The Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest in India, with a yellow sandstone exterior that helps to camouflage the fort in the evening when the sun sets. It is the only living fort in India, and at least 2,000 people live and work there. Sadly, the fort walls are crumbling and it is suspected that the poorly built sewage system, overloaded by tourists and residents, is to blame. The fort in Jaisalmer still has some strategic importance for India since it so close to the border with Pakistan, and on our drive to Jaisalmer we saw many military trucks and caravans.
We decided to take the audio tour of the fort, which is supposed to be one of the best in India – and it was indeed very good. When we first walked into the fort, we found ourselves in a small city, not sure where to go next.
After a few minutes of walking around, and noting the usual chai stands, street vendors, hotel signs, and stray cows and dogs, we figured out that we were supposed to start our tour in the Jaisalmer Fort Museum.
There weren’t many other tourists there, but there was a large group of Indian schoolchildren on a field trip. We let them pass us by so that we could take our time in each area of the museum.
The exhibits were fairly austere, and we mostly enjoyed just looking at the architecture of the old fort.
As we started to climb the stairs upwards, there were many excellent views of the hustle and bustle in the streets of the fort below us.
There were even better views of the fort walls, and the city outisde the fort.
As we climbed higher and higher to the top of the fort museum, the views got even better, and soon we could see almost the entire side of the fort walls.
When we were finished at the museum, we spent a few hours wandering around the streets of the fort. We visited some Jain temples, where we were required to take off our shoes and leave them outside. We paid a shoe attendant a few rupees to keep an eye on them while we looked around inside the temple. Most of the people there were Jain worshipers or Indian tourists, and we didn’t see many westerners.
After we finished sightseeing in the fort, we went down to the city below to have lunch at Saffron restaurant (where we had dinner the night before). It was not very busy at lunchtime, and we made the mistake of ordering a tandoori non-veg platter, which was pretty gross. The paneer was ok, but the vegetable kofta and the meat pieces looked so unappetizing that we decided not to touch them. It was to be one of the last (if not the very last) time that we ordered meat in India. We ordered a pot of veg curry and some naan to tide us over, which was good as always.
When we finished lunch, we set out to find Patwa-ki-Haveli, an old haveli (a private mansion) that was mentioned in our guidebook. We had a bit of trouble finding it down a windy side street, but an Austrian tour group pointed us in the right direction. When we got to the haveli, it turned out that there were actually two havelis: a government-run one, and a private one with the same name. The touts outside the private haveli were really annoying, and we thought that the government one must be the right one so we bought a ticket and went inside.
The inside was dark, dank, and empty, except for the dozens (or hundreds?) of bats that hung from the ceilings.
Every room was the same… empty except for the bats. We were pretty unimpressed, and we decided to go across the street and pay another 150 Rs each to check out the privately run haveli.
Needless to say, the private haveli was much nicer, and much more interesting. Every room was decorated and had interesting objects or art inside.
There was even an excellent view of the street below.
When we finished looking at the havelis, we decided to go back to our hotel to rest before our camel safari. We walked down a few of the worst-smelling streets we had encountered to date, with open sewers on both sides of the road. The sewers, the piles of trash, and the numerous cow patties were hard to take. When we finally reached the main plaza, we were only too happy to jump in the hotel’s rickshaw and head out of town.