Experience Jaisalmer, Rajasthan: The living Fort City
January 1, 1970
by Forum Shah
I could see the Fort rising as I was getting closer to the city of Jaisalmer. Because I had already researched enough for the trip, I was high on the expectation of what the city would give me. The landscape from my car window had changed from the Indian weed, Gando Bawar, haphazardly growing everywhere to a landscape with less dense vegetation of some pointy grass or shrubs scattered, consuming half the horizon. We were close to the Thar Desert.
While getting our luggage down from the taxi, the driver asked us if we wanted to visit his place for a cup of tea. The people in Rajasthan are very warm and this was my first encounter with one. His home was a cozy single room where his wife and a 7-year kid stayed with him. When she learned my obsession with jewelry, she showed me some that she inherited from her mother-in-law, which were antique, bold and stunning. She had a kind smile and I made a note to self to give her a gift before leaving this city in 3 days.
We didn’t hire any tour guide as the driver had offered to accompany us in seeing the city around and we thought it was a great idea as he knew a lot about the city and we could see it from a local’s perspective (No, you can never see any place from any perspective. Not until a first hand experience.)
Shop and Eat
Talking to him, I learned that Jaisalmer has the most exciting market for shoppers like me who fancy leather bags, diaries, and juties. Camel leather is famous here. And so are Jalebis, a sweet dish you must try if it’s your first time in India. Daal Baati is another local delicacy, which by the way is heavy on diet and best to be consumed for lunch. And the first thing to do here is to visit the Fort.
Fort: First Impression
Magnum Opus and full of drama, Fort is like a living city within the city. One can find dancers performing traditional Ghoomar, musicians performing live classical music, artists making miniature paintings along the streets, jewellers making bead jewellery, leather bags of every kind hanging along as we walk, wooden home décor items carved , painted and showcased along the plinth that every façade bore, as if the fort was a giant living room and these pieces were the frames that caged our memories. You could see it once, then return to see it the second time and yet, the third time you are equally amused. It’s one of its kind in the world and one can relate to it as soon as one is inside. There is something for every visitor here.
Fort: Streets and Chowks
The streets are narrow inside the fort and each street opens into some Chowk. Some streets are so narrow that barely two persons can walk comfortably side to side at the same time. On the other hand, Chowks make up a good gathering space. Most chowks have some prominent buildings like a temple or some Hall that is converted into a Museum today, facing the open space. The ornate of the built fabric are as delicate and precise as the foundation of this fort must be strong and sturdy. The workmanship of these buildings was excellent, they stood proudly and witnessed a history of 800 years, only to awe-inspire many like me today.
Pigeons and Chattris
He complained of Pigeons making a mess everywhere in the city. I disagreed. I thought that it is a sight unique to Indian Cities. It’s always great to have some friends hanging around and cooing even in silence. And perhaps all the places that were not occupied by us like the top of Chattris was all that they used. It’s time we stop complaining.
Hot and Dry Climate
The weather was hot and dry but the fabric of the fort kept the environment pleasant. Something told me it was a well thought and designed place. The streets were always shaded and the sandstone walls kept the interior even cooler. I walked barefoot inside a Jain temple then and the flooring was as cool as comfortable in a desert-like climate. Probably that’s the reason they call history a wise teacher. It gives us tools and techniques that no education system can give.
He told about the location we were heading to, from where we could see the entire city and the terraces of each house out there punctured by courtyards at certain intervals. This location was the terrace of the museum for which we were charged an amount. I paid for him as I wanted him to accompany us to the top and tell us more stories of the terraces that as kids they had jumped from one to another to a third. These terraces were a site of women drying red chillis and papads, kids playing, and drying washed clothes in the sun. The terraces knew every possible gossip going on in the city.
I must say I was overwhelmed at the view of the sunset over the city from that location. It was time to return and relax after a long day as a Curious Case.
What I take back from this city
Before living the Fort, I bought a leather bag and filled it with my joy. I bought a wooden mask that is still hanging on the walls of my living room. I bought some jewellery that I hopefully pass to my grandchildren. I bought some spices to add a pinch of these emotions to the food I cook. I bought some Ber to eat on the way back to my accommodation. I got his and his wife’s number so that I could wish them every Diwali. I got stories to narrate to the world and I got wiser by the end of this trip.
Jaisalmer has a history of being lucrative. Probably that justifies why it lies at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Route. And I’m looking forward to someday experiencing the Fort all over again. Because he told me once, “Padharo Mahre Desh”.