Jaisalmer is a wonderful city to visit at any time, but is all the more poignant for me as the honey colour of the fort and buildings remind me of my home city of Bath in England. The city is dominated by the fort, which is perched on a hill within the city walls. Inside the fort are the narrow winding streets of a small medieval town, in many ways unchanged for centuries, but now catering for tourists with gift shops, cafes and small hotels in profusion. Below the fort lies the remainder of the city, more narrow winding streets with some wonderfully carved havelis, beautifully preserved by the dry desert air.
The Desert Festival was a 3-day affair that started
with an early morning procession through the narrow streets of the city. The colourful procession of camels, dancers, Rajasthani men in traditional regalia, bullock carts and much more besides wound its way slowly through the streets to the stadium. The whole city turned out to watch, balconies, shops and streets were solid with revellers as the procession eased its way towards the stadium. Once there, the action was far from over, many from the procession were now engaged in a head to head tussle for prize of Best Dressed Woman, Best Dressed Man and Best Moustache. By now the sun was well up and it was time for me to retreat to the sanctuary of the fort and its many hostelries and secluded balconies where you can very comfortably while away a few hours immersed in a good book.
The evening was reserved for an open air “cultural evening”
which attracted a few thousand people, many of them locals, which was good to see. The dancing in particular was excellent and very energetic, but will also be remembered for the Chari dance, which requires the dancers to dance whilst also balancing on their head a pot spewing flames. In this rendition, the flames parted company with one pot and set fire to the stage. All credit to the dancers; they carried on unperturbed whilst one of the musicians calmly smothered the fire with his dhoti.
Day 2 of the festival involved lots of competitions
– more decorated camels, traditional Indian wrestling, longest moustache and much more; all very colourful, but as ever rather anarchic and carried out with little if any correlation with the published programme. The highlight of the day was the display by the Border Security Force Camel Display Team. About 24 mounted camels and riders in full dress uniform performing intricate criss-cross manoeuvres, riders balancing in often bizarre positions – uniquely Indian.