Rajasthan Trip Oct 2013 — Part 2 (Jaisalmer)

Continuing from Part 1……..

Jaisalmer Fort

The next morning, we were shown the facilities available with our hosts, and I will leave it at that.

At 1100, we left for Jaisalmer fort. This fort, also called the Golden Fort, is a living fort.

We took a guide to show us around the fort and began our tour. Once you enter the fort, it looks like any old town with narrow streets and houses and temples and palaces. You have to keep reminding yourself that you are in fact standing inside a fort. The first landmark we saw was a Jain temple.

(admission ₹30, camera/video/mobile phone ₹70/120/30; h7am-1pm) Within the fort walls is a mazelike, interconnecting treasure trove of seven beautiful yellow-sandstone Jain temples, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. The intricate carving rivals that of the marble Jain temples in Ranakpur and Mt Abu, and has an extraordinary quality because of the soft, warm stone. In a vault beneath the Sambhavnath temple, the Gyan Bhandar (daily 10–11am) contains Jain manuscripts, paintings and astrological charts dating back to the eleventh century, among them one of India’s oldest surviving palm-leaf books, a 1060 copy of Dronacharya’s Oghaniryaktivritti.

We then wandered around the fort, shopping, etc and finally climbed up to the Cannon point, a view point from where the entire city is visible. It is called Cannon point because there is an old cannon placed here, and not because you take photographs using a popular camera brand.

Founded in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal and reinforced by subsequent rulers, Jaisalmer Fort was the focus of a number of battles between the Bhatis, the Mughals of Delhi and the Rathores of Jodhpur. You enter the fort from its east side and pass throughfour massive gates on the zigzagging route to the upper part. The fourth gate opens into a large square, Dashera Chowk, where Jaisalmer Fort’s uniqueness becomes apparent: this is a living fort, with about 3000 people

residing within its walls; seventy percent of them are Brahmins and the rest, living primarily on the east side, are predominantly Rajput.. It’s honeycombed with narrow, winding lanes which are lined with houses and temples — along with a large number of handicraft shops, guesthouses, restaurants and massage/beauty parlours. The fort so inspired Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray that he wrote a story about it called Shonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), which he later made into a movie.

I also bought a cup made of Habur limestone. This is a fossilised stone which gives it a beautiful appearance. A speciality of this stone is that if you keep milk in ti, it will turn to curd even without adding any jamaavan.

We had lunch at a place called Desert Boys. I had traditional Dal Bati, soaking with ghee (clarified butter). Good reasonable fare.

Patwon ki Haveli

After lunch, we went to Patwon ki Haveli. The Patwas were Jains, extremely religious, drug dealers. They made their money in the opium trade. You can imagine their internal conflicts when you see the temple room within the haveli — it is flanked by a mirrored hall for nautch girls and other ‘manly’ celebrations, and the other side has a false wall to hide opium stash. In any event, their house seemed so much more beautiful and intricate than the kings palace.

The large Patwa Haveli, or Patwon-ki-Haveli (daily 8am–6.30pm; Rs20), down a street to the right a couple of blocks north from the Nathmalji-ki-Haveli, was constructed in the first half of the nineteenth century by the Patwa merchants — five brothers from a Jain family who were bankers and traders in brocade and opium. Five separate suites with individual entrances facing a narrow street are connected from within, and all have flat roof areas — the views are excellent. Traces of stylish wall paintings survive in some rooms, but the building’s most striking features are its exuberantly carved jharokhas, or protruding balconies.

Gadisar Lake

On the way back, we stopped over at the Gadisar (or Gadi Sagar) lake, on the insistence of our escorts. A simple lake, teeming with catfish. Throw in some bread and be prepared for a gross sight of catfish jumping over each other to get to the crumbs.

South of town through an imposing triple gateway, Gadi Sagar Tank, built in 1367 and flanked with sandstone ghats and temples, was once Jaisalmer’s sole water supply. This peaceful place staring out on the desert hosts the festival of Gangaur in March, when single women fling flowers into the lake and pray for a good husband, and the maharawal heads a procession amid pomp and splendour unchanged for generations. It’s possible to rent boats the rest of the year (daily 8am–9pm; 30min; Rs50–100 for 2–4 people). The gateway over the ghat leading down to the lake, Tilon-ki-Pol, was commissioned in 1909 by a rich courtesan named Tilon, who was famed for her beauty. While it was being built, a group of town prudes went to the maharawal to persuade him that it would be inauspicious to have to access the lake through a gate built with the earnings of a prostitute. The maharawal ordered it dismantled, but Tilon was smarter than him: she had incorporated into the top of the structure a shrine to Vishnu, so that its destruction would be an insult to the god. She won the day and her gate still stands.

That night, after dinner, we left for the railway station and caught the Jaisalmer-Jodhpur Intercity express for Jodhpur.

Continue reading Part 3 ……And Part 4

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