Jaisalmer is the archetypal desert city with mile upon mile of sand giving everything a mellowed yellow hue. Our very cool and comfortable hotel made a lovely base for a well-earned first rest day. The frenetic roads and myriad scenarios encountered throughout any day certainly make for healthy appetites and good sleep patterns.
Both Lally and I spent the day looking more closely at the continuing civil emergency in Kashmir with Lally putting plans in place to accommodate clients at alternative hostelries while I utilised the time writing instructions and notes on the planned changes to routes and road conditions ahead.
Most customers spent the day enjoying the desert climate, taking excursions, or exploring the hilltop fort with its many shops and bazaars. During the evening, as the heat began to dissipate I guided everyone west into the desert for entertainment and a meal under the stars. Jim Carr and I attempted to scale one or two of the dunes but our Land Rovers made very little impression on the bottomless morass of fine desert sand. Richard Smith supposed this might be a Land Rover failing but he too could make no headway in the equivalent Toyota.
On leaving Jaisalmer in a northward direction we began to feel more of the true desert with its dry atmosphere and temperatures in excess of 40ºC. I received a call from our focussed and conscientious photographer, Steve Bradley, who found himself detained by the local constabulary in one of the ‘outback’ villages on route. On arrival in the village, I could see a considerable gathering of people around the Police Station. I made my way through the throng, along alleyways and corridors to find Steve perched on a plastic chair in the police chief’s office. ‘’Hell, am I glad to see you!’’ were his first words. Then ensued hours of smiling, mumbling sentences in our respective languages, and the production of any kind of paperwork we thought might impress our hosts. Truthfully, I think they were really only interested in these strange Westerners’ in bright orange T shirts driving bright orange cars, and eventually, once the novelty had lost its original shine, we managed to shake hands and part with a little mock bow to authority. From there we made our way to our last desert night-halt in Bikaner at the quaint but slightly ‘down at heel’ palace of the Maharaja.
The Shekawati region boasts some beautiful private mansions of yesteryear and several crews spent time exploring some of the frescoes and artwork adorning these crumbling grandiose homes before finding the lovely ‘Haveli’ hotel where we were to stay for the night; a beautiful hotel situated in the midst of a simple Indian village with only dirt roads, adobe dwellings as well as some of these fine, but dilapidated stately homes.
Day 8, the 19th of September dawned clear and bright, everyone made an early start for the long drive north to Amritsar hoping for an uneventful day. Today, it was Lauren Havell sitting at the wrong side of a police officer’s desk. For some reason, a majority of the population is taking a fascination in Lauren. Most are happy with a snap on their iphone or a few simple words but what an opportunity if you happen to be the local police commissioner! She was showered with offers of chai and mineral water, graced with interviews from all and sundry, then proffered a tour of the ‘station’.
At the end of our rest day most crews made the effort to travel west of Amritsar to watch the comical display of the border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan which takes place every evening.
In relation to the continuing natural disaster in Kashmir, Lally and I are still working hard at reorganising the route with plans to get us back on our original schedule from Leh onwards although I am very tempted to jump in the truck and drive non-stop to Srinagar to look at the true situation on the ground and see whether we can maintain our foremost option. We have found it so very hard to get reliable information with suppliers and hosts in region giving us extremely different pictures of the unfolding state of affairs.