The land of Rajputs and their glorious tales has always fascinated me hence we decided to unravel Rajasthan and explore the magnificent forts, havelis and palaces soaking liberally in the vivid colors of Rajasthan.
‘Raja sthan’ quite literally means ‘the place of the kings’ that place that has a valiant history of many valorous Rajputana kings who fought resisting many foreign invasions. It is the largest state of India with many tourist attractions.
We took the Bangalore-Delhi flight and then embarked on our journey to Jaisalmer via train from Delhi which is an 18hour journey. The evening train took off at 5.30pm. Although the train does not have a pantry a popular local hotel catered to the dinner needs of apprehensive travellers like us. You can place the order once you board the train. A neat Rajasthani thali is served which is decent in taste and hygiene. The next day morning we had some very oily Kachoris and chilly Pakodas for breakfast near Pokaran station. You will not get even that beyond this point, we were still recovering from the spicy start as we gaped out of the windows we spotted sand along the sides of the track and were excited to enter the Thar. We also spotted a black buck in the far thorny patches of sand, camels roamed freely like cattle we started feeling as if the AC was not working any more we were experiencing the Thar. We reached our destination at 11.30 in the morning ‘Welcome to Jaisalmer the abode to Thar desert’ come along.
We were greeted by touts holding placards shoving and vying to get us into their hotels, fortunately they were kept at bay by the policemen deployed to help the tourists. This time for a change we had made our prior bookings at a place called FIFU to avoid any misadventure in the scorching Thar.
We were picked up by our hotel jeep. I wondered if Fifu meant anything in Rajasthani but later I found that it was only a pet name.
The whole of Jaisalmer is studded with ornate yellow sand stone architecture radiating a sun gold shimmer under the sun. Every other house, haveli and hotel is built with yellow sand stone which is a distinctive feature of Jaisalmer. The city makes you feel as if you are still in some ancient time surrounded by golden structures that spread as far as your eyes can see.
Fifu yet another golden building a warm well-kept Marwari ambience welcomed us and we kept climbing till we reached our room. Most hotels in Rajasthan are like narrow multi storied buildings with no lifts. We were led into a decently spacious room that had a twin room consisting of an additional cot that worked best for us a family of four.
The room balcony has a splendid fort view but the electric wires are dangerously to close to it. You can actually mistake it to be a cloth hanger and end up drying your bath towel.
We freshened up grabbed what-ever was quickly served and stretched a little. It had a roof top restaurant from where we got a fantastic view of the Jaisalmer fort. The food here was decent although not great and didn’t give us a stomach upset. Around 4ish we took a Riksha and headed out.
Firstly we visited ‘Saalem Singh ki Haveli’ it is a 300 year old structure with beautifully carved arches and gives a good view from the roof top. The entire structure is built in interlock fashion without the use of water or cement in fact the whole structure could be folded and moved. A portion of it is still occupied by Saalem Singh’s descendants. Saalem Singh was tyrannical prime minister of the king.
It had lot of interesting artifacts made of brass ivory and wood which were up for sale but was over-priced. I read many reviews that this place was a waste of time but I guess each haveli has its own historical importance that kept us here for 40 minutes.
But it was certainly disappointing to see the poor maintenance and the obnoxious location it stands in amidst the narrow roads with closely packed dwellings that have engulfed it. You can’t even click a decent shot of the front view as the roads are too narrow and to add to it there are open reeking gutters which is a common sight throughout Jaisalmer.
We then headed to Tilon Ki Pol a gateway to Gadisar Lake an artificially created lake in the 14th century. A courtesan dancer called Tilon built the gateway and the ghats it was objected by the royal queens who threatened demolition as they would not pass under the arched gate built by a prostitute when they accessed this lake hence the prostitute built a Vishnu shrine above it in order to save it from the royal ire.
An evening walk in this stretch leading to the lake is beautiful. The view was like an Eastman color frame.
The entrance gate makes for some good photography we were mesmerized by a folk musician playing a typical Rajasthani instrument called ‘Raavanhattha’ at the entrance. It is a stringed instrument that is played like violin and gives you a soothing Rudali effect. We enjoyed the music for a few minutes and even bought a CD which I still play while driving on the busy Bengaluru lanes. The instrument itself is available for Rs.150.
We did some boating here it was a pleasant experience in the backdrop of the ancient structure. There are loads of big cat fishes in this lake which will show up at the drop of a small biscuit or bread piece. Also there is a Katputli house outside of this lake the review seemed good but we decide to go shopping instead hence didn’t stop by.
The rikshawala straight away took us to an expensive handicraft shop for which I guess they get some commission. These handicraft shopkeepers are like leeches they don’t let you go easily without falling prey to them however we did evade all their attempts to hook us and escaped to the local Pansali market as we wanted to experience the galli shopping. Did a little bit of shopping and walked back to the cozy comfort of our room.
