The South Asian Times

21 March 2019 11:42 AM

Is the Fort in Jaisalmer or Jaisalmer in the Fort?

By Parveen Chopra

Frankly speaking, we would  not have visited Jaisalmer but for the newly introduced Spicejet  flight from Delhi to the Golden City. Going there by train or car from Delhi would take some 17 hours, so that option my family ruled out. We had zeroed in on Jaisalmer because we were going  to India from New York in December, a perfect  time to head to the desert city.

Researching Jaislamer we decided to stay in a hotel within the fort, the single most tourist attraction. It is not just a rhetorical question: whether the Fort is in Jaisalmer or Jaisalmer in the Fort? After all people who live and work within the boundary walls of the fort form a quarter of the total population of the town and in that sense it is the only ‘living  fort’ in the world.  

Browsing through Trip Advisor, we booked Hotel Victoria within the fort. And on reaching  there we found it quaint, to say the least. It is converted from a house owned by the family running it. The décor of rooms is traditional Rajasthani except for the bathrooms which are modern of course. The amount of priceless artifacts filling every wall and alcove of Hotel Victoria is astounding.  

Given the hurried and harried proclivity of modern day tourists, Jaisalmer is a two-day destination. So, the first evening after reaching the place in the afternoon we took it easy. We booked a tourist guide to take us around the next morning and for the evening, we booked a desert safari – the de rigueur outdoor activity tourists do when in Jaisalmer.      

Well, our guide filled us in on the facts and figures about Jaisalmer, a World Heritage Site. The town stands on a ridge of yellowish sandstone, and is crowned by the ancient Jaisalmer Fort. The fort (christened Trikoot Garh) was built in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal. The fort contains a royal palace and several ornate Jain temples. Most of the houses and temples of both the fort and of the town below are built of finely sculptured sandstone. The sandstone walls are a tawny lion color during the day and shimmer honey-gold as the sun sets. This is why Jaisalmer is also called the Golden City – even as Jaipur is Pink City and Jodhpur.  

The first place our guide took us to was the Paraswanath Temple, the biggest of the seven Jain temples situated within the fort and built between 12th and 15th centuries. The intricate engravings in the temples are awe-inspiring. The next stop was Patwon ki haveli (haveli is a super large house often built by wealthy merchants in Rajasthan).  Built in the 19th century, this haveli is not inhabited - unlike some other havelis in Jaisalmer which are – and boasts impressive facade, fine wall paintings, beautiful jharokhas, archways and gateways. Walking down to the entrance of the fort, we took an auto to get to Gadi Sagar Lake, the placid water conservation tank.

To get to our desert safari venue, some 40 km away in Sam (pronounced Sum) Sand Dunes, we took a cab. Along the way, the taxi driver told us about the legend of the haunted Kuldhara village: it was the largest village in the community but in the early 19th century all the people in Kuldhara and nearby villages vanished in the dark.  A real ‘ghost town’ you can visit.

Well, the dune busting jeep safari wasn’t as thrilling or scary as the one in Dubai. The camel safari was fun. We stayed put on top of a sand dune to take in the glorious sunset. Heading back to the camp, we were regaled by performances by folk musicians and dancers, which are a major cultural export from Jaisalmer to the rest of the world. For example, the popular ‘Nimbooda’ song in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam movie has been appropriated by Sanjay Leela Bhansali from their repertoire.

A short but sweet trip. A destination highly recommended.

Update: 02 March, 2018