City SundayTravel Expeditions

Jaisalmer – The golden city

Uniqueness of Jaisalmer

It was March 22, 2016, the seventh day of our tour, we were to leave Jodhpur for Jaisalmer, located 300 km away. The roads of Rajasthan are so good that even such long journeys are not tiring. Jaisalmer has more distinctive features. First, it is the largest district of Rajasthan and one of the largest in the country, located very close to Pakistan border; second, it is in the desert; third, for centuries this city has been in the forefront of trade with faraway places to the west of India; fourth, this city suffers from one of the highest summer temperatures; and finally, tourism is the mainstay of this city. During the non-tourist season (April to August), the city is practically deserted.

At the end of our tour, we realised that Jaisalmer deserves more than two days for full understanding of its history, heritage and architecture.

The golden glow

The reason for Jaisalmer to be called the golden city is its unique sand stones. These sand stones are yellow in color. Like laterite bricks in Mangaluru coast these stand stones are cut into big blocks and used in the construction of buildings. There is no need for surface plastering of walls. Since the rainfall is highly scanty in Jaisalmer, these stones are main stay of every construction and can be found in forts and palaces dating back hundreds of years.  Massive yellow sandstone walls of Jaisalmer fort are a tawny lion color during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets, thereby camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert. For this reason, it is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort and the city as the golden city.

A brief history

Jaisalmer too has its own glorious past to boast about. The city is said to be founded by one Raja Rawal Jaisal, a Bhatti Rajput ruler, in approximately 1156 AD. As per legends, he did it at the behest of a local hermit named Eesaal. In medieval times, Jaisalmer continued to be on the focus of the masses because of its location. It falls in the way of one of the two routes, which connected India to Persia, Egypt, Africa and the west. The Bhatti Rajput rulers were the sole guardians of the city and thus mustered enough wealth through taxes. The richness of architecture in the fort, palaces, temples and the havelis stand testimony to the economic prosperity of the bygone era.

For many years, Jaisalmer remained out of bound for  the foreign rulers. In the mid 13th century, Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Turk-Afghan ruler of Delhi laid siege over the city. He was apparently upset with the Bhatti Rajput rulers because they stopped and looted one of his caravans containing royal coffer which was on its way to Sind. The siege lasted for around nine long years and when the fall seemed eminent the Rajput womenfolk of the city committed Jauhar (self Immolation to avoid disgrace). It is said that Duda, the son of Raja Jaisimha, fought vehemently in the battle but was overpowered.

Enchanting sunset

By the time we reached Jaisalmer the sun was about to set for the day. So, immediately after lodging at Hotel Tokyo Palace, we freshened up and rushed to Bada Bag, or more popularly known as Vyas Chatari for viewing the famous sun set. Vyas Chatari is basically a cemetery where one sees a large number of Chataris – small dome like decorated structures and well carved exteriors. It is located at an elevated place giving the tourists a good unhindered view of sun set. Even while the tourists have to walk all the way to the view point in Vyas Chatari, there are no properly maintained pathways or adequate number of benches, forget about the drinking water facility etc. Therefore, one is compelled to feel the charges for entry/cameras as very high.  Some guides prefer to take their entourage to the higher elevated ground just below the compound of Vyas Chatari.

The sun set was  a very slow process.  At every stage of setting of the sun we could see the dance of  crimson/yellow colors on the horizon. Every tourist comes out of Vyas Chatri mesmerized by the moving colorful scenario he/she witnessed for nearly 30 to 45 minutes. This experience of the sun set reminds one   of seeing a National Geographic documentary!!

Fort, Palace and Havelis

Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fortifications in the world. It is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site under “Hill Forts of Rajasthan” category. The fort is located in the very heart of the city, and is one of the most notable monuments in the locality.  It was built in 1156 AD by the Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal. The fort stands on Trikuta Hill, and has been the scene of many battles

 The fort has four entrances with massive gateways to the town side. It houses Raj Mahal (Royal palace),Parshwanath and Laxminath temples and Merchant Havelis. Some havelis are many hundreds of years old and have exquisitely  carved  yellow sandstone facade. Some of these have many floors and countless rooms, with decorated windows, archways, doors and balconies. Some havelis are today museums. But even today  most of the havelis are occupied by the descendants of the original builders. Among these is the Vyas haveli, which was built in the 15th century. Another example is the Shree Nath Palace [also called Nathumal’s Haveli] which was once inhabited by the prime minister of Jaisalmer. Some of the doors and ceilings of these havelis are notable examples of wood carvings dating back to   many hundreds years.  Some of present occupants allow the tourists inside their havelis by charging handsome entry fees.

The fort has an ingenious drainage system called the ghut nali which allows for the easy drainage of rainwater away in all four directions of the fort. Over the years, haphazard construction activities and building of new roads have greatly reduced its effectiveness.

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