Jaisalmer

The fort

On the roughly triangular-shaped Trikuta Hill, the fort stands 76 m above the town, enclosed by a 9-km wall with 99 bastions (mostly 1633-1647). Often called the Golden Fort because of the colour of its sandstone walls, it dominates the town. You enter the fort from the east from Gopa Chowk. The inner, higher fort wall and the old gates up the ramp (Suraj Pol, Ganesh Pol, Hawa Pol and Rang Pol) provided further defences. The Suraj Pol (1594), once an outer gate, is flanked by heavy bastions and has bands of decoration which imitate local textile designs. Take a walk through the narrow streets within the fort, often blocked by the odd goat or cow, and see how even today about 1000 of the town's people live in tiny houses inside the fort often with beautiful carvings on doors and balconies. It is not difficult to get lost.

As with many other Rajput forts, within the massive defences are a series of palaces, the product of successive generations of rulers' flights of fancy. The local
stone is relatively easy to carve and the dry climate has meant that the fineness of detail has been preserved through the centuries. The
jali
work and delicately ornamented balconies and windows with wide eaves break the solidity of the thick walls, giving protection from the heat, while the high plinths of the buildings keep out the sand. '
Sunset Point
', just north of the fort, is popular at sundown for views over Jaisalmer.

The entire
Fort Palace Museum and Heritage Centre
 has been renovated and an interesting series of displays established, including sculpture, weapons, paintings and well-presented cultural information. The view from the roof, the highest point inside the fort, is second to none. The
Juna Mahal
(circa 1500) of the seven-storey palace with its
jali
screens is one of the oldest Rajasthani palaces. The rather plain
zenana
block to its west, facing the
chauhata
(square) is decorated with false
jalis
. Next to it is the
mardana
(men's quarters) including the Rang Mahal above the Hawa Pol, built during the reign of Mulraj II (1762-1820), which has highly detailed murals and mirror decoration.
Sarvotam Vilas
built by Akhai Singh (1722-1762) is ornamented with blue tiles and glass mosaics. The adjacent
Gaj Vilas
(1884) stands on a high plinth. Mulraj II's
Moti Mahal
has floral decoration and carved doors.

The open square beyond the gates has a platform reached by climbing some steps; this is where court was held or royal visitors entertained. There are also fascinating
Jain temples
(12th-16th centuries)
within the fort. Whilst the Rajputs were devout Hindus they permitted the practice of Jainism. The
Parsvanatha
(1417) has a fine gateway, an ornate porch and 52 subsidiary shrines surrounding the main structure. The brackets are elaborately carved as maidens and dancers. The exterior of the
Rishbhanatha
(1479) has more than 600 images as decoration whilst clusters of towers form the roof of the
Shantinatha
built at the same time.
Ashtapadi
(16th century) incorporates the Hindu deities of Vishnu, Kali and Lakshmi into its decoration. The
Mahavir Temple
 has an emerald statue. The
Sambhavanatha
(1431) has vaults beneath it that were used for document storage. The
Gyan Bhandar
here is famous for its ancient manuscripts.

Havelis

There are many exceptional
havelis
in the fort and in the walled town. Many have beautifully carved façades,
jali
screens and oriel windows overhanging the streets below. The ground floor is raised above the dusty streets and each has an inner courtyard surrounded by richly decorated apartments. An unofficial 'guide' will usually show you the way for about Rs 20. When the
havelis
are occupied, you may be allowed in on a polite request, otherwise, your 'guide' will help you gain access for a small fee (though this may just get you as far as the shops in the courtyard!).

Inside Amar Sagar Pol, the former ruler's 20th-century palace
Badal Mahal
with a five-storeyed tower, has fine carvings. Near the fort entrance, the 17th-century
Salim Singh-ki Haveli
 is especially attractive with peacock brackets; it is often referred to as the 'Ship Palace' because of its distinctive and decorative upper portion.
Nathumal-ki Haveli
(1885), nearer Gandhi Chowk, was built for the prime minister. Partly carved out of rock by two craftsmen, each undertaking one half of the house, it has a highly decorative façade with an attractive front door guarded by two elephants. Inside is a wealth of decoration; notice the tiny horse-drawn carriage and a locomotive showing European influence.

Further east,
Patwon-ki Haveli
(1805) is a group of five
havelis
built for five brothers. Possibly the finest in town, they have beautiful murals and carved pillars. A profusion of balconies cover the front wall and the inner courtyard is surrounded by richly decorated apartments; parts have been well restored. The main courtyard and some roofs are now used as shops.

Desert Cultural Centre

The Desert Cultural Centre was established in 1997 with the aim of preserving the culture of the desert. The museum contains a varied display of fossils, paintings, instruments, costumes and textiles which give an interesting glimpse in to life in the desert. The charismatic founder, Mr Sharma, is a fount of information and has written several books on Jaisalmer.

Gadi Sagar tank

The Gadi Sagar (Gadisar or Gharisar) tank, southeast of the city walls, was the oasis which led Prince Jaisal to settle here. Now connected by a pipe to the Indira Gandhi Canal, it has water all year. It attracts migratory birds and has many small shrines around it and is well worth visiting, especially in the late afternoon. The delightful archway is said to have been constructed by a distinguished courtesan who built a temple on top to prevent the king destroying the gate.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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