Our last destination in this trip was Jaisalmer, the Golden fort which was on my bucket list since I saw Satyajit Ray’s ‘Sonar Kella’ years back. Since the Desert Festival was to be organized from 22 to 25 Feb, we thought of coinciding our arrival with these dates. So after an eventful stay in Jodhpur, we reached Jaisalmer station on the cold morning of 22nd Feb. For stay, we had chosen a guest house inside the fort, so we took a taxi which dropped us at the gates of the fort for a surprisingly small amount of money, with the string attached that we would give him a call if we wanted to book a camel safari.
Established in 1156 AD by the Bhati King Jaisal, the town of Jaisalmer has a millennium of history under its belt; battles and legends of the desert hidden in its bosom including two jauhars and a saka. For centuries, it served as the gateway to India for the camel-caravans coming from Central Asia and flourished as a market-town. After opening of sea ports by the British, and then closing of the borders post independence, the town lost its importance as a trading town. However its strategic importance continues and the town is a major garrison for Indian defense forces. The fortunes of Jaisalmer saw a upturn in the recent decades after the sudden interest of tourists in this place. Today it serves as a prime tourist’s destination of Rajasthan and a launch pad for desert safaris in the Thar.
The first view of the Jaisalmer Fort was a sight I will remember till my last days; a massive fort built in yellow sand-stone rising out of the flatland “like a mirage in the desert”, its ramparts glowing in shades of gold in the rays of the morning sun, Sonar Kella is a spectacle in every sense. Unlike most other forts in India, it is a living one. There are temples where conch still blows every morning as it did 500 hundred year ago, homes and havelis where people go on with their lives as they have been doing for centuries. It is this liveliness apart from its ethereal beauty, which makes the Golden Fort so unique.
After recovering from our awe-struck-ness, it was time to find the guest-house and that meant lugging our bags all the way to the fort. The path to the fort is covered by four gates, each successive one bigger than the previous. So through these gates we crossed the centuries which lay between the us and the taxi and were led to the central square of the fort, the Dashera Chowk where the fourth gate (Hawa Pol) goes to. The seven storied palace of the former rulers of Jaisalmer was right above us. From here, we took one of the four lanes that opened in different direction and reached our guest-house.
Our guest-house, Desert Haveli, was relative newer, just 500 years old. Managed by a family and two very cheerful young men, it is quite a comfortable place with a great view of the fort and the town below. This place is highly recommended if you are tired of pretentious hotels cut off from surroundings and want a place to stay with warm- always smiling hosts.
As we laid down our bags and lied down on the soft bed, something happened. We slept off and missed the opening ceremony of the Desert Festival, the very purpose for which we had undertaken the whole journey. But three days later, we did not mind any of that.
The fort is triangular, taking the shape of the Trikuta hill on which it stands, surrounded by three layers of fortifications. The hub of the fort is still Dasera Chowk, the point to which auto rickshaws are allowed to ply. The rest of the fort needs to be covered on foot. Inside its interiors honeycombed with narrow lanes, intricately decorated houses, guest houses, restaurants and shops jostle for space. The road side shops of the fort sell all kinds of curios, one speciality being the volcano stone which was claimed to have the ability to turn milk to solid curd. Though the continuous pestering of the shopkeepers may be annoying at times, but it should be remembered that tourism remains the primary and sometimes the only source of income for these people. Tourism remains the biggest boon, and bane of Jaisalmer.
In this fantasy land of ours, we stayed for memorable three days. It was a joy walking through those lanes from another era it was difficult to get awed by the beauty in stone. Jaisalmer fort is extremely photogenic, a dream come true for any photographer worth his salt. So while Ekta busied herself with buying stuff from the shops, I happily clicked away to glory.
Within the fort, towards the right of the fort palace, is an interconnected maze like complex of seven Jain temples. Built in the same yellow sandstone as the rest of the fort, these exquisitely carved temples look extraordinarily beautiful. The temples are by the names, Chandraprabhu, Rikhavdev, Parasnath, Shitalnath, Sambhavnath, Shantinath and Kunthunath; dedicated to the Jain Teerthankars. These temples called for some excited exploration on our part on the morning of the second day. The temples open up early in the morning and closes at 1:00 PM; it is advisable to go there as early as 7:00 am. There is no entrance fee, however one has to pay for the camera (still/video/mobile : INR 70/120/30).
There is a Hindu temple named Laxminarayan Temple in the center of the fort. Though we could see its towers from our guest house, we somehow missed paying a visit to it.
