Sand Dunes Festival – Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

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Before sunrise in Jaisalmer a roadside vendor makes chai.


Later, a delivery of milk. Across rural India milk comes fresh every morning and is always boiled before serving.


Jaisalmer is 600 kilometers west of Jaipur and less than an hour from the Pakistan border. It is a small desert city with an ancient fort that sits atop a plateau of sand dunes.


The above photo shows just a small section of the fort, but it is truly massive and one of the only inhabited forts in Rajasthan. (Most other cities — Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur — have forts as well but people no longer live in them.) On the periphery of Jaisalmer most people live in stone and mud shacks sheltered with tarps.


From the city, the annual sand dunes festival is set up an hour’s drive into the desert towards the southwest.


Indians come from all over the country for this very popular three-day festival. There are camel rides and races, wrestling matches, beauty contests (including one for best mustache), and traditional singing and dance performances.


There were rumors of an elephant polo match, but I didn’t see it. The cooking in Jaisalmer and at the festival was very basic and good: some highlights were kachories, a chickpea- or corn-flour bread stuffed with a spicy chickpea and onion mixture, deep fried, and served topped with a sweet mint chutney and plain yogurt. Men congregate around a kachory stall early one morning.


The most common vegetable dish is spicy kachri curry. Kachri is a bittersweet gourd grown in Rajasthan; it requires very little water, making it ideal for the desert climate. Rajasthanis also use kachri to make a tangy chutney. Below, a cook peels kachri.


For a basic Rajasthani dal, this cook used two varieties of yellow lentils and boiled them for an hour with ample water. To season the lentils, in a separate pot heat a generous amount oil until very hot and add a half-handful of cumin seeds so they pop. After ten seconds, add one ladle of fresh garlic-chili paste (garlic and green chilies mashed together into a paste) and fry, stirring constantly for a few minutes. For dry spices, add one spoon of turmeric, two of chili powder, and three of coriander powder. Then salt and a few ladles of water from the lentils. Stir well for one minute and then add the full pot of lentils.

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