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Jaisalmer – Sonar Quila And The Havelis

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!

Jaisalmer Fort

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.

Jaisalmer Fort

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.

Jaisalmer Fort

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.

Patwon Ji Ki Haveli

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.

Jaisalmer Fort

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.

Patwon Ji Ki Haveli

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 .

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