New Delhi: I remember my first view of Jaisals Fort - it literally took my breath away. Despite having seen umpteen photos, perched on the top of a hill, the Fort was a vision out of a fairy tale. Year after year, countless tourists from all over the world are totally mesmerized by the Jaisalmer Fort, built of rare golden sandstone. There are few places in India that can rival the medieval charm and magnificence of this 12th century Fort with its intricately carved havelis.
The approach to the Jaisalmer Fort adds to the first glimpse. There is this straight road without any trees and roadside habitation to break the monotony, when suddenly from a distance of around 12 kilometres, the Fort comes into view - perched on a table mountain rising up like a mirage... just like Satyajit Ray's eSonar Kella'.
Jaisal, ruler of Lodhruva - that lies 16 kilometres west of Jaisalmer - was conscious that his fortress on the plane was susceptible to invasion and wandered around the neighbourhood to find a securer vantage point. Local legends say that Jaisal came across a Brahmin hermit living next to a spring, that overlooked the triple-peaked hill known as eTrikuta'. The hermit told Jaisal that many years ago, another hermit had foretold that a town would be built close to the spring and a fort would be built on top of the hill. And so it happened, just as predicted.
The fort is built on a hill that rises to more than a height of 250 ft above the surrounding countryside. It is 1,500 ft long and 750 ft wide and the base of the fort has a 15 ft tall wall forming the fort's outermost ring as well as two more walls for its defence. The fort's upper bastions or towers form a defensive inner-wall perimeter that is about 4.0 km long. The fort now incorporates 99 bastions, of which 92 were probably rebuilt between the period of 1633 and 47. The fort also has four massive fortified entrances leading from the town. One of the gates was once guarded by cannon. Visitors to the fort must pass these four massive gateways situated along the main approach to the citadel.
Within the Fort, there are many beautiful palaces, havelis and temples. These include the Raj Mahal Palace, which was earlier the former residence of the Maharawal of Jaisalmer. There are 7 beautiful Jain temples, all built with yellow sandstone and dating back to 12th - 16th century. Among Hindu temples there is the huge temple built by Askaran Chopra of Merta dedicated to Sambhavanaha. It has more than 600 idols and old scriptures. Other temples include the Ashtapadh built by Chopra Panchaji and the Laxminath temple dedicated to Vishnu and Lakshmi.
However, visitors are most interested in the numerous havelis in the Fort. These are large houses built by wealthy merchants with ornate sandstone carvings. Among the most popular being the ePatwon ki Haveli'. Many of these dwellings are hundreds of years old and have elaborate carved from in yellow sandstone. Some may have many floors and countless rooms, with beautifully decorated windows, archways, doors and balconies. While most of the havelis are owned and lived in, some of these have been turned into museums. The Vyas haveli which was built in the 15th century is still occupied by the descendants of the original builders. Another example is the Shree Nath Palace which was once inhabited by the prime minister of Jaisalmer. Some of the doors and ceilings of the older buildings are splendid examples of designs of intricate carved wood dating back to hundreds of years.
Also worth noting is the Fort's ingenious drainage system known as the 'eGhut Nali', which allows for the easy drainage of rainwater away from the fort in all four directions. Over the years, haphazard construction activities and building of new roads has greatly reduced its effectiveness.
The Fort was built to withstand the heat and the sand of the Thar desert, the Fort now also has to be able to survive heavy rainfall. Quirks of weather were totally unheard of in Jaisal's time! Conservation of the Fort has been occupying the minds of many and one can see that this year's rain has added to their problems. These are warnings that cannot be ignored. For those who have not visited Jaisalmer a speedy visit is advised.
Beginning from November and right up to the end of March, is the best time to visit Jaisalmer. The Desert Festival is usually held around early February when the whole region comes alive with camels and colourfully clad desert folk. Drives out to the sand dunes offer spectacular sunsets and a chance to see the desert folk in their natural habitat, dancing and singing in the sand.