Western Rajasthan – Jodhpur and Jaisalmer
10. Magnificent Fort and Museum
Sprawled across the ridge above the blue city of Jodhpur, the mighty Merangarh Fort imposes itself upon the city from almost every tangled street or alley. We have a great view from the rooftop of our guest house and in the early morning our view includes people sleeping on their flat roof tops to escape the stifling heat and watching an early riser completing her morning exercises.
The fort appears to grow out of the basalt rock it was chiselled from and its 10 kilometre long wall includes battlements up to 36 metres high. We try to beat the heat by climbing the side of the hill as early as possible. Unfortunately we can’t enter even the outer walls until the official opening time so we have plenty of time to admire the fort towering above us before we can escape to the shade created by the thick walls. There are several sharp turns along the entrance route, obviously designed to slow attackers and provide plenty of opportunities for defence.
While entrance to the fort is free there is an entry fee for admittance to the fort museum and it includes an audio guide which helps bring alive the history of the place and tells stories about the people who inhabited it. Splendidly outfitted guards direct us through the rooms adorned with art works, weapons and household items as well as rooms filled with mirrors and luxurious fittings.
It is the buildings themselves though which provide the finest details of the workmanship with stone-lattice work so finely carved that it often looks more like sandalwood than sandstone.
The city sprawls below the fort and many of the buildings in the old city are painted Brahmin-blue. The colour used to be restricted to those of the Brahmin caste but can be used by anybody now. It reputedly helps deter insects. After several hours of wandering through the fort we descend to the city, the descent is much easier than the climb up, in search of a good cup of coffee.
We find it in a pleasant coffee shop beside a magnificent step well. unusually, the water is quite clear and consequently it is popular with the young lads for swimming and even supports a decent number of fish.
11. Living Fort Experience
Surrounded by desert in the far west of Rajasthan, not far from the border with Pakistan, the golden fort of Jaisalmer rises from the sandy plains. Unlike most other forts, Jaisalmer is a living urban centre with about 3,000 people living within its walls along with a palace, temples, numerous shops and other businesses. In the cooler season it attracts plenty of tourists who come to visit the city and to ride camels into the desert. In the middle of summer we see very few other tourists, in fact once the one other western couple, who caught the same train with us from Jodphur, depart to find their hotel we see no other tourists at all.
We stayed in a small luxury hotel within the walls of the fort which offered cheap rates for the off season. We had booked a standard room but the manager offered us our choice of rooms and we upgrade to an enchanting room which has a window and window seat built into the side of the fort. Up one level of stairs is an open area with fantastic views across the city and along the walls and we enjoy our breakfasts and evening sundowners there as well as a light dinner on two evenings. Its far too hot during the day but it is a wonderful place to watch the sunset and to enjoy a meal.
We had thought of taking a camel ride in the desert one afternoon and possibly camping out overnight but the 40 degree plus heat lingers well into the night so we spend our time relaxing in our air-conditioned room or exploring the fort and the surrounding old city in the early morning and evening. 99 bastions encircle the fort and there are four massive gates to pass through on the zig-zagging route to the upper section. The Fort Palace is elegant and well worth the hour or two it takes to explore.
The old city surrounding the fort has narrow winding streets and as well as the colourful displays of fruit and vegetables, fabrics and embroideries, there are some magnificent havelis. Some of these are enjoying a new lease of life being renovated for use as luxury apartments. Its good to know the old skills of hand-carving of sandstone into the intricate filigree patterns is continuing.