A trip to Rajasthan wouldn't be complete if one doesn't see the Desert city of Jaisalmer. We (I and S) had heard a cry of exclamation from people when we had declared that we were planning to spend around 3-4 days in this Jaisalmer. They said "it's understandable if it were Jaipur or Jodhpur but what's there in Jaisalmer!" Whenever we encountered these questions, we would contemplate on our decision but nevertheless we stuck to our plan. And were glad we did!
The city of Jaisalmer was named after its founder Maharawal Jaisal Singh in 1156 A.D. Jaisalmer means “the Hill Fort of Jaisal”. It is nicknamed as the Golden City of India because of the availability of yellow sand and yellow sandstone in this place which is evident in every architectural piece of the city. This gives the whole city and the surrounding area a Yellowish-Golden tinge.
The city is dotted with many historical monuments and places. Tourism being a major contributor to the city’s economy, hotels and travel agencies can be found in every nook and corner of the city. And there is no doubt in this fact when we witness the tourist attractions of the city for which one would definitely require 3-4 days.
Gadisar lake was excavated in 1367 A.D by Rawal Gadsi Singh. It was originally conceived as a water conservation tank to fulfill the water requirement of this acrid city. Though the lake doesn’t serve the historic purpose of supplying water to Jaisalmer city, the lake still retains rainwater and acts as a major picnic spot for locals as well as the tourists.
View of the setting sun upon the hillock next to Gadisar lake
Jaisalmer Fort/ Sonar QuilaJaisalmer fort was built in 1156 A.D by King Rawal Jaisal. It is one of the largest fortifications in the world. It stands tall on a hill called Trikuta Hill that rises above a height of 250 ft from the surrounding area. The fort is 1500 ft long and 750 ft wide and has four entrances. Its massive sandstone walls take tawny lion colour during the day and they fade into honey- gold as the sun sets thus camouflaging it against enemy attacks midst yellow desert. This gives the fort its other name Sonar Quila/ the Golden Fort.
During medieval times, the city had trade relations with Persia, Egypt, Arabia and Africa. The fort contains three layers of fortification. The first wall was constructed merely to reinforce the loose rubble of the Trikuta hill. The second wall snakes around the hill. It is from the third wall that Rajput kings attacked their enemies by hurling down boiling water and oil as well as massive blocks of rocks.
Ala-ud-din-khilji invaded and conquered the fort in the 13th century and held on to it for nine years. During the siege of the fort the Rajput women committed Jauhar (Sati). Later, the fort was taken over by Babur and subsequently by Akbar in 1570. The Rawals even got their daughters married to Mughals during this invasion.
At one time, the entire population of Jaisalmer resided inside the fort. Now, with increase in population they have moved to foot of the hill. Increased population has also affected the safety inside the fort. Water seepage, derelict houses and irregular seismic activities are the major concerns. The fort has been built on a weak sedimentary rock hill which makes it vulnerable to water seepage and seismic activity.
Jain Temple inside the Fort
Within the Golden Fort are beautifully carved interconnected Jain temples that belong to 15th and 16th centuries. All the temples are carved out of yellow sandstone; they rival with the temple found in Mt. Abu which is made of white marble. The temples inside the fort are dedicated to Rikhabdevji and Sambhavdevji, the Jain hermits or popularly known as ‘Thirthankaras’. The temples inside the fort are built in ‘Dilwara style’, a name taken from the famous Dilwara temples of Mt. Abu.
Jaisalmer is home to some of the oldest libraries of India that contains the rarest manuscripts of Jain tradition.
Stone carved 'Thorana' found at the entrance of the temple...
Stone pillars inside the temple
Jain temple at Lodurva
Lodurva once flourished as a capital city under the rulers of Bhatti Rajputs. It lost its glory once the city of Jaisalmer was founded and made the capital. Around 15kms away from the city of Jaisalmer, it now lies deserted like many other villages in the desert.
Entrance of the temple
Ceiling inside the temple
Jaali work at temple
But, the place is still well- known for its Jain temple built in 12th century. The place was attacked and ransacked several times by Mahmud Ghazni and Mohammad Ghori. The temple was renovated later. It is dedicated to the 23rd Thirthankara, Lord Parshvanath. The beautiful jaali work in the temple make this place a piece of marvel.
