The name Jaisalmer evokes utter magic and vibrancy of the desert. It’s straight out of an Arabian Nights fable. The hostile terrain notwithstanding the warmth and colour of people is simply overwhelming. One of the main draws is the daunting 12th century Jaisalmer Fort. The beautiful havelis which were built by wealthy merchants of Jaisalmer are yet another interesting aspect of the desert city. And you can let your eyes caress the sloping sand dunes while you ramble your way in a camel safari. The desert citadel is truly a golden fantasy in the Thar Desert. Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, after whom the city finds its name, founded Jaisalmer in 1156 AD. On advice of a local hermit Eesaal he chose the Tricut Hills as his new abode, abandoning his vulnerable old fort at Luderwa just 16 kilometres northwest.
In Medieval times, its prosperity was due to its location on the main trade route linking India to Egypt and Arabia. The Bhati Rajput rulers lined their coffers with gains from traditional taxes levied on passing by caravans. They also amassed wealth through questionable means. Over the years the remote location of Jaisalmer kept it almost untouched by outside influences. In the 14th century AD. Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi besieged the fort for nine years in an effort to take back the treasure looted by the Bhatti Rajputs from his imperial caravan train. When the fall of the fort was imminent the women of the fort committed Jauhar, an act of mass self-immolation, while men donned saffron robes and rode to their certain death. Duda son of Jaitasimha, a Bhati hero also perished in the battle. Duda’s descendants continued to rule Jaisalmer.
In 1541 AD they even fought Mughal Emperor Humayun, though their relations with the Mughals were not always hostile. Sabal Simha won the patronage of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his distinctions in battlefield, in Peshawar and thus earned the right to rule Jaisalmer. In the days of the British rule, Jaisalmer was the last to sign the Instrument of Agreement with the British Government. Ages have gone by and the monuments of Jaisalmer have withstood the buffeting winds of the desert all through. Jaisalmer is a paragon of beautiful culture and harsh climatic conditions; these together leave a lasting impression on the visitors. The old city was completely encircled by a wall but much of it has crumbled sadly for want of building material in recent years. The massive golden fort, which is the essence of Jaisalmer, is entered through First Gate; is a burrow of narrow streets with Jain Temples and old palaces. The main market, the Sadar Bazar is right below the hill. The bank, offices and several shops are also located near the Amar Sagar Gate to the west.
The Jaisalmer fort, known as Sonar Quila or the Golden fort, rises from the sand and merges with the golden hues of the desert ambience. The setting sun in its most colourful shades gives it a fairy tale appearance. It is simply magical – as the bastions envelop a whole township that consists of the palace complex, the intricately carved havelis of rich merchants, several temples and the residential complexes of the armies and traders placed strategically on the trade route. It was from this trade route that the ancient caravans passed, distributing the riches for the prosperity to an otherwise non resourceful kingdom.
These merchants served and acquired a great deal of power and noble status in the royal courts of Bhatti Rajputs who founded the state in the 12th century AD and proceeded further. However, the rich merchants inspired by the classic style of the royals, constructed huge mansions (havelis) adjacent to each other in the nature of medieval culture and profusely decorated the walls and ceilings and intricately carved the outdoors and interiors. The colourful art forms had some how relegated the royal heritage to a position of secondary importance. The craftsmen were usually Muslims who were induced on their journey to exhibit their skills in art forms. The result was an architectural purity that cannot be seen elsewhere.
Established by the Department of Archeology and Museum. It is another prime attraction for the visitors to Jaisalmer. The trophy of the state bird Godawan – the great Indian bustard, is the most eye catching spot. Traditional house-hold items, rock-cut crockery and jewellery recreate the atmosphere of a by-gone era. A look at the statues of 7th-9th century AD creates a scenario of rich cultural heritage of the time.
Deewan Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli
Two architect brothers built it in the 19th century. Interestingly, while one concentrated on the right, the other concentrated on the left and the result is a symphony epitomizing the side-by-side symmetry during construction. Paintings in miniature style monopolize the walls in the interior. Mighty tuskers carved out of yellow sandstone stand guard to the haveli.
Deewan Salim Singh Ki Haveli
This haveli is actually worth seeing from outside only. It was built in the first half of the 18th century and a part of it is still occupied. Salim Singh was the prime minister of Jaisalmer a princely state in 19th century AD. The mansion has a beautifully arched roof with superb carved brackets in the form of peacocks. It is just below the hill near the fort. It is said that once it had two additional wooden storeys in an attempt to make it as high as the Maharaja’s palace, but the Maharaja had the upper storey demolished.
A group of apartments, this is one of the largest and most elaborate of Havelis in Jaisalmer and stands in a narrow lane. It is five storeys high and is extensively carved. A part of this beautiful building is owned by the Department of Archaeology and Museum. There are remnants of some paintings on the walls inside as well as some mirror work. This has been the star attraction of Jaisalmer.
Mandir Palace(Badal Mahal)
The delicate pagoda like Tazia Tower rises from Badal Mahal (Cloud Palace). Rising in its five-tiered splendour, with each storey graced by a delicately carved balcony, the tower is of historical significance. Muslim craftsmen built it in the shape of a Tazia (A float taken in procession Muharram) as symbol of their religion in the town for royal patrons. Half portion of this palace is converted into a heritage hotel named Mandir Palace and another portion of the palace as Badal Vilas, the residence of the ex-ruler’s family.
Desert National Park
The Desert National Park is an excellent example of the eco-system of the Thar Desert and its rich fauna. The Sudashri forest post is the most ideal place for observing wildlife in the Desert National Park. Sand dunes form less than 20 per cent of the park, which consists of craggy rocks, pavements and compact salt lake bottoms, inter-medial areas and fixed dunes. Its inhabitants include the blackbuck, chinkara, wolf, Indian fox, desert fox, hare and desert cat. Flights of sand-grouse start coming to waterholes from sunrise onwards. One can also hear the morning call of the grey partridge. Blue tailed and green bee-eaters, common and bush quail and Indian rollers are birds, which are commonly found around waterholes. The park is also home to the great Indian bustard – the state bird of Rajasthan.
This is a rain water conservation lake built by Maharawal Gadsi in 14th century. It was once the main source of drinking water for the entire town of Jaisalmer. Now a tourist spot, there are many small temples and shrines around it. A wide variety of water birds can be seen here especially in winter. This is the most popular point to take photographs of Jaisalmer fort early in the morning when the fort looks golden with the first rays of the Sun. The beautiful gateway known as Tillon ki prol, which arches across the road down to the lake was built by a royal courtesan named Tillon at the end of 19th century. An idol of Lord Vishnu was installed in the year 1908 AD on the gate by a courtesan and declared Krishna Temple to save it from demolition by the then Maharawal.