29-Dec-2009 -- In the eight years we’ve lived in india, Tricia and I have been to Rajasthan many times, but never as far West as Jaisalmer. We finally made it to the Thar desert in December 2009. We spent Christmas in Udaipur, then drove to Jaisalmer. We broke up the trip with an overnight in Jodhpur. One of the reasons few people make it out to Jaisalmer is that it takes so long to get to, and the only nearby airport is used only for the military.
As the couple who attempted this confluence in 2007 noted, Jaisalmer is near the border of Pakistan. It used to be an important stop on the Silk Route, but it has become a bit of a cul-de-sac since the border between India and Pakistan has become so difficult to cross. Pokaran, a small town between Jodphur and Jaisalmer, is where India tested nuclear weapons in an attempt to display its military might to Pakistan. You definitely notice the presence of the military in and around Jaisalmer.
However, the confluence of 27N and 71e is not actually on military land. There is a military base in between the confluence and the national highway, but a small road (called Mohangarh Road on Google Maps) goes north from the city, past the military camps, and gets within a few kilometers of the confluence. For this morning’s adventure, Tricia stayed behind in Jaisalmer Fort, in a hotel embedded in the centuries-old castle walls. Arjun, the driver who had been driving us around for our whole Rajasthan trip, took me about 10 kilometers north on Mohangarh Road, then started slowing down as we approached the confluence point.
We both began looking for a side road that would take us east for the last 2 kilometers. Around us was only desert, a mix of rocky outcrops and sand dunes, with scrubby bushes and thorny trees. There are some nearby lakes, where the seasonal monsoon rains collect. In a few places, small creeks flowed across the road. Near these, there were some birds – we saw a kingfisher and an Indian magpie robin.
Away from the water, there was almost no animal life. About 3 or 4 kilometers from the confluence, we passed a family of nomadic goat herders, dressed in typical Rajasthani outfits. They were collecting wood for a fire and grazing their goats.
It appeared from Google Earth that an old dry creek bed went from the road almost directly towards the confluence. I decided to walk along that creek bed, since the ground would be more compact, and there might be a bit of shade from some of the trees growing in that area. I got out of the car with a bottle of water and my camera bag and started walking east towards the confluence. Arjun stayed with the van. It wasn’t long at all before I saw Arjun driving in the desert on a path parallel to mine. He stopped and got out of the car. He had found a road!
And what a road! A nice solid dirt road that took us practically to the exact spot. Almost no walking necessary. After a minute of driving on the road, we found a man in what looked like a military outfit who flagged us down. I was worried that he would tell us we couldn’t continue. He asked Arjun some questions in Hindi, then hopped in the car, to escort us. Turns out, he works for the National Park service. The confluence is in or near the Desert National Park of Rajasthan. On Google Earth you can see several areas that are fenced off. These are tree preserves, surrounded by barbed wire to keep grazing cows and goats out of them. After passing some of these fenced-off regions, the park official got back out of the van and we continued. We reached a spot about 300 meters from the confluence. This time, the walk was much easier. Still, the soft sand wasn’t super-easy to cross, but 300 meters is much easier than 2 kilometers. I passed a cow – the only animal life I saw within 500 meters of the confluence. There was some evidence of other animals: goat and camel droppings. I managed to reach the exact spot within a few minutes. Keeping in mind that my GPS reported an accuracy of 7 meters, I still got my favorite photo – the “odometer flipping” image of my eTrex displaying 21.00000 71.00000. I took some shots of the area, and some to be stitched into a panorama.
On the drive out, the ranger stopped us again to ask if I was happy. Arjun explained later that the park official had assumed from the New Delhi markings on the car that we were VIP officials from the Park Service, here to check up on his work. Not wanting to let him down, Arjun had told him that we approved and were very happy with the work he had done. I didn’t know until later what was being said, but I smiled and waved and said “thank you.’
I've uploaded a Google Earth KMZ File with photos and tracks of the visit to 27N 71E, for anyone interested in the exact route or more pictures. This can also be viewed in GoogleMaps directly.