When someone says “Rajasthan”, the first image that springs to my mind is that of the dunes of the Thar desert and the colourful people of the desert region. Right at the heart of that desert, sits the “Golden City” of Jaisalmer. Here is my take on this jewel of the desert. The city gets its name from the founder namely Raja Jaisal. It is known as the golden city due to its yellow sandstone houses and the imposing fort which acquire a golden hue when sunlight falls on them. Not to mention the lovely people of Jaisalmer, it also has many beautiful Havelis and ornate Jain temples.
We had taken the early morning train from Osian and reached around 12 in the afternoon. As our Rajasthan trip (which started with Jodhpur) progressed further, the temperatures were also climbing. It was pretty hot in Jaisalmer. We had arranged for our stay in Nachana Haveli – again based on TripAdvisor ratings.
This eighteenth century haveli is a heritage property and belongs to the cousin of the current Maharawal of Jaisalmer. The family still occupies one portion of the property and the rest is let out as rooms for the hotel.
The rooms are divided across two beautiful courtyards. Every room is named after a family member who had stayed here in the past. The rooms were surprisingly cool considering temperatures outside. This was probably because of the usage of the yellow sandstone to build them. The rooms also had many a relic from the glorious past. We felt transported back to a bygone era of Kings and Queens when we entered the room for the first time. We were so enchanted that we even forgot to take a picture of the room. Duh!
The courtyard outside our room was home to two cute inhabitants – a star tortoise who took naps in the cool recesses here and a white eared bulbul who had built a nest amidst the vines in the net used to cover the courtyard. In the outer courtyard, a sunbird was busy building its nest :)
The Saffron rooftop Restaurant here has good views of the Jaisalmer Fort and the Badal Mahal (also Mandir Palace Hotel) where the current Maharawal of Jaisalmer stays.
The owner of the hotel, Prince Vikram Singh helped us build an itinerary for going around and arranged a cab for us while going outside the city. The landmarks within city are at walking distance from the hotel. I would recommend anyone visiting this place to take a walk in the narrow by-lanes here. More on the streets later in this post. First let me talk about the Jaisalmer fort – Sonar Kella!
Jaisalmer Fort – the Sonar Kella
The yellow sandstone fort which represents Jaisalmer is a treat to the eyes. Satyajit Ray,the note Bengali film maker and writer was so captivated by this fort which he fondly referred to as ‘Sonar Kella‘ (Golden fortress) that he wrote a book on it with the same name and later made it into a movie.
The fort was built in the twelfth century by Raja Jaiswal who shifted his capital from Lodhruva. Ala-ud-din Khilji had attacked this fort in the thirteenth century and captured it. In order to protect their honour, the Rajput women of the fort committed Jauhar. Some of the Bhati Rajputs from here migrated to Punjab and Sindh. The interesting fact here is that the ones who migrated to Sindh (which is in Pakistan today) took the name of Bhutto!
Jaisalmer was one of the important points along the caravan trade route until the sea route opened and the port of Bombay took over. There was a point of time when all inhabitants of Jaisalmer lived in the fort. Gradually they had to move out and settle around the fort as the fort was packed to the full. Today one of the major concerns about this fort is that its foundations are getting corroded due to the excessive water usage within the fort. The water usage is predominantly due to the influx of tourism. Jaisalmer and the land around it is a desert and the people who built the fort therefore had planned for a situation where water is heavily conserved and very rarely let into the ground. Then when government started pumping in water, tons of it, for tourism purposes, all the water started going into the ground. Of course the fort’s structure is not able to handle it, it was never meant to, and is therefore weakening by the day! After having read up about this, we had decided to do our bit in protecting this priceless monument by not considering any stay options housed inside the fort. Many efforts have been made to evacuate the inhabitants of the fort but this has been met with stiff opposition by them. No new construction is allowed within the fort.
Some of the main attractions of this fort are the beautiful Jain temples with their intricate carvings and the city palace.
The Jain temples built from yellow sandstone inside the fort dedicated to Thirtankaras are a marvelous example of the Dilwara style of architecture. The intricate carvings and sculptures depicting humans as well as animals are beautiful. The temple complex also has a library housing rare and ancient manuscripts.
The Royal Palace is where the Maharawals (Kings) used to stay previously.
Some parts of the palace have been converted to a museum today housing various artifacts belonging to the royal family. A painting shows the family tree of the Bhati Rajput rulers and they believe that they have descended from Lord Krishna. One more unusual display in the museum was an idol of a bearded Lord Rama.
