Jaisalmer is called the golden City. Just like Jaipur is called the pink city and Jodhpur called the blue city. The names come from the general colour theme of the city. Here in Jaisalmer, most houses are painted gold, in fact it’s not paint, it’s the colour of the stones used in construction. On our list of things to see, we had the Jaisalmer fort and the Gadisar lake. Our list was mostly curated from online research and you can probably guess that things didn’t go per plan.
We set off from our desert camp after breakfast and reached the Jaisalmer fort in half an hour. There is no special place for parking, so we parked on the street against the wall of the fort. As soon as we parked and started walking towards the fort we were hounded by guides and auto drivers who wanted us to show around. As the natural response we shoo-ed them off and started walking in a general direction towards the fort. Soon after, we gave it a little thought and decided to hire a guide – and it really did pay off.
The guide, like most guides spoke many languages including ours. He walked at a brisk pace and simultaneously spoke of the history of the fort. The Jaisalmer fort is the only living fort, meaning there are people who live in the fort. About 3000 families reside inside the fort, since the fort was actually a garrison of a king, the aids and support staff of the king also lived inside the fort. As generations passed, the property was passed down, and even after all royal families lost their property to the union of India, the servants of the king still retained their properties within the fort. Today, these homes sport small stores and cafes. The cafes, handicrafts, leather bags and boots, souvenir shops and numerous clothing stores all have a hippy vibe around it.
The guide showed us a tall building which was supposed to be the seat of the king. For some unexplained reason, this building was out of bounds for tourists. He then took us to two temples. First the Lakshinath temple, which was a Hindu temple. It was bustling with tourists, but like any Hindu temple, yet the priest managed to give every visitor the holy water and an orange-red tika on the forehead – and tried to subtly ask for donations. Moving on we were taken to the more famous Jain temple within the fort, the Chandraprabhu Jain temple dedicated to Sambhavanatha – the third Jain tirthankara. Though the King was a Hindu Rajput, he had sanctioned to build this Jain temple as a major section of his subjects were Jains. Mobiles phones are not allowed in this temple, hence some of us waited outside while one party went inside with the guide. This temple was a little quieter, but was just as crowded. The guide went on to tell us about the history of how the temple came into being – which we conveniently let fly past our heads and we were immersed in the beautiful yellow and white stoned architecture. We did pick up on his theory of how to identify the different idols based on the animal inscription at the base of the idol.
Post the temple visits we took a small break to appreciate the different souvenir shops and indulged in buying a few fridge magnets – our guide suddenly got protective of us and told us not to buy anything as these were the markets for the “foreigners” and he would take us to a trusted shop which had legit merchandise all made by widowed and estranged women. Perhaps he had a cut?
The last stop in the fort is a high view point on the wall of the fort. It has a view of the town beneath it and has an old canon on display. Like everyone else, we took photos, many photos, and then reluctantly moved on as there were more people wanting to take photos. The view point also had a few home-turned cafes with some elegant rustic furniture – we could’ve ventured into some of those – at least to get good color graded photos – but we moved on as we still had to see the Patwao ki Haveli, do shopping, have lunch and all this in 2 hours – impossible. We were in Jai-sal-mer!
The Patwao ki Haveli has an interesting story behind it. Apparently the Patwas were a normal struggling trader family trying to set up business in the city. The priest at the Jain temple in the fort had prophesied that the Patwas would be more successful if they left Jaisalmer. So the family left the town and in time became one of the biggest and richest names in the province. They set up many businesses including fabrics, finance, opium and precious stones. They made a fortune and after some time made a come back into the city. The father partitioned his wealth among his 5 sons who set up their own mansions each facing the fort. As fate would have it, their fortunes turned again and they starting losing money and market. Fearing the generation old prophecy, the family fled the town a second time leaving the mansions in the name of the town. Today the mansion has been turned into a museum and is open to public. A nominal fee of 15 rupees is charged for the ticket. Cameras and phones are allowed inside at no extra charge
Finally, it was time for shopping. We were literally salivating at when we would get to shop. The fort and the places around it are literally brimming with things one can buy. With simple tourist merchandised t-shirts to designer hand made fabrics, bed sheets and table cloths to ancient looking antique metals and porcelain articles. The leather articles were also really attractive. Orange-brown leather bags, satchels, wallets, shoes and sandals were all really tempting. Not all leather articles are camel leather as they also sold goat leather bags – which also looked orange in color and were just as stylish. We shops for cloths – mostly for friends and family. Some of us indulged in buying the holy looking(read hippy) cloths that foreigners buy to feel Indian. Some of the sarees are so silky and light that they could be packed into a small soap box – of course they are also very expensive.
We said our goodbyes to the guide and paid him his due – which felt really easy as he had told us a lot of stuff and we really enjoyed his knowledge and company. The guides here are government certified and sport a badge that has a seal and an ID. He charged us just 500 rupees for spending almost 3 hours with us. We took an auto back to the fort entrance where we had parked our cars. A North Indian vegetarian lunch wqs followed by the long ride to Jodhpur in the dark.
Next up – Part 4: Jodhpur – The Blue City