Once on board, having managed to shake a native who chuckled alot, nattered away to us in Hindi and was, I suspect, a sandwich short of a picnic (bless 'im), we breathed a sigh of relief as a very smart gentleman in an official looking hat approved our tickets. (FYI, if you do this journey, AC1 is the same as A1!)
Each cabin was about the size of a downstairs loo, fitted with 2 narrow benches either side and a bunk bed above each. We were allocated cabin 1, ideally situated in relation to the first class washroom facilities - a grey, metal hole in the floor - which Mum dramatically announced that she nearly fell down. Splendid! There was only one thing for it: unpack our brown paper packages of bed linen, make ourselves as comfortable as possible, swallow a handful of Imodium and sleep through as much of the journey as possible. In actual fact, this proved alot easier than expected, as I had my trusty earplugs, eye mask and a Nytol to expedite matters. The gentle rocking of the train as it made its way along the track at a sober snail's pace acted as an additional soporific.
We arrived in Jaisalmer at around midday, only an hour or so late. After being unable initially to identify our taxi driver, a cheery man all of a sudden (or so it seemed) appeared out of the crowd with a card bearing Mum's name and we set off to Hotel Pleasant Haveli.
A Haveli is a wealthy merchant's house. The word, I was told by our receptionist Krishna, comes from 2 words that mean 'air flow' or something similar, which is why ours (as they all are) was open from the ground floor to the roof terrace - it only rains a couple of inches per year - from which we had an excellent view of Jaisalmer's large and fully functioning 'Golden Fort'.
What a wonderful stay in Jaisalmer we had, largely due to the clement weather (beautifully warm in the sun, no rain, and fairly cool at night), the free flowing western showers with perfect hot water, clean bathrooms and continental menu options for those of us still unable to trust fully our digestive systems.
Mum was keen to do a camel safari, so the next day we met our guide and his driver at 2pm and set off en route to the royal cemetery, which is still in use today. In fact, as we were looking round, we discovered that a rather unassuming and quite western looking gentleman that had removed his shoes to pray at one of the newer cenotaphs was in fact a royal prince come to pay his respects to a relative.
From there, we drove to one of the abandoned villages of Jaisalmer, of which there are apparently several. We learned that it was a rich, vibrant town on account of the silk trade, which came through the area when the route was completed by camel caravans. Thus the village was abandoned some 400 years ago when the trade route changed to a maritime one.
We were back then in the Jeep heading towards where we would meet our camels. There were 4 waiting for us with a fifth mounted by our camel guide. Mine was called Lalu and was bringing up the rear of a caravan led by Mum and sandwiching Ben. Apparently Dad's camel was capable of going it alone as he was free to take the reins and direct it how he felt, so rode up ahead most of our hour long journey with the guide, no doubt pondering manly things like how best to polish a blade and which of 5 wives would he favour the most if they all had equally broad hips.
We plodded over Australian bush-like land and also sand dunes, with scarves protecting our heads from the strong afternoon sun, feeling very much the romance of Lawrence of Arabia. We finally arrived in a small desert clearing where a fire was being made and a cook was preparing vegetables for our supper, along with our original guide and the Jeep driver. The romance of it all certainly rubbed off on Mum who hung around the cook like a blushing teenager before telling him that his wife was "very lucky to have him". Oh, dear Lord.
We took chai on a couple of charpoys while the dal went on to boil, before settling down to a delightful feast of typical North Indian fare: vegetable curries, rice and roti. We sat around the campfire, as our guide told us the story of how he came to start the camel safaris and handed round desert sweet meats for dessert. Every now and then, a camel would disturb the peace with an alarming regurgitation noise, as a bloated, textured tongue lolled grotesquely out of one side of its mouth. The stars were remarkable - the milky way could even be seen - and Orion lounged lazily on his side, perhaps on a charpoy of his own.