Hey guys, welcome back 😀 In continuation of my presentation of some of Rajasthan’s amazing hill forts – Jaipur’s Amber Fort, Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh and the forts of Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh near Udaipur – there’s one magnificent 12th century fortress which is simple unique and unbelievable. Furthermore, the incredibly beautiful location makes a visit all the more exciting and unforgettable 😀
Read my post: Rajasthan – The Incredible State of India
Unlike most other forts in India, this fort is not just a tourist attraction, but one of the few living monuments in the world and home to almost one-quarter of the population of the small desert city of Jaisalmer, located in the westernmost part of the country, close to the India-Pakistan Border. I’m talking about this most beautiful Jaisalmer Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, standing proudly on Trikuta Hill, in the never-ending golden sands of the great Thar Desert…
Watch my videos: View of Jaisalmer Fort – I
Jaisalmer Fort is popularly known as “Sonar Kila” (or Golden Fort) because it is made of yellow sandstone, which gives it a lovely golden hue. The fort looks especially beautiful in the early morning when the first rays of the sun reach the ground and during sunset when it gleams like melting gold.
One of the oldest and massive forts of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer Fort is unique amongst the many historical monuments in the state that reflect the glory of Rajput rulers. At 250 feet height, it dominates the city’s skyline and appears like a fairy-tale fortress in desert terrain.
The architectural grandeur of Jaisalmer Fort gained immense tourist attention after it was immortalized by the internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Satyajit Ray in his classic film, Sonar Kella. The fort and its yellow sandstone architectural buildings were constructed by local craftsmen in the classic style of Rajput royalty. These include palaces, temples and ancient havelis (homes) where generations continue to live.
It is one of the world’s largest fully preserved fort and unlike other forts in Rajasthan, it is a living fort. Its ancient township survives till today. About 4000 people, mostly from the Brahmin and Daroga communities, reside in the fort. Their ancestors worked for the Jaisalmer rulers, and hence, were permitted to stay. In the past few decades, with the rise in tourism, several hotels, residential accommodations, shops and restaurants have come up. Tourists are allowed to stay here. The magnificent fortress offers a panoramic view of the city and the desert beyond, and the glorious sunset.
The history of Jaisalmer goes a long way back. It was an important stopover along the Silk Route, an ancient trade route connecting the East to the West, and frequently used by merchants and travellers. Camel caravans from Egypt and the Middle East would travel across the vast Thar Desert laden with spices, silk, tapestries, precious stones, etc. This made Jaislamer a prosperous town.
Read my post : Regal Rajasthan Travelogue (Part III): Jaisalmer
Both, Jaisalmer city and Jaisalmer Fort, were built by Bhati Rajput ruler, Rawal Jaisal (1153-1168), in 1156. Rawal in Jaisalmer means ‘King’, which is the same as Rana in Marwar and Mewar. The king named the fort after himself.
The ancient capital of the Bhati clan of Rajputs was Lodhruva (or Lodurva), located 15 KM to the north-west of Jaisalmer. But Rawal Jaisal was looking for a more secure location to set up his new capital and decided upon Trikuta Hill, towering over the desert sands.
Due to its location along the Silk Route, Jaisalmer has been the scene of many battles…
In 1294, the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji sacked the fort after a siege that went on for eight years, during which time the ruler Rawal Jethsi (1276-1294) died and was succeeded by his son Mulraj II (1294-1295). The Rajputs committed jauhar (self-immolation by women) and saka (fight till death), the customary Rajput tradition followed while facing eminent defeat at the hands of Muslim invaders. Around 24,000 women and children committed jauhar, some killed by the swords of their men. Thereafter, dressed in saffron robes, and in opium stupor, the 3,800 warriors rode out of the fort, sword in hand, to fight the enemy and face death. For some years, Jaisalmer remained abandoned before the surviving Bhatis reoccupied it.
