Is marijuana legal in Rajasthan
Jaisalmer, the Golden City in Rajasthan
Sand dust lies like a light carpet on the asphalt that leads through the middle of the Thar desert. Rawal Singh steers his car in the direction of Jaisalmer. Like a camel driver, he steers the vehicle through his home with a swollen chest. He owes history to lands that were once in the royal possession of the maharajas and are now in the hands of their descendants as large estates. Rawal Singh is a Rajput with a gorgeous, bushy mustache and a perfect blow-dryer hairstyle. He is a descendant of the former rulers of Jaisalmer, at least over a few corners.
Although nobility titles have not been awarded in India for a long time, Rawal Singh still regards himself as majestic as a matter of course. He is an avid hunter and fascinated by strong personalities. That's why there are two pictures in his wallet. One shows Adolf Hitler, the other Ché Guevara. Both had charisma, he lets us know, both could lead people. Two qualities that he likes to claim for himself. If only there were still a princely state.
Then Rawal Singh talks shop about German history. "Hitler made Germany great," he beams with a broad smile, as if he were paying us a compliment. He's completely serious. Only the little man from Braunau is responsible for the fact that Germany is doing so well today. Rawal Singh is not the only one who blows such Nazi rhetoric around our ears. The dimensions of the world war are blurring on the Indian subcontinent. Hitler is revered for his strong speeches, for being able to convince and lead a nation. My fight can be found uncommented in many bookstores around the country. The enthusiasm for Hitler is above all personal. An evaluation of the political performance, of which most Indians have no idea, does not take place.
That Hitler is so revered has a lot to do with India's own history. Under Hitler, Nazi Germany fights against the British, a colonial power that is hated in India. After that, India is independent, the country is run by governments that are repeatedly entangled in corruption and nepotism and put millions into their own pockets. The desire for a strong leader also grows from the failure of one's own politicians. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been distinguished for years with Hindu nationalist slogans that make him a popular statesman despite all the scandals surrounding his political path. Populism is his profession. Many Indians celebrate him as a strong personality with simple phrases.
On the way in the Thar desert
We are approaching Jaisalmer. Behind the city there are only one hundred kilometers to the border with Pakistan. One hundred kilometers until the world ends. Then an abyss opens up, shaped by propaganda and political calculation. Pakistan and India are as close as brothers and politically antagonistic. Both countries have the red button for nuclear destruction. And both countries have been in conflict with each other since day one. Politically, resentments are always fueled, especially when things don't go that way in the interior of the country.
Rawal Singh grumbles. He considers India the best country in the world and the Indian soldiers the strongest warriors. What he doesn't like is the political line. In his eyes, India has been in a defensive strategy since independence. The government is too timid, too little willing to take risks. “Defense,” he says, “is a sign of weakness.” In view of the conflicts that India is waging with all of its neighbors, this is a daring thesis. In any case, Rawal Singh wishes his country more courage.
Before we reach Jaisalmer, we pass the city of Pokhran. The Indian military last carried out six nuclear weapon tests here in 1998. Not necessarily a comforting feeling. The land around us is flat and wide. Sandy hills undulate like dunes by the sea. Low shrubs are sparse green. Bony cows gaze into the distance by the roadside. They seem just as exhausted as the people in the tiny villages who work the soil in the desert with poor yield.
The road leads straight to the horizon. If something emerges from the wasteland, it can be seen from afar. Small dots become mopeds, trucks, coaches and now and then goats, dogs and their shepherds. In the desert they all seem lost, vulnerable. Anyone who is on the move here needs trust. Especially the mopeds held together by the Indian talent for improvisation arouse misfortune fantasies out here. The trucks make a more stable impression, although they rattle no less than the two-wheelers. They hum across the asphalt, weighing tons. Full throttle as fast as you can. The law of the road is with the strong. A truck driver doesn't brake, he honks. Everything else is none of his business.
Jaisalmer, the desert city
The sun wanders across the sky, lowering to the west. In the light of the afternoon, the Trikuta rock rises far away at the end of the road. The fortress of Jaisalmers is enthroned on it. In the late sunlight, the sandstone walls, towers, battlements and arches shine with a golden sheen. The closer we get, the more gigantic the facility looks on the hill. A town lies at the foot of the rock. Narrow alleys lead past residential buildings that seem to grow out of the underground in the color of the desert. Jaisalmer.
When the desert was still wide and permeable - when no strictly guarded border cuts through it - Jaisalmer lies in the middle of a network of caravan routes that connect northern India with the Middle East. The Silk Road is just one of many trade routes that meet in the city. Merchants travel through the Thar with dromedaries and horses. They transport opium, ivory, silk, brocade, spices and precious stones. Incredible treasures reach Central and Near East from India. The maharajas, the desert princes, earn a lot from the movement of goods with duties and taxes.