From the top of the palace one can get a good view of the city and beyond.
Just before exiting the palace we saw a yellow sandstone model depicting the map of Jaisalmer fort.
Inhabitants of the Fort
The hustle and bustle of vendors inside the fort trying to sell their wares to the tourists is a common sight. Mirror-work bed sheets, blankets, dresses, puppets, musical instruments, souvenir shops. Name it you will find it. Our guide took us to an artist’s shop where paintings of Rajasthani folklore, birds and Hindu gods and goddesses were sold. With deft strokes of the brush the artist was able to bring out every single detail in the scene being depicted in the painting. We were amazed by his creativity and bought some paintings depicting Rajasthani folklore. He told us that his work was showcased on TV as part of the Jaisalmer episode of a programme aired in Fox history channel.
Havelis of Jaisalmer
The havelis of Jaisalmer belonged to the jain merchants and ministers of the King’s court. Some of the important havelis are Patwon ki Haveli, Salim Singh ki Haveli and Nathmalji ki Haveli. These havelis have intricate designs in the outer walls.
Colourful puppets are sold at a lot of places here. Here is one picture from Patwon ki Haveli.
Gadi Sagar Lake/Gadsisar Lake
This scenic lake on the outskirts of Jaisalmer is a water conservation tank built in fifteenth century. It used to be the single source of water for the entire city at one point of time. During the celebration of the Gangaur festival, devoted to Goddess Parvati, a procession is taken here. The lake is surrounded by small temples and shrines. An ideal place to while away the evening!
The residence of the current Maharawal of Jaisalmer. It was built in the early twentieth century. A part of this palace is now a heritage hotel called Mandir Palace. A small portion of the palace however is open to the public. The palace is a fine example of the Indo-Saracenic architecture combining both Rajput and Islamic style of architecture that was brought in from the middle east due to the Caravan route passing through here. The Jawahir Vilas built by Maharawal Jawahir Singh is a splendid section of the palace. The beautiful tiles and the green curtains along with the intricately carved golden hued yellow stone of course gives a magical look to the place! Inside this section there is a museum housing exhibits from the royal family.
This five storeyed structure near the Badal Mahal is a fine example of Muslim architecture. Each floor has a balcony with beautiful designs. This was built by Muslim craftsmen from wood and gifted to the king in the nineteenth century.
Bylanes of Jaisalmer
The by lanes of Jaisalmer have their own charm. Especially within the old walled city. The streets are narrow and full of vigour. The shops in the Bhatia Bazaar are a sight by themselves. There were many gypsy women who come in to the city daily bringing unbelievably fresh, given that it is in midst of a desert, vegetables to sell.
We also witnessed another interesting tradition. On the walls of many a house there was a painting of Lord Ganesha with the date and names of the bride and groom of the last wedding in that house. What a brilliant way to celebrate the new couple :)
Gastronomic Delights of Jaisalmer
Everyone will tell you what to see in Jaisalmer. Not many however will tell you what to eat :) The Ghotua Laddoo and the Panchadhari Laddoo of Jaisalmer are fabulous. The best of these are available at Dhanraj Bhatia Sweets and in one word, heavenly :) We liked it so much as to make a second trip there to buy some for carrying home all the way back to Bangalore. While you are at it, you should also try the fresh fruit juices at R K Juice Centre. Mind you, it is a very small shop in the Bhatia Market and easy to miss. So ask for it. We were directed to it by the owner of Dhanraj Bhatia Sweets. Incidentally it so happens that the shop next to RK Juice Centre is another Bhatia – Bhatia News Agency.
Yellow Stone Factory
Our guide took us to a yellow stone factory where you get varieties of souvenirs all made from yellow stone/fossil stone. A huge portrait of Satyajit Ray was hung here. We bought a model of Jaisalmer fort as a token of memory of our trip to this lovely city. We also bought a model of the fort for our friends in Gurgaon. Both of these were to be couriered to us. However, we were disappointed by the packaging they put in place for these heavy stone artifacts. In fact the gift to our friends in Gurgaon arrived broken :(
I hope you enjoyed reading about and watching pics from Jaisalmer as much as I did writing about it. Do let me know your thoughts. Jaisalmer is of course much more than just the city and fort. There is so much to see Beyond Jaisalmer. Stay tuned for more on that front!