Jaisalmer is the state of Rajasthan, India. This city is in the middle of the Thar desert and still retains a lot of the old world charm. Yes there are signs of modern times , but there is also a sense of time standing still. The arid climate of Thar is not very kind towards humans. It is not hard to imagine the relief felt by the travelers along the silk road, when they first catch a glimpse of the golden fort at the horizon.
If you are visiting during winter this little town will be buzzing with tourist activity. There will be ample opportunities to participate in traditional dances, feasts and guided tours. During the off season the temperatures soar and the town becomes sleepy, but this is the perfect time to visit the Havelis and admire the architectural beauty and may be some bargain shopping!
As you approach the town the golden sandstone fort grows out of the sand. This is the largest living fort. Built in the 12th century this is the largest fort with a thriving population living in its confines. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected as well as endangered !
Sonar Quila witnesses a lot of human activity. It is home to over 3000, most of who are direct descendants of the original inhabitants and who called it home for generations. People, pets, cars and tourists pass through the gates of this fort, very few pausing to wonder about the history and the untold stories these stones have witnessed.
It being off season we were able wander about the fort and meet some of the people who called it home. The alleyways are much cooler than outside. It is in one of these side streets that we met Mr.H . His forefathers worked for the kings and resided in the fort for generations. In an effort to keep up with the changing times he had converted part of his home to a hotel. He also has an antique store with interesting pieces. He told us about his life in the city and how at one point the pull toward his home became too strong to ignore.
Whether this fort is able to withstand the demands of its inhabitants is for experts to debate on. As we were walking out there was a sense of inevitability , a sense of loss that was felt all around. The fort is silent, standing guard as it did for centuries. Many of its current inhabitants though they rely on it for their livelihood, have a casual attitude towards Sonar Quila. For them it is home, as it was for their forefathers and as it will be for their descendants !
This fort created more of an emotional response in me than any other. Would I go back to Jaisalmer – yes, of course, but I may not visit this fort again. True there are impressive temples, museum and intricate carvings everywhere. But there are more well preserved, and cared for structures outside.
A few Havelis or mansions built by the affluent merchant class are definitely worth a visit. These mansions built a few centuries back feature intricate carvings and and many artifacts that bear the mark of the old traditions. There is Salim Singh Ki Haveli, Nath Mal Ki Haveli and more , but if you have are short on time the one to visit is Patwon Ji Ki Haveli.
This is Sonar Quila from the top of Patwon Ji Ki Haveli. You can see picture windows carved into the fort walls. Don’t get me wrong , I do not deny the inhabitants their right to the land. To me it seems to mirror the story of the Giving Tree.
Unfortunately, they did not allow us to photograph the interior of the Haveli. Here the kids are taking a break at the roof.
This multi story building has displays the life of the trading class, their attire, how they conducted business and of course the home office integration! The display showcasing different Bandhani saris to be worn according to seasons was very interesting, as were the collection of kitchen utensils.
There is more to Jaisalmer than impressive Architecture .. More on that next time .