The Ottoman Empire, the Arab countries and European kingdoms developed into lucrative and generous sales markets, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. Caravans roam the desert fully laden with valuable goods. Wealthy merchants settle here in Jaisalmer, but also in other desert cities along the trade routes. In the 19th century in particular, they built so-called havelis out of golden-yellow sandstone. The palatial department stores and apartment buildings are still part of the region's cultural heritage in northern India and Pakistan.
But then the Suez Canal opens. The caravans face competition from maritime trade, to which they are hopelessly inferior. The wealth is now being shipped to Bombay and other port cities. The once proud trading cities of the desert are losing their luster. It will be quiet in the Thar. Only the trade with the closer principalities and kingdoms remains. But then India and Pakistan separate from each other and establish an impermeable border.
Suddenly Jaisalmer is on the edge of the now independent India; pushed into a dead end on the border with Pakistan. The transit station becomes an end station. The trade routes that Jaisalmer used to get rich no longer exist. The city sinks into insignificance.
But Jaisalmer survived thanks to its strategic location. The Indian military is building several bases here, paving roads, laying railroad tracks and building an electricity network. As a by-product of the military infrastructure, the historic trading center is connected to the rest of the country. Wind turbines rotate far out on the plain, half-blurred in the haze of the hot desert air. They rise up from the sand, flickering like mirages. And that's how it has to be, because Jaisalmer can't do much with modernity.
Even today, the remote city dresses up in the garb of bygone centuries. The sandstone-yellow buildings exude the charm of the glory days of the trading caravans. Jaisalmer is one of the most beautiful cities in India with its historical palaces, temples, markets and the mighty fortress.
A cobblestone road winds through four gates up to the rock and into a lively weir system. The UNESCO protected castle of Jaisalmer is one of the last inhabited fortresses in the world. People have lived behind the massive protective walls for over eight hundred years. In general, people first settled at the foot of the rock in the seventeenth century, when it became too narrow in the fortress.
Today around a quarter of the residents of Jaisalmer still live in the fortress. They run restaurants and hotels, souvenir shops, cafes, and boutiques. Those passing through still deserve the attention. But it's different than before. Eager salespeople wait in the alleys for new customers. Leather goods are a much traded commodity, as well as colorful fabrics, marionettes in colorful traditional costumes, baggy pants and shoulder bags from mass production, carvings, paintings.
How it must have been back then when traders with dromedaries came out of the desert. Exhausted from the trip, they look for a tea house, a place to stay. They go to the markets, trade, buy and sell their goods. Silver is a popular means of payment. People trust the precious metal to this day. Opium, too, has long been considered a valuable commodity. Some dealers only stay a few days, others want to stay, want to seek their fortune in the city that sparkles so beautifully golden in the evening light.
In the past, Jaisalmer was home to valuable treasures. The city's ruler, Rawal Jethsi, of the Bhati-Rajput clan, is quite a daredevil in the thirteenth century. Sitting on his marble throne, he regards the desert as a playground and whoever is in it becomes - voluntarily or not - his playmate. His men attack a caravan of the Sultan of Delhi, steal the treasures and laugh up their sleeves until the Sultan himself and his troops stand at the gates of Jaisalmer.
A nine-year siege follows, at the end of which Jaisalmer is doomed. The decisive battle is on and Rawal Jethsi knows it will be lost. The Sultan's army is far superior. But surrender is out of the question. Rawal Jethsi is a Rajput, a warrior, not a diplomat and certainly not someone who runs away from a hopeless fight.
But before he goes into battle, he makes courtly arrangements. Women and children commit Jauhar, suicide by ritual cremation. For the Rajputs, free death is more honorable than life in the hands of the enemy. After that it is quiet. Jaisalmer is temporarily turned into a ghost town until it is revived by surviving members of the Bhati clan.
Old, magnificent walls
The thick sandstone walls of the fortress have seen a lot. Rise and fall in recurring order. Unimpressed by this, the facades of the Havelis tell of the splendor of days gone by. Magnificent stone carvings with both Hindu and Islamic motifs adorn balconies and window frames. They are chiseled memories in the city's poetry album. Lavishly decorated buildings stand so closely together in the narrow streets of the fortress that it is hardly possible to admire their complete beauty. Only parts of the whole can be admired. Here a few window grilles with floral motifs, there the border of a balcony. From the fragments we form a picture that only comes close to the true splendor.
In addition to the havelis, old temples adorn the fortress. The seven Jain temples standing together in particular bear witness to the skills of the craftsmen from centuries ago. Narrow corridors lead through the ornate temples past pillars and railings. Yellow and white marble shrines are venerated here.
From the bastions and roof terraces of the fortress there is a wide view over Jaisalmer and the desert. Tables and benches are on the defensive wall. Where soldiers used to march and look out into the barren land with a trained eye, we now lean back with a cup of coffee. Below us the sandstone houses glow in the sunlight. Laundry flutters on the flat roofs in the dry desert wind. Paper kites soar high in the air. The Thar begins right behind it. Jaisalmer is a desert city. Historic and beautiful. That only becomes really clear up here.
