The spacious, gorgeously furnished tents have been erected among stone cupolas, reflection pools and centuries-old statues of the Hindu gods Shiva and Ganesh. At night, the grounds were lighted with hundreds of white candles, musicians performed and women danced in the leaping shadows.
We skipped the festival on the second day to tour old Jaisalmer, a hilltop town of such grace that its cobblestone streets still ring with ancient Rajput warrior bravado. We toured the fort and shopped for bangles for Indigo, who by now was wearing a bindi, the forehead dot worn by Indian women, plus tie-dyed clothing, an armload of glass bangles and metal anklets. She looked like she'd been on the road for six months.
"Magic?" he asked, "Ten rupees" (about 25 cents).
Indigo nodded, and he performed a magic show so slick, she stood in disbelief. I paid him the 10 rupees.
Then he began pulling coins from Indigo's ear. "No charge for the little memsahib, no charge," he said in broken English. Just the honest joy of one child impressing another.
The final part of the festival was late in the evening in the desert, a 40-minute drive outside Jaisalmer. The wind-rippled dunes were beginning to glow from the sunset as camels and their hopeful village jockeys lined up for a race of about a mile. People came streaming over the dunes, on foot, on camel and in open trucks straining under the weight of their load: villagers standing in their finest dress. The dunes were ablaze with colorful saris and tinkled with the sound of ankle bracelets.
"The women will always come to such events," Gopal said. "They don't get out of their huts otherwise. This is a chance to mingle, to have fun."
The harmonium (a hand-pumped reed instrument that sounds like a lazy accordion); the wailing women; and the female dancers in their tribal costumes with mirrored skirts, heavy, twirling and luxurious, were intoxicating. Smoke from a large bonfire soared into the night sky, silhouetting the camels and the turbaned men.
At one point during the evening, Indigo hugged me, saying: "Thank you for bringing me here, Mama."
I knew then that she had the heart of an adventure traveler and that she would be back here someday. She may have to stay in a hovel and lug a backpack, but no matter. She has seen the riches that lie in far-flung places, and she now knows that their wealth lies in more than 400-thread-count sheets.
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