We thought we might give Jodhpur a miss altogether. We certainly didn't expect to spend nine days there. Rajasthan's second largest city, Jodhpur, lies halfway between Pushkar—an important Hindu pilgrimage site—and Jaisalmer—a fortified city in the Thar Desert. Plans to break up the long bus ride with an overnight in Jodhpur were thwarted when we learned all buses were booked solid following the conclusion of the Pushkar Fair. So we took a direct overnight bus from Pushkar to Jaisalmer.
Jaisalmer's fort and havelis—exquisitely carved sandstone mansions dating back to the 12th century—attract more than a few tourists to this remote town. Inevitably, tourism has had a big impact. Restaurants serving "continental" cuisine and handicraft shops line the main road. But the latest signs of the times are those advertising "Internet". Since August 1999, when service was introduced here, some thirty shops had begun offering Internet access.
As is our wont, soon after our arrival we began to scope out the Internet shops looking for an angle. Elsewhere in India we had traded web development services for free time online. We thought we might stay in Jaisalmer long enough to make the effort worthwhile.
As is often the case, the first few shops we visited were interested only in how much time we needed online and to see the inside of our wallets. Then we came across "Surf 2 Home"—two computers in a basic concrete room upstairs from a travel agent. We started chatting with a young man who worked there. His name was Ajay and we were fortunate to meet him. He was based some 300km away in Jodhpur and just happened to be visiting this new satellite office spun off from the main one in Jodhpur. Ajay listened to our shpiel and expressed his interest. Then he cut us short. "Okay, I don't want to make any business deals—you can use the machines as much as you want, free of charge."
Internet cafe business owners generally fall into one of two camps. Businessmen, eye on the clock, out to make a buck on the one hand and on the other, those who understand the power of the Internet and are passionate about its potential. Ajay fell cleanly in the second camp. He was a recent university graduate with a degree in computer science. Along with some friends he'd recently started this cybercafe business. The company—known as Dream Team—also developed websites. Speaking the same language, we had quickly formed a bond.
Using the machines in Jaisalmer was frustrating. The connection was painfully slow and periodically we lost the connection altogether. Each time this happened, reconnecting took many tries and considerable time. Jaisalmer clearly was an example of too much demand for the supply.
Thus, despite the attractive price, we spent little time online during the next week. We put our work aside and planned to meet Ajay in Jodhpur a week later. We would take him up on his generous offer to use the machines there.