Friday, December 21, 2007

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.
Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3.

Jodhpur was a great stop in the trip, staying in the old city gave a wonderful twist to our stay there that we would have missed out on if we had stayed in the resorts - its definitely on our "go-back" lists for the annual music festival. But the road beckons...

KM Marker: 17465 km, 7.10 AM Oct 30th 2007

Early morning just as Jodhpur rises, we fired up the old trusty Swift and crept out of the old city's narrow lanes hoping and praying that some other "tourist" hadn't had the same idea to come the other way - thankfully we wound our way out. It was the dawn of Day 4 and we were heading to Jaisalmer - we had heard so much about Jaisalmer so the excitement was mounting!

The road to Jaisalmer was very good as we're coming to expect from Rajasthan - good job Govt. - how often can you say that aloud?! This drive also had its share of people / livestock sauntering across the road oblivious to oncoming traffic - but we're now used to it. We're told in Jodhpur that the Indian army maintains the roads in these parts - Jaisalmer is about 150 km from the Pakistan border.

Jaisalmer : 11 AM - yes, we were driving crazy fast! Its about 280 KM. Do the math..

We had signed up to stay at Mandir Palace, again picked out of our LP lineup, incidentally, Jaisalmer was the only place where we had trouble finding a room at first go - everything was booked out - Jaisalmer is a smallish town that thrives ONLY on tourism - so if you're headed there it would be wise to confirm your bookings in advance.

Mandir Palace, Jaisalmer, RajasthanMandir Palace was the last car accessible point before the old city started - intelligently the local authorities had blocked 4 wheeler traffic into the old city. We were expecting a old palace / haveli kind of setup and entered from the secondary entrance of the hotel - going past horses / cattle - wondering what we'd picked. We round a corner and couldn't believe our eyes - the most beautiful lattice work confronted us - this became a recurring theme and we kept expecting the lattice work to become even more audacious and intricate - which it kept getting - yes, Jaisalmer is very pretty!

So, it turns out that Mandir Palace is actually a palace - the king of Jaisalmer lives in one wing and the other has been leased out to become a hotel - the palace does have a mandir on the premises - hence the name - all this time we cant believe our luck that we found this place - its too pretty to describe in words - our room is a bit cramped as LP had noted - but hey we're living in the King's palace without burning a major hole in the pocket - I'm alright with that! :)

I have to note a place we went for lunch - Nachana Haveli - seemed like a great place to stay (we couldn't get a reservation) - and great food as well - we also bumped into one of the "royals" which was kind of a funny story. Recommended though - we'd probably seek that place out the next time we head out to Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer, RajasthanThe primary Jaisalmer attraction is its fort - which is a residential fort, meaning that this is the only fort in the world where real people live. The spiel is that people always lived in the fort since it was built - after independence when the kings couldn't maintain the forts anymore, they either converted them into hotels or gave it up to the government - the King of Jaisalmer had other ideas - he picked the third option which was to hand it over to the residents of the fort! The only condition was that they couldn't sell their homes.

Lonely PlanetI thought this was a cool thing for a King to do - but cut to 2007 and modern living has taken its toll on the fort - its supposedly on the list of endangered monuments of the world. Since Jaisalmer has no industry apart from tourism, residents have converted their homes into hotels, home stays and run sundry shops selling curios to tourists. LP advises tourists to stay away from hotels in the fort because its contributing to the problem (retrofitting such an old fort for modern amenities no doubt takes its toll) - but what will the people do? They can't just pickup and start off somewhere else - its a stalemate - go see the fort while its still around.

The fort construction itself is unique, no water / mortar was used in making this fort - the whole fort was built with stones that have an interlocking mechanism that doesn't require any mortar to keep it together - ingenious - and appropriate in a place where water is scarce.

Child BeerSo, we head to the fort, at the entrance we're met with a classic gem of mis-spelling by a alcohol shop selling "Child Beer"!!! We take on a guide and begin our trip of the fort - the fort has its set of defenses, winding road so that elephants cant mount battering ram attacks, progressive viewing vantage points for the defense, spiked doors - by now this is all too familiar, hell I could build a fort we've seen so many! :))

As we enter the fort we're just taken back by the amazing lattice work we start seeing, its everywhere like a plague, but in a good way! :) We take in the poor attempt at a museum by the local King - after Mehrangarh this is a joke! However the fort is so pretty with its lattice work, its just amazing. The fort itself is a maze, maps of the fort are readily available - but a guide is easier / convenient.

Inside Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan

Inside Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan
As we make our way through throngs of locals selling something or the other we come upon a series of Jain temples which abound in Rajasthan - the work is different from the rest of the fort - the temples were made inside the fort by Jains so that they would survive ransacking from invaders - its definitely pretty, the work is different from the rest of the fort - its done by artisans who worked on the Somnath temple.

Jaisalmer Old City, Jaisalmer, RajasthanSo we're OD'ed on the lattice work, we reach a vantage point from where the entire city is visible, nice - we can see the other big attractions of Jaisalmer, the Haveli's (Patwa etc) - we're of course living in one attraction - Mandir Palace!

Wedding Invitation, Jaisalmer, RajasthanOne fun thing we came across was the system of inviting people for marriages - so, what people do is - they paint a big Ganesh picture - write the name / date-time of the marriage and thats the invite - no distribution and everyone is welcome. The invite stays up till the NEXT wedding in the same house - so all over Jaisalmer, predominantly in the fort you see these invites - so cool.

All the guidebooks and advice we got on Jaisalmer talked about how painful it was to deal with the camel safari people. OK - so Camel Safari - Jaisalmer is in the desert (surprise!) - the locals have fashioned various levels of "Camel Safaris" - and there is cut-throat competition to get your business for these safari's - ofcourse there are some recommended vendors - but by and large its pretty crazy - needless to say our guide had "recommendations"! :) We were too tired to deal with the safari people and both of us are not particularly fond of camels - so we deferred that for the next day.

Patwa Ki Haveli, Jaisalmer, RajasthanWe had a sorta pushy kind of guide, he gave us a lot of information, but it was a little hard to get rid of him - anyhow - he ended up taking us through some internal roads to Patwa Ki Haveli, which is again a wonderful demonstration of lattice work - by now we had grown de-sensitized to the lattice work - how much beauty can you see / absorb!

Deciding that we had our fill for the day - we stalled the sight-seeing and set off in pursuit of bedsheets - Rajasthan is famous for its bedsheets etc - the rule of the game is of course bargaining - then its up to you how much patience you have - you can easily pay only 40% of the initially quoted values - lower if you are really good at it - the wife is semi-good at it, I suck - we got a big discount - but still left feeling "had" - oh well!

We headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest, the rest of the day we spent wandering a little bit in the streets of old Jaisalmer and wound up with a nice dinner on the roof of a hotel just behind Mandir Palace with local music playing in the background and a beautiful view of the sand castle fort in the foreground. This was as far as we had planned to drive - Jaisalmer was definitely worth extending all the way from Mumbai.

Jaisalmer. Half Full...

Rajasthan road trip pictures.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's been alot of controversy over whether to stay or not stay in the Fort. It's eroding from increased water usage and tourists are contributing to the problem.

Check out this link, it shows the different viewpoints so readers can make a more educated decision.

Happy Travels!