidays.

It was getting dark when we reached Hanuman Chauraha, a roundabout in the way. It was pitch dark and we were still searching a place to stay. We were worried. It is hard to get a room in Jaisalmer during the peak tourist season. Then we remembered the words of our Bihari friend we had met during our journey and went to the Collector's residence.

We had no difficulty locating him. As chirpy he was, he dialled a number and scribbled the name of a hotel and address in a piece of paper. He was sure of fetching us a room in the unknown city. With his assurance we left for the hotel.

When we reached the hotel, we felt like scolding the friend from Bihar. We had already been to the hotel and the manager had shown us a "No Room" sign. However, we decided to ask once again. This time the manager was polite and was grumbling. "You should have mentioned earlier that you are the Collector's men," he said complainingly, "I got scolding for no reason." The man's face was worth seeing. The Bihari friend had admonished him badly. Then we, at once, got the best room in the hotel. It was a sweet relief.

As we were to check in the room, the manager came running upstairs, grabbed my arm, and took me to a corner. "Sir, can you please come with me for a minute," he requested and I followed him to the reception.

"Dai (elder brother), you are a Nepali that's why I thought it was my duty to warn you," he continued.
"It is nice to meet you in an unknown place, but why do you want to warn me," I enquired.
"Isn't your friend a Bhutanese?"
"I confirmed from the registration slip," he said. "You know, the Bhutanese chased us from Bhutan. Most of them hate Nepalis and I am afraid he might hurt you at night."
"Don't worry, my friend is a very good human being," I consoled him. "Even in his dream he won't think of harming me."

I left for my room thanking for his concern for a fellow Nepali. We freshened up and were immediately on the hotel's roof to capture the amazing photos of Jaisal Fort. In the dusk, the fort was dazzling – glittering like a golden palace dropped straight from heaven. The lighting was mesmerising, it made the fort look more beautiful. As the fort is made from golden yellow sandstone, it is also called "Sonar Quila" in Bengali. The fort built by King Jaisal who founded Jaisalmer houses a thriving city with Jain temples, palace and houses of commoners.

After clicking photos till we consumed the whole reel, we set off for dinner. As we reached the main street, a police jeep stopped in front of us and the enquiry began. Since Jaisalmer is near Pakistan border the security is very tight there. The police start interrogating as soon as they come across a new face in the city.        

Waking up early in the morning we strolled to a nearby row of shanties for a cup of tea and snacks. As we went nearer, we heard a man singing a Nepali song "Yo gau ko thito ma kanchha mero nam, audai jadai garnu hai sablai Ram Ram" (I am a guy from this village, my name is Kanchha, please keep coming, greetings to you all). The voice was melodious and reminded me of Udit Narayan, the original singer of the song. He hails from Nepal and is an established singer in Bollywood. The man singing the song was a dark coloured Nepali man from the lowlands (Terai/Madhes) of Nepal. Seeing us he had started singing the song and as we went nearer he invited us to his tea shop. While sipping the tea we came to know about his hardship since he left his hometown Butwal in Nepal. The journey from Butwal to Jaisalmer was full of thorns which he hid under his forever smiling face. He had met a Nepali after many days so he didn't allow us to pay for the cup of tea. His master, sitting at the cash counter, smiled at us. To him we were his worker's friends. For him we were mere Nepalis searching menial jobs.

After tea, we went to Gadisar Lake along with a small Bengali family in a jeep hired by the hotel manager. Together with the family we went to the Sonar Quila and Patwon ki Haveli, the mansion earlier inhabited by the ministers and likes. Jaisalmer is also called Golden City, deriving its name from the golden yellow sandstones used for building the houses. Cherishing the golden memories of the Golden City, we went to meet the Nepali friend who had sung Kanchha mero nam seeing us. As we bade farewell after drinking the tea made by him, he was smiling and waving at us. But his eyes were moist with tears.

Read the Nepali version at .

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