Jaisalmer, the Golden City
Over multiple trips, I have managed to see a lot of Rajasthan. But had somehow missed visiting Jaisalmer. We decided to combine it with our visit to Jaipur for a dear friend’s daughter’s wedding. Hubby was running temperature before we arrived and through the visit so we did everything really slow-paced resulting in us being more observant and being able to absorb in the city vibes a lot more.
We took the flight from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. The weather in Feb is quite good. It gets cold in the night but is warm enough during the day to walk around with a thin jacket or none. The city is small and most places walkable, so the best option is to stay in the city outside the fort area. There are a number of hotels, most of which look alike from the outside. Most people prefer to stay in the dessert cams and perhaps that is the experience to go for at Jaisalmer. We had to drop the plan last minute as we could not find a tent with heating arrangement inside. There are hotels and homestays inside the fort area too which can be a choice for those seeking that experience. Personally, I was glad we did not book anything inside as the place is very congested and roads not so clean with equal rights for man and animal on the roads. From the flight one can see miles and miles of desert. Even the airport which is not very far from the city seems to be in the middle of nowhere.
We left the hotel around 3:00 pm and headed straight to the fort by walk. Most modes of transport, other than two wheelers are not allowed inside the fort area. So, walking is the best option. The roads are narrow and the old city area still has the open drain system. With lots of people, two wheelers and cattle on the road one has to be really cautious while walking.
This 800 year old, Golden Fort is one of the few living forts in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in 1156 by the Bhati Rajput ruler Jaisal and is situated on Meru Hill and named as Trikoot Garh. The fort area is full of old Havelis and buildings. The old-world charm is remarkable. The façade of most of the Havelis is made with very intricately carved yellow stone. Some almost falling apart but most are fairly well maintained.
The entrance to the fort is lined with shops selling different handicrafts of Rajasthan. Throughout the fort area one finds these shops. There are antique shops, shops selling gorgeous cotton clothes, jewelry, paintings, puppets. The wares are very fairly priced.
The first stop for us was the fort palace museum. The museum has a beautiful collection of statues and carvings. The carvings of the jaalis, jharokhas, and the chhatri on the top is excellent. One of the observations I have was that the facial features of the statues were very sharp. The museum also has a collection of coins, stamps etc. Photography is not allowed inside. The palace still looks very beautiful from outside. I wish I could get a picture from a better elevation. Right across is Tanot Rai Mata temple. One gets a good view of the palace and the chowk buzzing with locals and tourists negotiating with the roadside shops.
We continued our walk to the sunset point. This is one of the highest point in the fort. The walk up was tough as many of the steps are very steep. I felt I was invading the privacy of the homes which we crossed on the way up. The residents however seemed to be quite OK with it. Standing next to the canon one can get the full view of the city. This is the place to watch the city become golden in the glow of the setting sun. There is a small tea shop. We enjoyed the tea looking out at the city. It was extremely windy. Ideally we would have liked to be there until sunset but we decided to watch the same from Kuku’s café instead. On the way, we stopped at Nathmalji ki Haveli. The owners live on the top floors while the ground floor has been converted into a shop. Was worth a short visit. The beauty of the architecture strikes you as being omni present.
The walk to Kuku’s café was interesting. We could see the fort walls glowing in the evening sun as we walked away from the same. The rooftop restaurant offers an excellent view of the fort. Over a cup of tea and snacks we watched the sun go down and the fort light up. I highly recommend and evening at this place.
The next day we decided to visit the Jain temples first thing in the morning. The complex of Jain temples inside the fort area has 5 temples next to each other. The temples were built around the same time as the fort. As history goes, the Jain traders helped the king with finances to build the fort on the condition of building the temples within. The king agreed and the Jain community builds these magnificent temples. As a mark of communal harmony, all the temples also have statues of Hindu Gods. The architecture and carvings in the temple are very intricate. The arches seemed to be similar to the Mount Abu Jain temples.
The walls around the temple have carvings from top to bottom in multiple layers.
Many of the ceilings also have very intricate carving. To protect the structure from pigeons from nesting huge meshes have been installed which obstruct the view a bit but, in the best interest of preserving these wonderful structures. We soaked in the beauty of the temples for about 2 hours. To get the aerial view of the temple one must visit the haveli next door. Besides the view of the temples one also gets a very good view of the city inside the fort area. All the houses are made of the same Jaisalmer stone and have intricately carved Jaalis. It was very windy on the top of the haveli but the climb worth it for the view. Besides, one gets to see rich a haveli from inside.
On our way back to the hotel we had lunch. After resting for a couple of hours we took an auto to Vyas Chhatris also known as Bada Bagh. The 6km ride from the heart of the city is through the army are and desert with a view of a number of windmills in action. The place gets its name after sage Vyasa, the author of Mahabharat. It has a number of cenotaphs in different shapes built for kings, queens, princes etc. over the 18th,19th, and 20th centuries. As per folklore, King Jai Singh II had commissioned the construction of a lake to enable irrigation of land nearby for cultivation. After his death in death in 1743, his son Lunkaran built a beautiful garden by the lake and a memorial chhatri cenotaph on the hill overlooking the lake. Subsequently cenotaph for him and royal family members after him were also built in Bada Bagh. All the cenotaphs are built in Jaisalmer stone, few have very intricate carving on the outside, on pillars as well as on the ceiling. The complex is large and one can spend a couple of hours going through the architectural details.
