Jaisalmer - The golden city in the heart of Thar

It was our second day in the western most border city of India - Jaisalmer. As we approached the city, the golden yellow buildings started revealing themselves from a cloud of dust. Major building material used in Jaisalmer is yellow sand stone. Jaisalmer gained the name "Golden City" due to this distinctive color. I guessed there is no concept of painting the exterior of houses. From a distant view, the small town of Jaisalmer looks like a heap of yellow stone.

We were quite energetic from the great experience in the Sam sand dunes on the previous day and a magical night spent in the Damodara desert camp. The first destination of the day was the iconic fort of Jaisalmer, which is a UNESCO world heritage site listed under the "hill forts of Rajasthan".

  The majestic Jaisalmer Fort           
Image Courtesy : From Flickr user kkoshy



As we walked towards the century old gate of the Jaisalmer fort, a feeling of awe and nostalgia filled within me. It was in this very fort the maestro of Indian cinema - Satyajit Ray conceptualized and filmed his famous movie "Shonar Kella"(the golden fort). It is the fort that carries thousand year's memory of kings, wars, conquest, pride and simply - life.

The high walls of the Jaisalmer fort 
Jaisalmer fort is an ancient construction which was built in 1152AD by Maharawal Jaisal Singh who founded the Jaisalmer city around the fort. The name "Jaisalmer" came from two words, "Jaisal" - after the king's name and "Meru" means hill. The Jaisalmer fort stands on a triangle shaped hill known as the Trikuta hill. This hill is almost 75 meters high, on which Maharaja Jaisal ordered to make a fort of mud.

Miniature model of Jaisalmer Fort - Rajasthan, India Pick, Pack, Go
Miniature model of Jaisalmer Fort showing the triagular shaped hill
There is an interesting anecdote behind the building of the Jaisalmer fort. While he was checking the Trikuta hill as a potential location for his new capital, Maharawal Jaisal Singh met a sage named Eesul. Eesul was the original inhabitant of the Trikuta hill. Learning that the King hails from the Yadava caste, Eesul told him about the prophecy that Lord Krishna made about the Trikuta hill. The prophecy of Krisha was that, some time in future a descent of the Yaduvansha would rule the Trikuta hill.


Entrance of the Jaisalmer Fort 
The Jaisalmer fort is said to be the second largest living fort in India. Descendants of the first citizens of Jaisalmer still lives in the houses located in the complex labyrinth of Jaisalmer fort. The population inside the fort have been alarmingly increased and due to poor maintenance, many ancient stone paved roads inside the fort are in dilapidated state.

Narrow interior walkways of Jaisalmer Fort
Image Courtesy: By Saranya Ghosh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

We walked through the narrow pathways of the fort. Our first destination was the Jain temples within the fort, which is renowned for its architecture and sand stone carvings. As we walked near it, what I could see is a cluster of temple structures, which are intricately interconnected.

Intricate exterior walls of the Jain temples
For an untrained eye, it all looks like parts of a single temple. However, I had heard that there are seven Jain temples within the fort. Most of the Jain temples were build between 15th and 16th century. These Jain temples are dedicated to different Thirthankaras - Chandraprabhu, Rishabhdev, Sambhavanath and Parsavanath to name a few.


Highly ornate interiors of the Jain temple

I had been to a few Jain temples in South India , so I had some expectations about how a Jain temple would look like. The Jain temples in South India usually are very simple structures made out of stone.  However all my pre-conceptions about Jain temples were shattered as I entered the Parsavanath temple. Every pillar was intricately carved. Literally there was not an inch of space that was spared. The theme of these carvings vary from figures of Gods and humans, dancers, floral motifs and intricate geomerical patterns.
The carved pillars of the temple
I raised my head, I was awestruck! There was an intricately carved stone chandelier on the roof. This was by far the most magnificent piece of carving I have ever seen in any  Indian temple. Each square inch of this marvelous piece is carefully done, when it comes together, it creates nothing less than pure architectural marvel!

The stone chandelier on the roof of  the Jain 

Another chandelier, totally different from the above one! 

We walked around the temple trying to decode recognize the figures carved on to the yellow sand stone. Curiously enough, I spotted some of the Hindu deities inside the temple. I had heard that the Hindu rulers of Jaisalmer had allowed to build the Jain temples within the fort, however instructed to include Hindu Gods as well in the temple.
Lord Ganesh idol inside the Jain temple 

I saw the carvings of Shiva and Ganesha on the walls along with innumerable carvings of Jain Thirthankaras. The temples are very much alive with deities being worshiped  and puja being performed.
Idol of the Jain Thirthankara
We entered into a second temple through an interconnected pathway, this temple too was equally exquisite to the first one. unlike the other temples I have seen, this temple is built in two floors and the there is sanctum on both the floors.
One of the wall carving within the Jain temple

One of the wall carving within the Jain temple

 I couldn't understand much about the carvings or the Gods who were worshiped in the temple due to my lack of knowledge about Jainism. However, as an art enthusiast, I could fully appreciate the aesthetic aspect of these temples. I remembered the numerous unsung geniuses who carved these exquisite peaces.Sadly, their names seldom goes down in history.


