It was the winter sun that casts its shadow at the far end of the horizon. The gates were shutting and the fierce walls of the desert fortress would shut. It was the setting sun of Jaisalmer.
Also called Shonar kella. Made most famous by the master filmmaker, Satyajit Ray. His eternal celluloid work of art remains a children’s favourite film. There I stood staring at this magnanimous structure, half lit and half dark with stories in the coloured glass windows of the homes in that fortress.
The golden walls amid that harsh, dry landscape and the deafening silence of the fortress is broken with the brightly dyed clothes of the Thar desert folks. The camels had done their day of work, resting with their hump juxtaposed against the colourless landscape. The only coloured vision of the turbans and the sparse white Dhoti Kurta against the fading winter sun, cast a spell like it was god’s evil scheme of making me trip over for a long time after.
This was my first trip into Jaisalmer. The Thar desert devoid of any cultivation and the only thing visible was sand dunes followed by another dune that had no end. I sat on my long awaited camel ride with my baby and showed him the cactus growing unhindered unabashedly here & there. It almost seemed to rebel against its natural habitat. It stood up against the raging fierce sun and no water, mocking at the inhabitable surroundings. I heard them say fiercely. “ I will grow and thrive in spite of you”.
There was a storm brewing ahead and a bunch of women had come to fill water in their matkas or earthen pots, they wore the Ghagra Choli & wore leather jhootis.
Those jhootis were minimalist in design but sturdy. It was unisex footwear for the strong Rajasthani people. The stoic folk both wear the minimalist black or brown jhootis to trudge into this harsh landscape, in search of livelihood and sometimes their destination ahead.
I sit and marvel at the strength of those shoes. They trudge miles on end in search of water. Braving the burning sun, the harsh winters, the sandstorms and at times the camel refusing to move & rebelliously goes down on its haunches. I am humbled with this story of resilience in the kohl rimmed eyes of the desert people.
The women wear the jhootis with a flair that no other can. Their thick anklets around their feet and the swathes of fabric of their coloured skirts just higher than the heel, catches the dust and sun and continued to trudge ahead. It’s an untold story that only the wanderer and its wandering search would know.
Returning to the city after this surreal trip of the sun playing hide and seek games on the fortress walls of Jaisalmer is not easy. It keeps tugging you back into its romance. Returning to see all around you the western styled sandals and you are forced to remember the black, brown jhootis.
Many designers today create colourful jhootis. That are hand embroidered and made of silk & sequins. But my favourite remains the minimalist handmade Rajasthani leather unisex jhootis worn by the desert wanderers and the camel riders. A vision that stays entrenched in my soul.
All I can envision is the magic hour ahead and dark brown weathered legs wearing the worn out jhootis. It hangs like a story untold. It goads me to ask and hear. After the many miles that you have walked, trudged. Did you finally reach your destination?
I try to put my foot into their shoes and I try to know their stoic story of walking the unknown. On their way, they must have come face to face with unfathomable secrets of themselves. Will it ever reach their own ears. Or would their stories also remain untold, unheard and unsung like most of us. We keep some of our truth hidden from others. Stories of valour, love and moments of epiphany. Would it have changed them in any way ever?
Jaisalmer and the desert dunes remain immortal in my love stuck story of wanderlust.