In the photo below is Cat (who was pretty cheesed off that she was not featured in the earlier blog) checking out the view from our room in the Mud Mirror Guest House – a wonderfully peaceful corner of the Jaisalmer fort. From this window and another we had a top view of the entire city and from the third, we could practically reach out and touch a 300-year-old Jain temple. This was really a haven for us in this ridiculously touristy fort area where you can’t walk two feet without being accosted with offers for rooms, autos, camel safaris, clothes, and food.
In fact the peddling of wares began on our bus ride from Pokharan itself (which is three hours away!), where one tout kept insisting we check into his brother’s hotel. And to top it all the food is overpriced and modified to suit some sort of generic international palate. There are places outside the fort area which are far more normal, but we didn’t manage to get out as often as we’d have liked to, thanks to the heat.
Don’t get me wrong – the Jaisalmer fort is really beautiful. Narrow gallis paved with stone that are lined with colourful shops and tiny sand stone houses that are vertical mazes, with steep, sometimes, curving stairways that lead you through doors that you can bump your head on (it makes me feel wonderfully tall when I have to stoop to get through them) and many half-floors, before you get to the ubiquitous ‘rooftop restaurant with real espresso and Italian food’.
But something about the way it has developed makes the whole experience less than satisfactory. Just one example of that is the hill on which the fort is built, which is apparently also man-made and was created by compacting sand into a sturdy foundation. But now the entire hill is covered in garbage indiscriminately thrown out from the dozens of guest houses and homes inside the fort, so it’s really hard to appreciate when what you’re looking at looks like it’s standing on a mound of rubbish.
And before I move on, some ridiculous one-liners we encountered while walking around the fort:
‘No need for Viagra – magic bedsheet’
‘Buy the left shoe, get the right one free’
‘My keyboard is waiting for your beautiful fingers’ (from an internet cafe guy)
‘Make your boyfriend less ugly’ (for a clothing store)
‘Can I help you to spend your money?’
The boy in the photo above is Raju, eleven years old and a fantastic singer. We bumped into his family on our second day in Jaisalmer as we were wandering around what is known as the ‘artists’ colony’ where local puppeteers, musicians and dancers live. His father, Ramesh, who is a traditional katputhli puppeteer, was working at making some new puppets while we were there. That’s Raju’s mother and sister in the photo – the sister was insanely jealous of him and sulked the entire time we were there because her brother was singing and getting all the attention. The women in this family are not involved in the puppetry in any way.
Here’s a short clip of Raju singing:
We also went and saw Ramesh’s puppet show at the ‘Desert Cultural Centre’ later that evening. The show at the Centre happens thrice a day, every day, and is wonderfully entertaining, but sadly, as Ramesh himself told us, because of short attention spans and the fact that they can afford to have only puppeteer, they are unable to perform any of their longer stories and have to stick to doing short item-number type pieces, with single puppets doing a whole lot of acrobatic movement, and set to popular music. Despite this, the show was really lovely – there was one piece about a boy who is playing with his ball and then loses it, which really stood out in the way the boy puppet moved and emoted.
We’d definitely like to shoot more with Ramesh, Raju and other folk artists in Rajasthan, but right now we’re just getting our bearings and trying to figure out what will make our travel and the film interesting. Also the heat is becoming pretty unbearable – it’s already touching 40 here, and aside from the fact that is exhausting for us, the equipment has also started protesting, so we’re thinking of heading out of Rajasthan soon and returning in August or September when it is a bit cooler.
By the way Ramesh does puppet shows by invitation anywhere in the country, so if you’re interested in a show, do email us and we’ll put you in touch with him.