Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jaisalmer glows gold in the morning.

Vast baked and barren desert or Thar and Jaisalmer rises out of it. Jaisalmar seems straight out of 1001 Arabian nights’ tales. It seems Alibaba and fourty thieves and it all happened here.
View of Fort from outside
This Golden Mirage – This exotic city – This Honey colored Jaisalmer is a marvel, a wonder in the harsh deserts. Jaisalmer glows like gold at sunrise and sunset. City is mainly built with golden sandstone and is dominated by Jaisalmer fort that stands on a triangular hill in the desert. From far away in the deserts this Fort seems keeping a silent vigil over the vicious desert.

In medieval times, it was a prosperous city due to its location on the main trade route linking India to Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West. Then sea routes replaced the old camel caravan routes and city faded into the history. But still it seems we are back in the Arabian Nights era. Ancient way of life is still preserved in the narrow streets in this walled city. Camels are everywhere; an integral part of this city’s life.
Our train is still far away from Jaisalmer but the fort is shining like gold in the desert. As train is approaching closer this fort appears to be glowing as well growing out of desert in the very blue cloudless desert sky. This is simply magical and we keep looking at it without a blink. Train reaches at the station and golden fort on the golden hill is standing over us. It is 11.30 around noon and in the month of December sun is bright. A gentleman from Belgium makes a cap from his news paper to avoid bright sun and we also follow the example.
A railways station in desert
As we come out of station; touts surround us and badger us to take a room in their hotel. We keep walking and leave them behind. This Belgian gentleman also follows us, he says that it is so beautiful and he simply wants to walk and asks us if we are familiar with this place. We tell him that we are here first time but assure him that he will be fine with us. On the way we see several donkeys enjoying their rolling in the sand, they are very happy and this makes us also very happy. This is a good omen, even donkeys are happy here.
Musicians in the Sam dunes
We enter in the walled city and everything is made of sandstone and golden colored. Each house on the main market some sort of touristy hotel, restaurant or shop and tastefully decorated but still maintaining the desert culture and color.
In the Fort
We stop at a shop and order 3 Thumbs Ups. Our friend from Belgium has an India Guide with him and while sipping his drink he gets oriented with his map. We ask the rates at a couple of hotels and all rates are affordable. Foreigners never spend more money and most of the hotels are prices based up more foreign tourists who travel in strict budget.
Inside the fort at night
But Belgian thinks that rates are high so we follow behind him and he takes into various tiny streets and stops at a hotel. We get a very decent room for two for just 300 rupee and Mr. Christopher take next room. As we unload our backpack, he knocks our door and asks us to follow him. We tug behind him and he takes us on the terrace of the hotel and we are just stunned with the view.
Jaisalmer Fort
Whole city is emitting golden light and is simmering in the winter sun. Majestic fort is looking like a huge golden crown on the head of the golden city. It is not hot but sun is very bright so we stand under the tent on the terrace.
An ancient home