The place was also famous for flourishing love story of Moomal and Mahendra which unfortunately turned out to be tragic. The details of the Rajput Love Story can be read here.
Kuldhara- A haunted village
About 15kms from the city of Jaisalmer lies a cursed and haunted village- Kuldhara. Eerie silence envelopes the whole place which once consisted of 84 villages. Kuldhara was the name of the largest village of that community. The village was established in 1291 by the Paliwal Brahmins. They were rather a prosperous community and well known due to their business acumen and agricultural knowledge. But one night in 1825 all the villagers of Kuldhara and the nearby villages fled the place and vanished into the oblivion.
The mud houses in the village that lay testimony to their simple yet stylistic living
According to the local stories, the ruler of the place had set his eyes on one of the young girl- possibly the daughter of the local chief. The Paliwals were given no choice other than a deadline of one day to accept the proposal. In desperation, to protect their pride and honor the village vanished in a matter of one night cursing the village behind them.
The ruined walls of the houses in Kuldhara village
Now, broken walls and ruined houses stand as witness to tell the story of the past.
Havelis were the elaborate homes of the rich merchants of Jaisalmer. Ostentatious carvings were etched on sandstone with minute and innumerable details and then were painstakingly pieced together. Havelis are often characterized by wall paintings, jharokas (balconies), frescos and archways.
Patwon Haveli is the most important and largest Haveli in Jaisalmer. It was the first haveli to be erected in Jaisalmer in 1805 by Guman Chand Patwa. It is a cluster of five havelis, one built on top of the other. Patwa was a rich trader of jewellary and brocades so he ordered different havelis to be built for each of his five sons. All the havelis were completed in a span of 50 years.
This haveli is also called as the ‘Mansion of Brocade Merchants’ as the family dealt with threads of gold and silver used in embroidery (zardosi) . It is also speculated that the family made money by Opium- smuggling and money- lending.
Intricate carved stones of the haveli…
Each story within the haveli is unique- while one haveli has wall paintings, the other is ornate with mirror work and the next has special wood work. The intricate carving on the jharokas and balconies is truly a treat for the eyes.
Painting and ceiling inside the haveli…
Bada Bagh (or Big Garden) is a complex of cenotaphs of the royal rulers situated about 6kms away from Jaisalmer city. The Chatris of the cenotaphs pop-up against the towering the windmills at the back drop. The complex comes to view far and above even before we reach the actual site. And, it is a perfect setting if you reach the place just before sunset.
Bada Bagh complex
The construction of these cenotaphs was commissioned by Maharawal Jaisal Singh but was completed by his son Lunkaran. The base of the Chatris are either square or hexagonal in shape. There are separate cenotaphs built for different rulers. Each cenotaph has a memorial slab with a male figure and various female figurines. This indicates the number wives the ruler had and who committed sati on his funeral pyre.
Hexagonal shaped cenotaph
Square shaped cenotaph
The guide (who is a history student) also explained us that after the construction of each chatri the ruling king had to feed the whole kingdom. The last ruler didn’t complete his father’s cenotaph as his father died of a mysterious disease and also he feared he would not be able to feed the large population.
Here too we were welcomed by the setting sun which gave a chance to our camera never to rest.
Sam Sand Dunes
A trip to Jaisalmer is never complete without a night’s stay in the Thar desert. The regular options one would get is either Sam sand dunes or Khuri dunes. We chose to stay in Sam sand dunes without any tents- under the stars. Though it’s a good experience, we’d rather chosen the tent experience as sleeping under the stars is a common sight for us who have lived in Ghats of Karnataka. Moreover, the sand dunes experience comes with its’ risks too- fear of bitten by scorpions!
Riding on a camel’s hump to reach the Sand dunes is an experience in itself!
Mud houses that we came across along the ride…
Sunset that we witnessed throughout the ride
The sun rose thus in the morning
To conclude, ‘You want to see the real Rajasthan, visit Jaisalmer’!