It catches your imagination the moment set your eyes on it and not just because of its magnanimity, because that is just obvious; but because it lets you live a royal tale. Of course the gigantic walls that once served their purpose still stand tall and strong as ever. The 99 bastions that looked out for their Maharwal and his people continue to look solid and still make the fort look absolutely astounding and romantic. But it is the numerous little windows with colourful curtains swaying out of them that manage to hit that curiosity button in me.
I was sipping my cappuccino at Jaisal Italy, a small restaurant sitting pretty bang at the entrance of the fort and I couldn't help but overhear a bunch of tourist deciding on which hotel to stay at inside the fort. Weird, I thought to myself. Did I miss something? Because this was a bit unusual for me since after scanning one website after another, I hadn't come across any luxury hotels (an assumption) inside the palace. Dejected that my internet research was not done to its fullest I got back to my cuppa and made a list of things to definitely see at the fort tomorrow morning.
A different era
From a tourist point of view forts are a little hard to imagine with life brimming inside them. Yet, when you walk down its lanes while the guide tries to fill you up on its history your thoughts wander off in a hasty try to get a glimpse of how life must have been in the days of the Raj. I have done that every single time that I have visited a palace. I mean who in their right mind would not want to be a part of life in the royal era. But the moment you enter the Sonar Qila, your imagination is clearly put to rest in this bastion enveloped fort of Jaisalmer.
One would expect deserted lanes, ruins of the glorious fortress or guides leading groups of people telling them the history of this mammoth-like fort. But what you see inside the golden walls would leave you spellbound. Shops engulf the main entrance at the Akshay Pol, the first gate of the fort selling various handicrafts from leather goods to bed sheets where the sign boards read "Magic bedsheet No Viagra needed" which left almost everyone laughing at the thought. This being the main shopping arcade for the locales seemed like the centre point and the most crowed at this point in time. Enter the Ganesh pol and scenario gets even busier. More shops, cafes and more people now enthrall the vicinity. Autos now added to the madness as they helped in transporting people in and out of the fort. Funny thing I said to myself, never realised life could be so busy inside a fort, actually for that matter, life at all.
The rightful owners
But this was nothing compared to what was waiting for me inside the main fort. I was greeted by even more people inside the grand walls. And I am not talking of the hundreds of tourist -- I am talking about residents of the fort. I accidently met up with my guide of the previous day who drove me to the dunes of Sam. Narendra is a proud owner of one of the houses inside the fort. It was he who told me that at present 4000 families reside in the premises of the Sonar Qila. So I asked him about the curtained windows that were visible from outside. "People have converted their homes into small guest houses and hotels that they give to the tourists, but these are mostly occupied by the foreigners". Well, that put to rest my curiosity about the incomplete search on the net and the hotel that thought I missed. I decided to hold on to Narendra because no guide could have given me a better experience of the fort than its own resident of course. This was interesting yet weird because here I was walking inside a fort where I didn't need my imagination working. There were people who were going about their lives in a normal manner. There were ladies going about their household work, children playing, men off to work, shops were brimming of life. This time around I didn't need a pen and paper to take notes about how I felt life must have been in the 1200s AD. Here it was right in front of me, a fort so alive that it transports you to a time when modernisation seems like a fairytale. Residents of the fort still stay in the areas that were once allotted according to their communities. So it is the Brahmins that still stay closest to the main palace near the Dusshera Chownk which is assumed to be the spot that hosted many celebrations and festivals. The Jain community largely stays around the Jain temples and take care if the same. So even though years have gone by taking with them the legacy of the Royal clan people here continue to abide by the way of life that once was.
The residents try their best to keep alive the beauty of the fort and have largely left the exterior of their houses redone adds Narendra. He says the residents realize that what they have here is much different from the rest of the forts. What they have here is an experience that makes people want to stay here for longer purely because it allows them to take in a sense of life which once was. The streets of the fort are filled with people who would still tell you tales of their ancestors and how almost every household has a story of their own experience with the Rawals who ruled this town for centuries together. But of course if one really wants there is the heritage museum that the main palace has been converted into. However, it was this legacy that I wanted to explore more which prevented me from venturing into the main museum which houses all the artifacts that were once used by the many maharawals of Jaisalmer. Instead I took to the many gullies of the junta area.
The narrow lanes are filled with small shops selling handmade items that look like a million bucks. You can even shop for beautifully crafted and extremely colourful doorknobs along with the numerous other handicrafts that are sold here. Another interesting thing that I came across was how families announce about a wedding in their house. Each house paints the auspicious Lord Ganesha with the date and the names of the bride and the groom on the main entrance wall. And this is a necessity tells Narendra. Even though there is a whole new era and people that occupy the houses here, traditions have not been altered with. Its and amalgamation of the new and the old, the modern and tradition inside the walls of the Sonar Qila I thought to myself as i now stood at one the 99 bastions that still looked out for its loyal junta. And as the canon pointed at what was now the new Jaisalmer, I simply sat down and glared at the golden sandstone houses of the city staring at the setting sun, only happy to get a taste of life back when the Maharawals called the shots.
By Air: Numerous airlines are linked well between Jaisalmer and Jaipur, Jodhpur, Delhi and Mumbai.
By Train: Jaisalmer's railway station is 2 km east of the city. Jaisalmer is connected by rail with Jodhpur, on meter gauge which in turn is connected with major cities and towns in India on broad gauge.
By Road: Jaisalmer is well connected by a good road network to Jodhpur, Bikaner via Pokhran, and Barmer via Devikot with luxury AC and economical local state buses.
Content courtesy: Contify