Golden City – A name that reverberates the epitome of natural and historic beauty; A citadel of exotic gateways, massive forts and ornate temples, ushering the ethereal charm and hostility of the Great Indian Desert.The golden hue of the fort guarding the city amidst the golden sands of the Thar desert with the golden hue of the sun shining down makes it a magical and unforgettable experience to any visitor. And unlike most forts you see around the world, the Sonar Quila or the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer is a living fort that caters to a quarter of the inhabitants of Jaisalmer. This is the story of my solo expedition to Jaisalmer – The Golden City.
I arrived at Jaisalmer railway station at 6 am on 9th October 2013 from Jodhpur. As usual, my first thought was to freshen up at the railway waiting room, but its condition was so pathetic that I had to find myself a hotel room. With a little help from the station master, I took a room at Hotel Pushp Mahal for Rs.100 to freshen up and take rest. (I’m sure the hotel gives some kinda commission to the station master). After getting ready, the 1st priority was to get the itinerary planned for Jaisalmer. Yup, I don’t plan such things in advance, but I have done a good background study about the place. In the evening, the plan was to go for a desert Safari. It was one hell of a bargaining. I’ll get back to that shortly. Guess what, being a travel blogger sure has its perks. The hotel owner (Mr.Rathore) offered me a free ride to the fort and told me about the places to see.
So, here I am standing in front of the massive 850 year old Sonar Quila astounded by its magnificence. I don’t think it’s as big as the Mehrangarh fort I visited yesterday, but this fort has a charm of its own. It’s a living fort – It has houses, shops and hotels inside the fortified walls apart from the usual palaces and temples. And you can even find auto-rickshaws, bikes and cars negotiating the narrow cobbled roads inside the fort. Whats a great trip without a satisfying breakfast. The cheese Macaroni from the Little Tibet hotel atop the fort wall offered me a breathtaking view of the city of Jaisalmer. The cannon point also offered a great view of the city below the fort. Making my way through the narrow and cramped pathways of the fort, I arrived at the Jain Temples. There a re 5 such temples there and they are over 550 years old. The carvings inside the temples are quite intricate and ornate. And the best part is that there is no restriction for photography, though its chargeable. After spending some time marveling the beauty of the Jain temples, I walked across the whole fort. Alive!! That’d summarize the whole thing. I could see children in school uniforms walking through the alleys, grandmothers saying the morning prayers, kitchens bustling with activity – It’s a different feel altogether. A fusion of the past and the present in hopes of a better future.
What is a fort without a museum? Well, Jaisalmer fort too flaunts a museum narrating the story of its rich history. Personal opinion, not as good as the Mehrangarh fort museum and but the entry fee and camera rates are at par. May be because it was morning, the museum was kinda deserted except for the guards at every nook and corner. (They are not good photographers as most of the pics they took for me were out of focus). Next stop were the Havelis, or the palaces of the wealthy noblemen. The first one was the well maintained Kothari Patwa Haveli and the entry and camera fee was Rs.50 each. But lemme assure you, its well spent. Ostentatious and extravagant! Adored with beautiful paintings and glass work, these Haveli’s portray the luxurious lifestyle of the nobles who once lived here. Next to this is another Haveli which is maintained by the Government. Deplorable and Pathetic! Very poorly maintained and is scary and stinky due to the thousands of bats that made claimed this Haveli. If you are scared of bats, do not enter this Haveli as it may contain more bats than Batman’s Batcave. And there is nothing to see here except the empty house, but the consolation is that it offers a good view from the roof.
I then walked over a kilometer to the Gadsisar lake which has a number of small temples nearby. It’s a pretty place to spend and evening, but unfortunately, I was there at noon. The scorching sun was taking its toll on me and I decided not to take a boat ride in this lake or explore the farther ends of it. Back in hotel, I took a 3 hour rest and then set out to the Sam Sand Dunes. The 42 km ride took us through the barren wilderness with few shrubs, windmills and occasionally, resorts. From Camel point, I got on a camel named Shah Rukh Khan (seems they are all named after Bollywood stars) with 11-year-old Sanjana from Delhi. The one hour ride (5 km) through the desert offered me a stunning view of the sunset in the backdrop of the golden sand dunes of the Thar desert. The camel ride was too shaky and I couldn’t get good pics of the sunset as the camera refused to focus. After playing in the sand dunes for about 40 minutes, I walked to the desert camp nearby. I had so much sand in my shoes that it felt like some creature crawling under my feet. At the camp resort, I got myself a diwan type bed and welcome drinks. The traditional songs and dances were good but the insects were a nuisance. The stunts performed by the dancers were pretty amazing. After the program, I had dinner in desert cuisine. Frankly, I didn’t understand what each curry was and this sure is not my favorite cuisine.
I got back in the hotel by 10 pm. Now, about the bargaining I said earlier. The amount started from Rs. 3000 plus tip and finally settles at Rs.1900 including tip to the driver Peeru. I was not very happy as I wanted it to come down to Rs.1500. But a Rs.1100 reduction is not bad and a notable part is that my blogger status helped me gain some additional discount. So, I’d like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Rathore, Raju and Peeru of Hotel Pushp Mahal on behalf of me and my blog.
At 11:45, I boarded the same train I arrived in the morning back to Jodhpur. Next stop, Mount Abu!!