The history of Jaisalmer dates back to the 11th century it was founded on 12th July 1156AD by the Bhati Rajput king named Jaisal on the Trikut hillls. Jaisalmer was named after its founder king Jaisal, meru in Sanskrit means ‘mountain’.
Jaisalmer kings are referred as ‘Rawal’, The Marwar and Mewar kings as ‘Rana’ and the Dhundar(Jaipur) kings as ‘Raja’.
The city of Jaisalmer was once the only route that connected India with other Asian countries. Hence their only source of income was tax collections from passing caravans, it lost its importance after the sea routes were introduced and was completely closed after partition. It now largely depends on tourism for sustaining.
The Jaisalmer fort is an adorably lavish one that depicts an amazing architectural insight, willpower and skills of people in those days who built such a massive fort in a hostile desert. The entire fort has been built with yellow sand stone in the interlock system where each stone brick is grooved and
embedded with another. This marvelous 1000 year old architecture built without the use of cement or water still stands robustly glowing golden under the scorching sun of the Thar.
It has 4 arch gates or dwaras namely Akke dwar, Raja dwar, Surajpool dwar and Ganesh Hawa dwar.
You can capture some amazing shots from the entrance point. We began our journey into the massive fort with narrow sloped stone roads leading us into the fort where many noisy bikes plied inside the fort mercilessly disrupting the tourists. Men folk here have an obsession for bikes and ride it proudly like war steeds inside the ancient monument. Even as our guide explained about the various dwaras a strong stench broke in I wondered where it could emanate from a few steps later I saw little children officially defecating inside the fort. There was a big question mark on our faces and our guide quickly explained that this is the only fort in the world where more than 2000 people still stay in it. Currently the 43rdgeneration royal descendants stay in the fort whose current raja is Maharawal Brijraj Singh. This fort is more like a gated community in its true sense.
In spite of the crowds, traffic, filth and awkwardly planted electric poles that pass everywhere obstructing the views this fort is still simply magnificent and enchanting. You can easily spend 2hours here. The main attractions inside the fort are the Rajmahal and Jain temple.
We visited the king’s palace or Rajmahal which is a museum now and the intricately carved Jain temple that has over 6666 thirtankara statues inside the temple that are made up of marble, panchloha, kasoti pathra, sandstone and Habur stone. The Jains were very rich and powerful during the Rajputana rule who greatly aided the Rajput kings financially. The Jain temple is astonishingly beautiful.
Did you know Habur stone is a kind of fossil limestone that can curdle milk and set curds from the bacteria present in this stone.
The fort visit was an unforgettable experience this fort is very different from many other forts in India and a must see place.
We then headed to Patwaon Ki Haveli located in the narrow lanes amidst the market place. It is an ancient home of a rich merchant of the 18th century named Patwa who built this chamber of 5 havelis for his sons.
The Patwa Haveli gives a real feel of Rajasthan with its incredibly beautiful carvings and art work. It has arched brackets, ethnically colored glass work jharokas(ornate balconies), the walls and ceilings are studded with mirror work and bright artistic paintings. You can see lot of beautiful silk brocade work here a little expensive though.
We then headed for lunch to a vegetarian hotel called Dessert Bite and tried out the Rajasthani thali. Most hotels in Rajasthan are vegetarian. The typical Rajashtani food consists mainly of a compulsory
Kadi which is made of Besan,
Ker sangria which is not a vegetable but a tangy tasting desert wild berry with dried long beans,
Rotis and Papad ki sabzi
Sweet dish made of beaten rice and jaggery and
Some butter milk only.
Effectively there are not much of vegetables in a Rajasthani thali and alas! no curd rice(Being a South Indian I missed and craved and dreamt of curd rice in the entire journey)this may be due to its arid weather conditions hence goes the saying in Rajasthani:
‘Ghoda kijiye khaat kha
Pind kijiye pashaan
Bhakthar kijiye lohe kha
Phir dekho Jaishaan’
it means ‘Ride on a horse made of wood that does not feel hungry or thirsty, make your stomach an iron one, wear clothes of metal and then visit Jaishaan/Jaisalmer’.
The old saying was specific to the harsh weather of the desert that told everyone visiting Jaisalmer to toughen up a little.
The locals also expand Jaisalmer as ‘Ja Saale Mar’ and interpret that people were sent here as a punishment to suffer in the harsh weathers of the desert and compensate for their crimes.
After lunch we headed for the desert safari to the Sam Sand Dunes.
Take a break till I come back with more.
Watch out for my next article on Kuldhara village and Sam Sand Dunes.