Interior corridor of one of the Jain temples 
Some parts of the temple were adorned with natural colors. When I was exiting the most beautifully carved temple that I have ever seen, I added one more item to my "to learn" - it was Jainism.

We walked through the ancient stone pavements and we could see on either side of the road there were houses and people in them going about their daily lives - reading news paper, washing cloths, preparing food, getting ready to go for work - I wondered how it would feel to live in a museum, where there are always strangers lurking around your front door. Life is so different around the world!

We kept walking to reach the a high point in the fort, where we could get a panoramic view of the Jaisalmer town. It looked like a quiet old town drowned in dust.



Another main attraction in the Jaisalmer fort is the royal palace. We walked back to the royal palace of Jaisalmer. It is not inhabited currently.

The royal palace of Jaisalmer
Image Courtesy:   By Fulvio Spada via Wikimedia Commons
Most of the rooms are not in their best form, the feeling of being neglected hung around that place like a thin veil. Nevertheless the construction of the royal palace is magnificent reminding the visitors of glory of the bygone era. There are multiple artifacts of the royal reign displayed inside the palace which is converted into a museum.
The royal throne of Jaisalmer

Most part of history is smeared with wars.

Ancient bow and arrow displayed in Jaisalmer palace museum

There is a miniature three dimension model of the fort in the royal palace. This model clearly shows the position of the fort on the triangular shaped Trikuta hills. After walking around the fort for sometime, we started our journey back.

This is were the King used to address the gatherings in the fort 

Interior of the Jaisalmer Fort Palace


The entry gate of Jaisalmer fort - as viewed from a bastion
We hung around in front of the Jaisalmer fort, trying to figure out the route to Patwon-ki-haveli - an old ancestral house of a rich business family. A young tourist guide approached us offering to show us the Patwon-ki-Haveli as well as other magnificent havelis of the area.

 He sounded sincere and knowledgeable, we decided to follow him. He started walking fast through the narrow roads and started talking about the next attraction that we were going to visit. It is known as "Nathmal Ji-ki Haveli"( The ancestral home of Hon. Nathaml).
Nathmal-Ji-Ki-Haveli - The ancient ancestral home of Nathmal-Ji
Our guide told that Nathmal-Ji was the minister to the king and he started building a house on the orders of the king. One curious fact about the Haveli is that, the carvings are done by two different artisans, one doing a half of the building.

The inticate carvings on one of the windows in Nathmal-Ji-Ki-Haveli
It is not clearly visible to the untrained eyes, however on closer observation we could spot so many difference between the two halves. One of them was very keen on details, and the other was keen on his speed. So one half is rich in detail and more beautiful than the other. However, the second artisan won a prize from the minister as he finished first! Nonetheless the entire creation came together as a magnificent single piece and the king was so pleased. He gifted the Haveli back to Nathmal-Ji as a token of appreciation.

The interiors of the Haveli of Nathmal-Ji

The successors of Nathamal-Ji is still living inside the centuries old haveli.


Our guide also pointed out the name of a girl and boy painted on the front wall of every house. It seems that they have a tradition of writing the names of the bride and groom of last marriage took place in that family. I had never heard of such a custom, nevertheless I found it very lovely. The family keep remembering their newlyweds! Here in below photo, it is Deepika and Kapil who got married on 25th November 2013. God bless the couple!



Our next destination was the Patwon-ki Haveli. It is in fact an array of 5 havelis or ancestral houses. It was built around 1800 by a rich brocade business man named Guman Chand Patwa. He had 5 sons and it is said that he made these Havelis one for each son. His most famous son was Jorawar Mal Bapna who diversified his father's business and excelled as a diplomat communicating between Britain and India.

Patwon-Ki-Haveli from the view point

The carvings of the Havelis are so intricate and breath taking. Out of four of the havelis two are under private ownership and three are under the care of government.

The windows of Patwon-Ki-Haveli with extravagant carvings
Our guide pointed out some interesting and subtle feature of these carvings, each end point of these carving consist of a tiny hook, from which silver loops were dangled. In the height of their prosperity, each of these havelis might have had millions of such silver loops hanging from all over the building. I could only imagine what a marvelous sight it would be. We took a closer photograph of the reminiscent of a silver hoop. Most of these silver hoops were either stolen or destroyed.




It was time for us to get back to the railway station. We thanked our guide, got an auto to the railway station. As I waited in the railway station for the Jodhpur train, the bright visuals of the golden city still lingered in my mind.

Back to Jodhpur with heart full of warm memories of Jaisalmer



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