Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Jai mata di" (cheers!)



Early arrival by the 21:00 bus from Ahmedabad. The city is very pretty with a fort in the middle that looks like a big sand castle. Beautiful Rajasthani architecture. It's also a very touristy place, and everyone speaks English "fluently" and a little French, Spanish and Italian. They also virtually all have something to sell.

I meet with Kishan Singh Bhati, Dilip Singh's father, who lives nearby Hanuman Chowk, the place the bus dropped me at. He apologizes for waking up late as he partied with his friends last night. He slept on the roof, the monsoon still being expected here, especially by Kishan Singh who is a farmer. I'm being taken on a motorbike to my hotel, for which I will pay Rs200 per night. A bit expensive, considering that in India one can manage to find accomodation for less than Rs100 for a single, and around Rs150 for a double, especially during the Summer season, when the monsoon hits the country and most hotels everywhere are empty. But Jaisalmer, and the whole of Rajashtan, is a very touristy place. A lot of shopkeepers learn basic foreign language with foreigners, and the prices go up as soon as a place is mentioned in the Lonely Planet. They also promote their shops with big signs saying "recommended by the Lonely Planet / Rough guide". I consider this business perfectly fair, since tourism is by far the main source of earning for the city.

Kishan Singh takes me for a little party with his friends, in a small blue house made in stone just outside of the city. They use the house only for gathering and cooking, none of them actually live in it as it is too small and it doesn't have electricity. They all speak English but most of them don't try to communicate with me ; They chat and laugh as we're sitting on the floor, outside right next to the house, on a big grey sheet. It starts raining slightly, and thunder illuminates the sky nicely every few minutes. Kishan Singh translates the conversations to me and chats with me. We sip on Indian Whisky and beers, and nibble on raw vegetables with lemon juice (a mix of cucumber, tomato, onion ; The lemons here ressemble tiny limes and taste quite different) and snacks. It seems like in India it is very common to drink before dinner. All that is available must be drunk before we start eating! We manage to do so just before 11pm, when all the bottles are finally empty. Then the mutton curry, which has been simmering for more than an hour, is served, still outside while the rain doesn't seem to be bothering anyone. Interesting. We make a fire to cook our chapatis which were just prepared by one of the men. Because of the rain, they give up cooking the chapatis on the spot and two of them decide to go to town on a motorbike to cook them at a friend's restaurant. As soon as they're back I'm the first one to be served, as I explained that in France we are more used to have dinner before hitting the booze, I'm therefore not used to drink on an empty stomach and baddly need the food now. The mutton is quite spicy, even for Kishan Singh's taste, but the rice and chappatis are there to ease down the spice. After dinner, everyone go back to their houses and Kishan Singh walks me back to my hotel.

He seems to be a very open-minded person, not so common in the state of Rajasthan, a reputedly very conservative state. According to his own words he hangs out with people from all castes and social background. Dilip Singh, his son, his also proud to have people who are not from his caste as friends, like Denish. In Jaisalmer I'm told that people from the same caste usually stay amongst each other, and even more so in more rural parts of the state. And, as I'm started to be considered "friend of the Rajput", some from lower castes will hesitate before even talking to me. Indeed, even though I'm technically outside of their world and the caste system, and therefore able to talk and mingle with everyone, if I do start hanging out more with one specific caste then some people will start associating me with that caste.

Kishan Singh has had a French friend for 22 years now. André, a gardener who live in Marseille and work in Switzerland. They met during a "camel safari" over five days, which was the first camel mounting experience for André, and the first time Kishan Singh was doing it as a guide. André came back the next year, to meet Kishan Singh and go to the desert again, this time for more than a week. He then took the habit to come back every year to see his friend. Nowadays, André comes every year for as long as three months, and they still go to the desert together. Kishan alo came to see him in France, and he even worked with him in Switzerland for a week, where he got paid 1,000 Swiss francs.

Sometimes Kishan Singh goes to the desert with his friends for as long as five consecutive weeks!

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