But there is still danger ahead. Slightly more subtle than attacking armies, but no less problematic. Built on clay and sand, the foundation of the fortress is by no means stable. More and more tourists want to experience the glory of Jaisalmer and are staying in the fortress. The water consumption on the rock increases from year to year - the sewage seeps into the ground through an inadequate pipe system and undermines the fortress walls. Protective walls and bastions have already collapsed several times because their hold was washed away.
Jaisalmer and the beauty of everyday life
At the foot of the rock, in the old town of Jaisalmer, are the bazaars and with them the bustling activity of the country. Nowhere else do people manage to find a place, no matter how small, to plunge into such a mess as in India. Honey-yellow streets wind aimlessly back and forth. It is a labyrinth in which it is safe to get lost because all roads end up in front of the fortress.
In the pretty alleys of Jaisalmer, the residents have cultivated beauty into something everyday. Old women crouch together. Light fabrics in bright colors play around sun-tanned faces. They stand out radiantly from the golden-yellow sandstone. A few steps further, young women float through the city like butterflies in their Shalwar Kamiz, decorated with tendril and flower patterns. Dozens of colorful, glittering bracelets and rings adorn her arms.
Jaisalmer's winding streets still have the mystical aura of centuries past. Cows and dogs line the narrow streets in the bazaars, blocking the way between tiny kiosks that sell a few bags of Namkeen and soft drinks. Everyday madness creeps down here through the dusty streets. Jewelers and clothing stores line up. Passers-by push through the narrow, shady corridors. A bustling crowd wanders through the city. Many Indian tourists are also here. Three muscled young men from Delhi wear brightly colored caps that are sold all over Rajasthan as cheap imitations of the traditional Rajput turbans. Aviator glasses, mustaches and leather jackets make them look like Bollywood poster boys. The prosperity plums alone betray their unspectacular bourgeois origin.
Again and again we are secretly photographed. The Indians sneak up on us like spies. If we look at them with a stern look, they turn their heads to the side as if nothing had happened. Noticeably inconspicuous. Sometimes they are bold, stand up to us without comment and take one selfie after the other. There is no distance in India. Anyone who travels the country has to immerse themselves with skin and hair. There is no other way. Selfies are part of it, as are the secret shots that are made by families as well as by pubescent youth groups. It is no different in the fortress than in the alleys of the bazaars. We are approached again and again. We're exotic, even here in Jaisalmer.
Reading tips on IndiaBreathtaking stories arise between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. If you would like to find out more about the exciting subcontinent, here are 11 literature tips from us with which you can immerse yourself in the fascinating, unvarnished world of India from the sofa at home. And yes, Rochssare read them all himself.
to the literature tips
Bhang-Lassi in Jaisalmer
There is a lassi shop very close to the fortress, in front of the main entrance gate. It's a tiny business, no more than a handful of square meters, and yet an institution. In addition to the creamy yoghurt drink, which is refined here with nuts and fruits, the shop also has a Bhang license. State-authorized drug dealer, if you will, or spiritual convenience store. Bhang-Lassi is a milkshake enriched with marijuana, which, depending on the degree of strength, comes in an inconspicuous white to golden yellow like the surrounding sandstone walls.
A young man in a fine jacket is sitting in front of the shop. A brightly colored cap adorns his head. The view is glassy and I am not quite sure whether this is nature's intention or the bhang. The usual figures sit inside. World explorers in their twenties, world explorers in their fifties and the women with whom world explorers would like to do more than just sit in a bhang shop. Plus an Indian woman who doesn't seem to fit into this little hippie cell at all. Upmarket age, upscale style. Together with a friend, she orders her very first bhang lassi. For years, she says, she has wanted to get to know the spiritual effects of the bhang and today she dares.
The world explorers really just want to be high. There is also a large tin full of hash biscuits hidden in a drawer.Those who can't get enough of the bhang or are planning a trip to the desert reach for pastries. However, this is less legal.
We sip our lassis and stroll out into the evening. It has gotten cool in the desert. With the sun, the heat of the day leaves the city. Darkness covers the alleys of the high fortress. Old stories rise from the ground by invisible threads. A romantically transfigured past awakens in the dim light. Proud Rajasthan appears, the brave Rajputs, the shrewd traders who brave the dangers of the desert with their caravans. It's a beautiful picture, without scuffs or scratches; an image that may never have existed in this way.
If you liked this article and would like to travel with us, then support us with a small tip. Donate us a coffee cup, chocolate cake or a decent rambazamba - anything is possible.
From the far north of Germany out into the world: In 2011, Morten and Rochssare will be hitchhiking and couch surfing on the South American continent for two years. It continues the same way. But now in the other direction. The two have been hitchhiking overland from Germany to India and on to Southeast Asia since 2014. There is still a lot to discover.
They tell of their adventures and encounters in their books "The Hitchhiker's Guide to South America" and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to India", both published in the National Geographic series by Malik.
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