On our second day, we visited the Fort Palace, the original residential complex of the royal family of Jaisalmer. The seven storied high elegant palace towers above the Hawa Pol overlooking the Dashera chowk and extends towards the left of the gate. It is a beautiful palace with a well stocked museum with ancient sculptures, paintings, arms etc. The roof top of the palace gives a beautiful view of the Jaisalmer town and fort. The rooms and balconies were embedded with richly carved jharokhas providing conspicuous view of the outside. The mirrored Rang Mahal was the high point of the palace. An audio guide is strongly recommended to get a good idea of the museum and palace.
The Fort Palace Museum is open 8:00 am-6:00 pm from Apr-Oct, 9:00 am – 6:00 pm from Nov-Mar. Entrance fee for Indians/ Foreigners is INR 30/250. Camera fee still/ video is INR 50/150.
After dinner Ekta strolled down towards the market and I went after her. As I took a turn from the Suraj pol, I saw something which transfixed me. A full moon in the sky, small clouds lit by its light; and Sonar Kella in all its glory just below it. Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me at that time and the point and shoot could capture only a fraction of that beauty. However what I saw that evening is safe within my heart and will stay for a long time.
Sitting comfortably wrapped up in a shawl on the roof top Free Tibet restaurant on a cold and windy evening, we looked at the light from the fort around us in wonder. The beauty of Jaisalmer cannot be matched easily, one has to be there to know how it feels like. This fairy tale castle deserves every bit of the awe it generates when one sees it for the first time.
Good capture of the essence of the desert fort…I have never been there but you have ignited the fire to add it to my wish list..
Thanks. On retrospective, I was not very happy with the photographs we took in Jaisalmer.. maybe we were a little fatigued. It is much more beautiful than it appears in photographs 😀
You may be right about the pics. But when I mentioned captured I meant writing.. your writing has evolved over last year or so since I started reading your blog and now you capture the essence of a place beautifully 🙂
Yes, have been learning from some wonderful bloggers we have around. Though I used to be a better writer when was a teen, am trying again.
Such an amazing lace and lovely photos. I’m pining for India now!
Hi Kathryn, Thanks for dropping by. From now to Feb is the best time to visit Rajasthan 🙂
Wonderful shots. I have never seen so intimate pictures of Jaisalmer, though I spend a considerable amount of time in Rajasthan. I loved your post.
Thanks Abhra. And I was worried that my photographs we not good 🙂
Nicely framed pictures!
I can never be bored of this place.
Thanks Indrani. Same here, I can always agree to go back there again.
This place is on my wish list! Most probably this winters…lovely captures n a informative post!! Bookmarking it 🙂 🙂
Thanks Aditi. This place is quite cold in Winters. I have shivered like hell in Feb end. So make sure you carry enough warm clothes.
Amazing..wonderful.. awesome and what not !!! Loved the pics very much..Great captures..:-) It was in my visiting list..:-)
Thanks Nagini. It is a great place to be in .. you will love every moment you spend there 🙂
the captures make me longing to see the fort in person .. nice post !! The Model of the fort was the cherry on the cake !!
Thank you 🙂
What a pictures..! Really Beautiful!!!!
I just want to ask you one thing, please don’t misunderstand, what if you post blogs in two parts? Because reading a lengthy blog like this was little bit tiresome for me.
Haha .. I confess that it went a little too long, even though its just part 1 of the Jaisalmer travelogue. But you have a point. From now on, I will try to limit a post to 500-600 words 🙂
Wow awesome clicks.. Jaisalmer is really amazing.. Thanks for posting interesting information.. Keep sharing…
Thanks Nasreen 🙂
Wonderful details. One of the places on my list that I have to visit.
Thanks Joe. Do visit Jaisalmer, its a wonderful place full of an old world charm.
The room looks so lovely. Everything about Jaisalmer seems so inviting.
I did not know the same fort from Sonar Kella is now a hotel. And ofcourse, great to know you are a fan of Sonar Kella Kella too 😀
Actually the fort is not hotel. There are several houses inside the fort which have been converted to hotels/ guesthouses. In many other houses, people live. Overall, the fort is still in its original condition .. as Satyajit Ray left it 🙂
that sounds even more interesting. i had imagined the fort to hold just a palace, it is a community rather. wow!
Yes its a complete town inside the fort, from some other era. This makes Jaisalmer fort one of the very few living forts in the world ..
thanks a lot for the mention 🙂
This fort has the best architecture and workmanship. The intricate carvings are on all the sides, everywhere you go. I remember going here with my parents when I was 16 years old. Now I want to go back, because of your post!