We want to stay on the terrace so we order tea on the terrace. After tea we return to our room and take a much needed bath because we are full of dust that entered in the train in our whole bodies. Dust is mingling in our hairs and even eye brows. After a nice bath we come down and find Mr. Christopher in the lobby, he is waiting for us. He will be our guide to the fort because he is all loaded up with the information form his book.
In the desert
Fort is also called Sonar Kila (Fort made of Gold). The main gate, 60 feet tall and carved from Indian rosewood, has a crack that, according to legend, appeared when a Hindu saint crossed the threshold. Three concentric rings of sandstone walls open onto homes, stables and palaces that once housed Rajput kings.
Fort in Sunset
In contrast to the plain walls, these bear elaborate designs. Carvings of chariot wheels, fruit and flowers emerge from soft marble. Scalloped archways guard the walkways between buildings.
Views from the fort
Ornamented screens shade royal apartments.
“Rajput forts were not easy to build,” says Vikramaditya Prakash, an architecture professor at the University of Washington. “The palaces and temples are filigreed in unbelievable detail.” Although it has been generations since any Rajput kings ruled here, Jaisalmer Fort still houses some 2,000 residents, which makes it India’s last “living fort.” (India’s other famous forts are abandoned, except for tourist guides.)
We are in fort and Mr. Christopher makes some inquiries from other foreigners and then he takes us to a restaurant on the way to fort. It is a very clean restaurant; full of foreigners. Menu prices are not the lowest but also not on the very high side too. I’d say the best price for such setup so we decide to have our lunch there. We order Veg. Biryani, dal, subzi and roties and it turns out great.
Then we walk to the fort and enter into it. It is a small city in there, homes, shops and all. We keep walking over the fort walls. Views are superb from the height of walls over the old city and surrounding desert – it is especially enchanting to stroll around the outer fort ramparts at sunset or at night, when it’s lit up under a clear sky full of stars.
Fort at Sunset
It is 3PM now and we have a cup of tea in a shop and then continue our walk and looked at the Havelies in there. Then before sunset we arrive on the outer fort ramparts and strolled over it looking at the spectacular scenes. As sun is about to set, sky becomes crimson and deserts whole becomes golden and finally and suddenly it is over. We now see the lights of the Jaisalmer. We return to our hotel and on the way have another cup of great tea on the rooftop of a very colorful restaurant.
Next day we stroll in this small city. In its maze of narrow streets we find many marvels unwritten in any tourist guide. We find man ancient homes with splendid designs and very complex stone carvings. Jaisalmer has many splendid Havelies. We turn in a street and see a Haveli, and we are astonished at the extravagant façade and probably equally fabulous from inside. We cannot go inside because all havalies have residents.
Fort at Sunrise
There is no shortage of Havelis in Jaisalmer as the place has witnessed many Princes and Landlords. The most famous among these is Patwon Ji ki Haveli. This Haveli was the first in Jaisalmer that is why it has greater significance. This Haveli became the pioneer of the constructions in Jaisalmer. Patwon Ji ki Haveli is actually the collection of 5 small Havelis.
An ancient home
If you want to observe the permanence in design, you will have to visit Nathmal Ji ki Haveli. Take a close look at the subtle fusion of Rajasthani and Islamic school of architecture. It is a Haveli constructed by two brothers. There are interesting stories related to its construction.
We stumble upon Salim Ji ki haveli, it was built in 1815 by Salim Singh, the then Prime Minister of the kingdom when Jaisalmer was the capital, this Haveli is famous for its unique architecture based on the Peacock. Views of the city are stunning from many of its numerous balconies.
So this day also we hit a treasure trove.
A word from Author:
Jaisalmer is barely 60 (as crow flies) kilometers from Pakistan border and area is rampant in smuggling. Smugglers use trained camels walking alone across the border. So beware of any deal you may make with smugglers. Many smugglers are also touts of corrupt police staffers.
Tourists in Sam Desert
Many people visit Sam, where huge desert dunes are present. Sam is the last point where tourists can visit without any interline permit. Foreigners do need permit even to visit Sam. Sam is famous for desert dunes because of its proxy to Jaisalmer; however dunes are present at many other parts of Thar Desert. District Suratgarh, Sri Ganga Nagar and Bikaner have many areas with duens.
Tourists in Sam Desert
At Sam accommodation is available in tents and agents can arrange night camping and picnics in the dunes. Once we spent a night in the dunes but beware, it gets very cold in the desert even in the summers. Once we lay down on the top of dunes and started rolling. Then we sped up and couldn’t stop ourselves till we reached at the bottom. Folks don’t do this because it is dangerous and may break your neck. Sand may enter in our ears, nose and eyes.
Mighty Sindh River (River that carries the water from the Himalayas in Pakistan as well all runoff from the all five rivers in Punjab) in Pakistan is just 150 kilometers from Jaisalmer and that is the reason that as Pakistan starts, desert is no more there. This can be observed from google maps etc. Area immediately after the border in Pakistan is crisscrossed by canals and all land is made cultivated by the availability of water.
Fort view from a railway station before Jaisalmer
Next day we visited early morning at the fort to watch sunrise.
We were sitting on the rampart ledge and shaking our legs in the cool winter morning.
Raghubir says, “Deserts are famous for only three things.”
“Now, what are those ONLY three things?” I ask.
“????, ????? ?? ????,”
I cry with joy, “That is splendid. Very brilliant.”
Sun comes up and terrain becomes bronze color first then in few minutes it becomes gold and then silver. Transformation is over withing just ten minutes.
Raghubir continues his explanation, “Almost all love stories happened in this desert, there there are hundreds of ruins everywhere where only owls hoot, and then here are camels.”
In the excitement of my enlightenment my legs shake fast.
“Man! what is happening to your legs?”
“Man! They shake when truth is too much to handle.”

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