In 1306, the Sultan of Delhi, Feroz Shah Tughlaq laid a siege on the fortress, which subsequently led to the second jauhar wherein 16,000 women perished, while 1,700 men committed saka led by Rawal Dudu (1295-1306) and his son Tilaski.
Then, in the 16th century an Afghan Pathan chieftain, Amir Ali used treachery to enter the fortress. He obtained Rawal Lunkaran’s (1530-1551) permission to let his wives visit the queens of Jaisalmer. Instead of women, the palanquins contained armed soldiers. The surprise attack stunned the guards. Sensing defeat, the king personally slaughtered his women as there was no time to arrange for a jauhar. Tragically, immediately after this, reinforcements arrived, sparing the men from doing saka. Amir Ali was defeated and blown up by a cannon ball.
Jaisalmer also faced repeated attacks by the Mughals. In 1572, the Rajput ruler finally agreed to talks with Akbar. Accepting the terms and conditions, he agreed to pay annual tribute and offered his daughter in marriage to the Mughal emperor.
The fort remained under the control of Mughals until 1762 when Rawal Mulraj II (1762-1819) took control of the fort. The treaty between the East India Company and Rawal Mulraj in 1818 allowed the Jaisalmer ruler to retain control of the fort and provided for protection from invasion. With the advent of British rule, the emergence of maritime trade and the growth of the port of Mumbai (then called Bombay) led to the gradual economic decline of Jaisalmer. After independence and the Partition of India, the ancient trade route was totally closed, thus sealing the fate of the city. Nonetheless, the continued strategic importance of Jaisalmer was demonstrated during the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan.
The 860-year-old golden fortress was constructed with three layers of walls. The imposing outer wall, made of solid stone blocks is 30 feet high. The second wall, or the middle wall, snakes around the fort, between the first and third walls. From the innermost third wall, the Rajput warriors used to hurl boiling oil and water, and massive round blocks of rock as missiles on the enemies when they got trapped between the second and the third walls. The fort has 99 bastions, of which 92 were built between 1633 and 1647.
Jaisalmer Fort is perhaps, the only living fort in India. Unfortunately, today it is besieged by problems of water seepage, faulty planning of civic facilities and derelict houses. Being a world heritage monument, one can buy, renovate or construct a new house only with prior permission from the State Government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who maintain the fort.
At places, old and new buildings can be seen standing side by side. The old buildings that have survived for centuries are under threat today. In the 1980s, tourism activities started cropping up with growing demand. Residents began converting their houses into guest houses, handicraft shops or restaurants to make good earnings. In olden days, there was scarcity of water. Today, gallons of water goes down the drains into the hill. This is causing problems. The fort has an ingenious drainage system called the ghut nali which allows for the easy drainage of rainwater away from the fort in all four directions. However, its effectiveness has reduced with road constructions and development of other civic amenities. Drains often get choked.
Built over a weak sedimentary rock foothill, the water seepage poses a grave threat to the fort and its residents. As a matter of fact, in the past two decades, some significant portions of the fort such as the Queens’ Palace and parts of the outer boundary wall and the lower pitching walls had collapsed. Not only that, the fort foothill is steadily sinking due to the water seepage affecting its foundations. Growing commercial activities, increasing population pressure, water seepage, haphazard constructions, faulty planning of civic amenities, crumbling houses, and even seismic activity around the Trikuta Hill are some of the major concerns impacting the Jaisalmer Fort.
The main attractions inside the fort are the 15th century royal palace, 12th -16th century Hindu and Jain temples, old havelis (houses) and the viewpoints.
The entrance to the massive fortress is right next to Manek Chowk, the main market place in the city centre. A narrow, winding cobblestone path passing through four gateways, leads to the royal palace.
