Dadu Aur Madak

A few words about the Enfield and road conditions. Our whole purpose in buying new bikes was to avoid as much as possible the need to do repairs on them. I can change a flat, or get a broken clutch or accelerator cable working again. I can usually formulate a general idea of what is causing a problem even if I can't fix it myself. Fortunately, as densely populated as India is you are never very far from a town, and even the smallest have a motorbike walla. For the majority of our trip our top speed has been about 80KPH--the equivalent of 50MPH. Any thing faster seems foolhardy given the insane habits of both drivers and pedestrians here coupled with the deplorable road conditions. Much of Rajasthan has been a real treat though. Being sparsely populated desert, Rajasthans roads are in pretty good condition and traffic outside of the towns is fairly light. The stretch from Bikaner was so good, and in the early morning cool with few other vehicles on the road we felt comfortable taking the bikes up to 100KPH or a tad over. This is the equivalent of 62 to 65 MPH. After about an hour stretch of this we came to a railroad crossing with the gate down. As we drew to a halt, we immediately saw the bikes smoking heavily. It turned out that it was oil being blown out the breather on the return pump into the air filter. When we opened the filter compartment we found that each of the bikes had about a tea cup full of oil in the compartment. There were a couple from Seattle in a hired car waiting at the crossing and without saying anything to us and without our asking they had gone in to the next town and found a repairman and were about to bring him back to us. We in the meantime had decided to limp in, and met them just as they were about to head back to us. When we told the repair guy that we had been going about 100 he laughed and said that that was our problem. We told him that the manual said max operating speed is 120 KPH, but although he spoke no english he conveyed to us that we should never go over 70 or 80. We had frequently pushed it up to 85 or 90 with no problems. He removed the canister on each bike that I believe was the oil return pump and cleaned them and re-installed them. We were able to continue on our way without any further problems. When we got to Jaisalmer and recounted this to the dealer he agreed that the bikes shouldn't be driven over 80 KPH or so. It seems inconceivable to me that a brand new bike cannot be driven over fifty miles per hour without blowing oil into the air filter. I will say for the Bullet though that as long as the engine will start it will get you safely to a repair place where some of the newer high-tech bikes would have you hopelessly stranded by the roadside. We have heard of bikes that had dropped valves or burned a hole in the piston that still made it into the next town. We offer this information strictly as a word of caution for would be travelers that expect to make better time on the clear stretches. If we had stuck to 80 KPH we would have reached our destination 2 hours sooner.

Jaisalmer is known as the golden city, and considering the price tag for many of the accommodations this may well be one of the explanations. The truth though is this is one of the more magical places in all of Rajasthan. The majority of the town is situated inside a miles long crenelated wall, and the moniker of golden city derives from the fact hat the town is almost entirely built from yellow sandstone. Unlike the pink sandstone that is found most everywhere else in India, this stone seems to glow in the morning light and at sunset. The city has a large number of stunning old havelis that are built of sandstone, many of which are now guest houses. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found most of these places booked. Another unique thing about Jaisalmer is its fort. I know, your thinking "not another fort story." But the difference here is that unlike other forts this fort is inhabited by nearly a quarter of the towns population. There are plenty of guesthouse within the fort, but we had read some accounts of how the population there was straining the ancient infrastructure to the point of causing damage to the forts bastions. Jaisalmer has become one of the premier destinations for large tour groups that arrive by the bus loads, and just outside of the towns walls there are a string of upscale hotels with a half dozen more being built. To their credit, they are built using the same sandstone as in the town, but that is where the similarity ends. The interiors and rooms are like any upscale hotel in St. Louis or Omaha, and their prices are outrageous. The waiters of course where traditional garb, but the food is so watered down that it is hardly recognizable as Indian. The other option are "luxury" tents a bit farther out in the desert for about $150 a night. The strategy of all of these packaged tours is to keep everybody so busy that they don't have time to find out how bad they are really being ripped-off.

The hotel was very cute, and after a long conversation with the young folks at the desk, I think they realized that we were not their typical client and offered us a substantial discount.

Apart from the beauty of the town itself, the biggest draw here are the camel safaris. The majority of Rajasthan's desert is scrub similar to the desert surrounding Phoenix minus the cactus. About forty miles west of Jaisalmer however there is the village of Sam, which has rolling dunes. Many people go for three or four day camel safaris where they visit small villages and camp at night in the desert. The package tour people usually do one night, staying in one of the luxury tent camps. We just arranged with the young guy at the counter to meet us real early and take us out to watch the sunrise.

The desert in the morning really is quite beautiful, although much of the area where the camel drivers meet their fares the sands are strewn with plastic water bottles. This is more the doing of Indian tourists and most foreigners seem to act responsibly, at least in this regard.

As we returned from our short ride, we saw clusters of drivers huddling with their camels to ward off the desert's morning chill.

Inside the fort was a maze of tiny alleyways with people displaying every manner of wares. Occasionally you could find a little corner where the locals have gone to escape the crush.

Jaisalmer literally resounds with music. Inside the fort (left) a man plays an instrument that is a cross between an accordion and an organ. Another (top right) plays a simple string instrument. You will note the same "accordion" man playing at a rooftop restaurant at one of the havelis. His accomplished accompanists were mostly under nine years old.

As beautiful as this town is its real beauty is in the people.

In fact everywhere you looked there was beauty.

As the sun begins to set, this shot of the hilltop fort taken from outside the town's walls hints at why it is called the "Golden City."