Morning and evening are best time to visit Vyas Chhatri. The structure glow like gold under the morning/evening sun, which makes them very picturesque. After spending time until sunset admiring the monuments and taking pictures we walked to the back of the complex from where one gets an excellent view of the windmills and the city at a distance
It was getting dark by the time we got back. The fort was getting lit up and we were keen on getting a closer look. We had come upon the name of Pakwan restaurant on the other side of the fort and decided to walk until there for dinner. The walk was absolutely worth it. It was a bit cold and windy on the terrace but we insisted and while we were the only guests who had to be served on the terrace, the owner obliged. The view from the restaurant was amazing and the food was excellent. The view from the restaurant was amazing and the food was excellent
We started for Gadsisar Lake right after breakfast. The lake was excavated in 1367 by Rawal Gadsi Singh to create a water source for Jaisalmer. It is a scenic rainwater lake surrounded by small temples and shrines. Like most other places in Jaisalmer, there was nobody at the ticket counter at the published start time. We waited for the boat guys to come and were the first one to get onto one.
The 45-minute boat ride was lovely. we could paddle across to the monuments and get a closer look. Since there was no one else around we got a few good pictures. we enjoyed the weather and the exercise from paddling. Later, we spent some time walking around the temple complex. To enjoy exclusive time in the complex morning is a good time as we learned that the crowds mostly flock the place in the evening
The next stop was the Havelis. On the way to the Havelis we came across a beautiful Jain temple and decided to enter it. The temple tucked away in a narrow street was a real treat. We also got a chance to speak to the Priest who took us around the temple. Interestingly, the Priest of this Jain temple was a brahmin himself. He informed us that his father and forefathers have been performing the pooja in the temple and it never had a Jain priest. The temple also had a small section which was a Hindu worship area. This was a great example of communal harmony. We also learned from him that this practice is common across the city. Perhaps one due to the tradition from inception and two because a number of Jain families moved out of the city for business.
The Haveli area was buzzing with activity. There are five Patwa Havelis in a row. They were built in the early 18th century for 5 sons by their father. Unfortunately the family lost the properties to the government. Later one of them – Kothari’s Patwa Haveli was bought back by a descendant and converted into a museum. There are two areas in front of the Havelis where one can sit and admire the architecture. The open spaces are lined with several shops all very colorful! I was particularly fascinated by the colorful puppet dolls and bought a couple. We saw two of the Havelis from inside. The first one which is simply called Patwa Haveli does not have any artifacts displayed but is an absolute delight of an architecture. As per the guard cum guide, the Haveli has two staircases. One used by the family and the second to lead up business guests to the top floor where they would be served from a separate kitchen on a terrace that overlooked the beautiful fort. The window arches and jaalis are extremely well carved in Jaisalmer stone. The top floor also had storage for items in which the family traded. The steps are steep and I was initially reluctant to go up to the top. The view though made it worthwhile.
The Kothari’s Patwa Haveli is a museum which had a lot of the original pieces still in place. The glass mosaic walls are well preserved and so is the furniture and display pieces. The paintings on the walls have either been restored or are well maintained. The opulence of this wealthy family is evident through the museum. I particularly liked the glass mosaic and the dressing table in the ladies’ dressing area. This is the last of the five Havelis and cuts across the road. One gets a full view of the street from one of the arches on the second floor. The ground floor has a shop where the local crafts can be purchased
We had opted out of staying at a desert camp but booked a desert safari at 3:00 pm through our hotel itself. So, we had a rushed lunch and started for Sam’s dunes. On the way we had two stopovers. The first one was a Jain temple in the middle of nowhere. The temple complex is fairly big and the temple quite beautiful. It is on a hill so one gets a good view of the desert on the other side.
The second stop was at Kuldhara village ruins. While there is plan to restore the place and create some representative houses to give visitors an insight into the lives of the Paliwals who deserted the village almost overnight. The area also does not have any cafeteria or a place to sit and soak the atmosphere. Hence it was a let down for me. We continued to the dunes. Once near the area, we witnessed a huge increase in vehicular traffic. The camps are close to each other and look almost identical to each other. I was a little disappointed and secretly happy about not staying at one as in my imagination the camps would be far apart with one nowhere near the other and literally each surrounded by desert and dunes. The jeep safaris were in open jeep. Given Kannan’s health, we opted out of it and chose to take a camel ride to the dunes instead. The camel handler was a smart young boy studying in 9th grade who helped out with the camels after school. Camel ride is certainly uncomfortable and we got dropped on a dune which looked relatively clean and un-occupied. The dunes look so magnificent from a distance but we found them littered with bottles, snacks packets wrappers etc. we found a clean suitable spot to plonk and watch the sunset. As we waited there were street singers and hawkers who cam by and enticed with whatever they were selling. The sunset by itself was very beautiful. After the sunset we took the ride back to our car and after tea started back for the hotel.
It was the first day of the desert festival. There was a music program at the fort. So despite being tired we decided to go for it at least to watch the lighting. The program was nothing great but the laser show was good. We found a restaurant that overlooked the fort across the entrance and had dinner while we enjoyed the show.
The next morning we just had sufficient time to go for a short walk and get a closer look of the Tazia tower which we crossed all the time but had not stepped in to get a closer look. Unfortunately the museum was not open as the attendant had not come. We spend some time in the complex, got back and checked out to leave for the airport. Our trip to the magnificent city of Jaisalmer was over.
Jaisalmer is a great place for architecture and history buffs. Also for anyone looking for the desert camping experience.