Watch my video: Entering the fort
Rajasthani puppets for sale, strung up along the wall…
Finely carved gate in the third wall…
More tourist items for sale…
Watch my video: Goods for sale
Finely-carved balcony, high above…
The final gate opens up to a courtyard, that is, the fort’s main square, Dashera Chowk. Towering above it is the Maharaj Mahal, the royal palace built around 1500. The chhatri, domed pavilion, on the top of the palace is the highest spot in the entire fort…
Watch my video: The fort’s main square
Jaisalmer is reputed for the sculptural finesse represented by its palaces and havelis (mansions). The rulers and rich merchants of Jaisalmer engaged craftsmen to work on the yellow sandstone havelis, buildings and palaces, adorning the exteriors with sculptural ornamentation, jaalis (screen windows), delicate pavilions and beautiful jharokhas (balconies).
The royal palace exhibits the fine craftsmanship of Rajput style with amazing jaalis and jharokhas. There are five interconnected palaces here.
Entrance to the Maharaja Palace…
The palace has been converted into a museum. An hour and a half long audio-guide tour (available in six languages) is included with the entry fee, but you have to leave a deposit of 2000 rupees, or your passport or driver’s licence or credit card. The tour is excellent and highly recommended.
Intricate stone ornamentation…
Most of the palace is open to the public.
The king’s throne and sword…
On the eastern wall of the palace is a sculpted pavilion-style balcony…
Here drummers raised the alarm when the fort was under siege. You can also see numerous round rocks piled on top of the battlements, ready to be rolled onto advancing enemies.
Watch my video: Beautiful balcony with intricate carvings
Some of the small rooms have been converted into galleries. One room contains an intriguing display of stamps from the former Rajput states. Another houses finely wrought 15th-century sculptures donated to the rulers by the builders of the fort’s temples…
The bedroom of the 18th-century ruler Rawal Mulraj II…
Watch my video: View of the city and beyond
The rooftop offers spectacular 360-degree views from the rooftop.
Looking down onto Jaisalmer city from the fortress, with a view of the city’s grandest and most famous haveli – the five-storeyed Patwaon ki Haveli, built in 1805…
Jaisalmer has many ancient havelis, which are large mansions with ornate sandstone carvings, built by wealthy merchants, mostly in the 1800s. Carved from yellow sandstone, the elaborate havelis have many floors and countless rooms, with intricately-carved windows, archways and balconies. Some of the doors and ceilings are notable examples of centuries-old carved wood. While most of the havelis are homes of the descendants of their builders, some have been converted into museums.
View of Gadisar lake…
Built in 1367, it is a rain water lake which was the city’s vital water supply until 1965. It is adorned with an arched gateway and surrounded by several small ancient temples and shrines. Moreover, it is a picnic spot, popular for boating.
The last part of the tour moves from the King’s Palace to the Queens’ palace. There are no windows here, but pierced jalis (screen windows) to protect the privacy of royal women. There is an interesting section on Jaisalmer’s annual Gangaur processions in spring.
Goddess Gangaur, the family deity of the Rawals…
The fort houses some important Hindu and Jain shrines built in the 12th – 16th centuries. And there are many charming ancient havelis too.
The sunrise and sunset view from this fort is a treat to the eyes for all the travellers, and photographers.
The fort’s oldest cannon located at the popular viewpoint…
Jaisalmer Fort is interspersed/honeycombed with narrow winding lanes, lined with houses, temples, shops, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, etc. This is designed to provide cool shadows on the lanes, in the otherwise hot weather.
Winter is the best time to visit Jaisalmer. The famous Jaisalmer Desert Festival is held in January-February. There are camel races, folk dances, craft bazaars, traditional ballad singing and a spectacular light and sound show on the popular Sam sand-dunes on the day of full moon night. The Jaisalmer Fort is one of Rajasthan’s most popular tourist attractions with as many as 600,000 tourists visiting it annually. Being part of the Desert Triangle and covered by the “Palace on Wheels” luxury tourist train, Jaisalmer is a well-accessed tourist destination despite its remote location.
On a parting note, Jaisalmer Fort is a must-see, and absolutely not to be skipped while visiting Rajasthan😀
Coming next # Regal Rajasthan : Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur
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