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I’m writing, by candlelight, from the most wonderful place we’ve been to so far – Jaisalmer. There is just one word for this place and it continually comes to mind – magical.

We woke about 7am and packed and paid. They brought us tea as we settled up, and I gave Sukha an extra 100 Rs for being so helpful – he’s the nicest guy we’ve met so far and the Durag Nimas Guest House was the friendliest place we’ve stayed.

We caught an auto-rickshaw to the station and found our train without too much hassle, despite the fact it was on a different platform and our names weren’t on the posted list. A comfortable carriage with sets of two chairs facing a small side table. Not many people in the carriage so we had one of these to ourselves and our packs. Two other foreign couples and various Indian travellers, including one particularly noisy Indian couple (especially the wife) who snorted and burped and made unsavoury noises for the best part of the trip!

The train left about 9am and we arrived in Jaisalmer about 5:30pm. The scenery became more and more desert-like as we continued, and it was strange to see people standing alone in vast tracts of land for seemingly no reason other than to watch the train passing by. Camels pulling huge loads on two-wheeled carriages, a couple of huge soaring hawks or eagles, deer, the ubiquitous cows, small villages the train pulled briefly into where turbaned men with huge handlebar mustaches and gold earrings stood on the platform – the rich variety of sights of India went by the train windows.

Approaching Jaisalmer, the hilltop fort rose out of the surrounding desert, beams of late afternoon sun shining down through the clouds. An auto-rickshaw took us to the main gate of the fort. Our first surprise was that the fort and town are quite small – everything seems shrunk in scale somewhat, but that only adds to the beauty of the place. Everything is made of golden sandstone, which glows in the late afternoon light.

We walked through the narrow gates and up into the fort courtyard, and after heading in a couple of wrong directions and fending off the usual bunches of persistent touts, found the Deepak Rest House. I’m very glad we booked Room No. 9 (as recommended by Lonely Planet) as it’s definitely the best room and has a tiny balcony and a beautiful view over the town; the hotel is actually built into the fort wall.

We had a delicious vegetarian meal at the rooftop restaurant. The view is indescribable; as we got to the roof a huge red sun was approaching the horizon. In the opposite direction, ornate golden sandstone temple sikharas rise up out of the warren of rooftops.

Unfortunately K is quite sick and coughing and sniffing a lot; she went to the room as I sat with a cigarette and a cup of chai and soaked in the evening atmosphere. Then I went for a short walk through the alleyways to buy water and a couple of candlesticks. It really is like walking through a medieval city; only an occasional little milk-bar type shop breaks the impression. The golden colour is gorgeous in the alleyway light; I stepped past wandering cows and sari-clad women, saying namaste to a few men I passed, beaming with the enjoyment of stepping back in time.

I’m looking forward to the few days we have here; this is what I imagined India to be like.

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