India // Rajasthan //

Jaisalmer Fort

Every part of Jaisalmer Fort is made of soft yellow Jurassic sandstone. Outside, the thick walls, punctuated with barrel-sided bastions, drop almost 100m to the town below, while inside narrow winding streets are flanked with carved golden facades. Two thousand people still live within its walls; seventy percent of them are Brahmins and the rest, living primarily on the east side, are predominantly Rajput. A paved road punctuated by four huge gateways winds up to the fort’s main chowk (square) – large round stones lie atop the ramparts above the entrance, waiting to be pushed down on the heads of any approaching enemy. The main chowk was the scene of the three terrible acts of johar during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when the women of the royal palace, which overlooks the chowk, had a huge fire built, and jumped from the palace walls into it.

The chowk is dominated by the Palace of the Maharawal, open to the public as the Fort Palace Museum. The palace’s balconied, five-storey facade displays some of the finest masonry in Jaisalmer, while the ornate marble throne to the left of the palace entrance is where the monarch (known in Jaisalmer as the maharawal rather than the maharaja) would have addressed his troops. Inside, the museum offers an intriguing snapshot of the life of Jaisalmer’s potentates through the ages, with artefacts ranging from a fancy silver coronation throne to more homely items, such as the bed and thali dish of a nineteenth-century ruler. There’s also an interesting array of other exhibits – from fifteenth-century sculptures (including an unusual bearded Rama) through to local stamps and banknotes, while the rooftop terrace gives unrivalled views over the city and the surrounding countryside.

The fort has a number of Hindu temples, including the venerable Laxminath Temple of 1494, however none is as impressive as the complex of seven Jain temples. The temples, connected by small corridors and stairways, were built between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries with yellow and white marble shrines and exquisite sculpted motifs covering the walls, ceilings and pillars. Two of the seven temples are open between 8am and noon; the other five only open from 11am to noon, when the whole place gets overrun with coach parties, so it’s best to visit before 11am to see the first two temples, then come back later to see the rest.