The Golden city of Rajasthan – Jaisalmer was spellbinding at its first sight. The sand desert carpeted the roads as visitors drove through the city one by one. The air of Jaisalmer has a mystic aura, unmatched by its sister cities who all have a unique grandeur to boast.
To add to the surreal element of Jaisalmer, my first stop was the ghost town of the city – Kuldhara. The story of Kuldhara, may have been heard by many, but its bizarre quality is intensified by listening to it from the gatekeeper of the town. The gatekeeper dressed in traditional Rajasthani attire, and in thick Rajasthani accent, narrated the story of the Paliwal Brahmins who used to live here in the 18th century.
The gatekeeper, who looked like an apparition from the time of the Paliwal Brahmins said that the community was terrorised by the samant of Jaisalmer. One day the samant set his eyes on the chief’s daughter. Since the community had no option to decline the proposal, the Paliwal Brahmins, comprising of 84 families, planned a mass exodus from the village overnight. As they vacated the village overnight with their families, cattle and livestock, leaving the town barren, they cursed no one would ever be able to inhabit the town again. From the look of the town and as the gatekeeper reassured, no one could in fact re-inhabit the town.
The gatekeeper then ushered us into the compound where we saw for ourselves the ghost town of Jaisalmer. The ruined houses, temple and schools all echoed the words of the gatekeeper. The houses were open to the visitors. We stepped into a ruined house, toured its rooms and yards imagined the lifestyle and lives of the Paliwal Brahmins of the 18th century. From the rooftop of the houses one could get the overview of Kuldhara and the desert that encompassed it.
As I left for my next destination – The Jaisalmer Fort – the gatekeeper in the most eerie way said that the samant’s heirs are still in the fort, “Do visit their haveli,” he said, as he turned to another group to tell the tale yet again.
As I walked inside the fort of Jaisalmer, it seemed like an episode from Aladdin and that I have entered his Agrabah. The sandy fort was glittering in the golden sun rays and life inside had an aura of its own.
Jaisalmer fort is one of the three inhabited forts in India. Apart from the main palace in the fort compound, the place was alight with a variety of shops and haveli’s of their own charm. The palace in the fort was imbibed with the history of the erstwhile residents. The opulence and grandeur still reflected in the preserved armour, ornaments, wall and structure of the palace. The statue of their resident goddess – their Gangor Devi – still bore the richness of the royals of Jaisalmer. Within the fort lay a stone map of Jaisalmer which coincidently resembled the map of India.
For a shopper (willing to shell out a little extra) the fort is a gem – I mean it literally. One of the best gem stones market of India can be found in the narrow lanes of the Jaisalmer fort. Gems that one may not have even heard about or may not have seen before are on showcase in the many little and big shops in the fort.
Gem stone market is just one of the many things I was left speechless by. The fortress also housed shops of the traditional attire and exquisite patch work which have been saved from the dying antique outfits. The fort was decorated by shops offering the best of Rajasthani culture in terms ofa ntique jewellery and patchwork designs.
Once the shopaholic in me was satiated, I looked up at the various haveli’s that were a part of the fort compound. Many still inhabited by the heirs exuded the charm of the Rajasthani seths, while some chose to redecorate it to suit their purpose.
Some residents have also decided to add a historical angle to their haveli and open it for public viewing. This was also a site to admire, maybe only to view the exquisite artwork which was a near replica of the actual fort art style.
With the story of Kuldhara echoing in my mind, I made way towards the samant’s haveli just as the gatekeepers had directed. As I entered and looked around it seemed like another Haveli in the fort.
I asked the heir of the samant, of the truth in the gatekeepers’ story, to which he promptly replied, that it’s just another folklore. He reasoned, “How can 84 families vacate the town overnight without being noticed. Is that possible?”
He then showed around the haveli (it seemed to elevate the image of his ancestor). He revealed the remarkable blueprint of the place and exactly how tactful and astute martial was the samant of Jaisalmer.
The steps of the house were unequal, such that no one but the residents would know where to step without hindering speed or losing balance. The haveli, built in three storeys was such that all turns were right, therefore, disabling armed enemies. But what struck me as the most noteworthy feature of the haveli was that it was an ensemble rather than a completely built structure. Thus, the haveli was unique and very different from the other havelis of the Jaisalmer Fort.
The last stop in Jaisalmer, was the Sam Dunes. Like the fort of Jaisalmer and the ghost town of Jaisalmer, the sand dunes of the golden city had a mysterious air to claim as its own.
Like expected, spread over acres of land, the Sam Dunes had more than just the sandy wind and camel ride to charm its visitors. On the sides of the Sam Dune, were temporary accommodations for visitors who wanted to an overnight stay at enveloped in the mystic air of the Dunes. The accommodations also provided, for the visitors, a tryst with the folk culture of Rajasthan, comprising puppet show, skilful and edgy folk dances, among other things.
The trip to the golden city of Rajasthan was one of the most elusive trips I have embarked upon. And this was reiterated, in the moment I saw the sun dying in sandy drapes of the Sam Dunes.