Jaisalmer fort is one of the few living forts in India. Only another one that I have seen is at Orchha. This fort gives the city its name and in turn was named after its Bhati ruler Rao Jaisal. Who moved the capital on Trikuta hill here from Lodurva, a few miles away, in mid 12th CE. It is also known as Sonar Qila or Golden fort as the yellow sandstone that it is made of makes it looks like it was carved in gold when the light is right. Common people started living around the fort on its slopes sometime around mid 18th CE. Many Havelis and complimenting buildings were built around the fort till the end of 19th CE.
You can walk into the living fort with many colorful shops vying for your attention. Beautiful gypsy women in heavy silver jewelry and colorful ghagra will show you the jewelry and lure you to buy them. Then one by one you pass through huge gates that are placed in a zigzag way and remind you that it is a fort and not an old locality that the living environment can make you feel. The height of the fort all around is overwhelming and your neck would need some stretching to look at the kanguras on top, and intricately carved jharokhas jutting out of the walls – that have become such a symbol of Rajasthani architecture.
We noticed the colorful wedding invitations painted on the outside walls of many houses and the dates indicated very recent marriages. It seems this is a way of the fort wallahs to invite people around or may be to tell people which are the house hosting the wedding.
The lanes through the gates lead to a chauraha or a central courtyard called Dussehra Chowk. And I infer that the festival must have been celebrated here or may be is still celebrated. Around this courtyard are royal palaces including the one belonging to the ladies of the palace. A door has palms marks painted around it and I was told that these were by the Satis. That is ladies who burnt themselves on the pyres of their husbands and hence were revered.
As you look around you can see the life of the residents revolving pretty much around the tourists walking in. As they try to sell their souvenirs like leather products or colorful garments. Incidentally, they are not too much interested in Indians unless their intuitive intelligence classifies them as NRIs. Amusingly, you can find almost all popular world cuisines within the walls of this ancient fort. I could not miss the Gol Gappe wala who stood most visible in the courtyard or were it my eyes that made the stall stand out.
Fort is also known for 7 Jain temples that are inside it. I managed to see only one that too from outside and the entrance was very similar to the temple at Lodurva with its latticed slanted walls, and this gave me a hint that it was probably the dominant style of this space and that time. Temples are open in the mornings and evenings and there may be a restriction on entry of Non-Jains at certain times.
It is a massive fort with 5 km’s circumference. And thick walls with 99 odd bastions. There are two parallel walls in the ancient tradition of Mori – a security strategy. I could not walk on the wall and it remains pending for the next time. I am told that till a few months back this fort was not so clean. Due to a unique citizen’s initiative called I Love Jaisalmer the fort and the area around it have been cleaned. My first-time eyes thought there was still a lot of scope for cleanliness. I wonder if this also helped the fort to be included in the UNESCO world heritage list along with 5 other hill forts of Rajasthan.
What made me most happy about this fort was the fact it is is still a living space. Not many ancient places have a tradition of continued living.
Recommend you to read following blog posts on other tourist attractions near Jaisalmer Fort.
- Royal Cenotaphs @ Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer.
- Curious Architecture of Lodurva Temple, Jaisalmer.
- Haunted Trails through the Abandoned Cursed Villages of Jaisalmer.
- Review: Suryagarh, Jaisalmer.
Recommend following tourist attractions Forts of Rajasthan.