BY AUTAR MOTA
Old Jaisalmer City lies inside the Sonar Killa or the Golden Fort built by Bhatti Rajput kings atop the Trikuta hill in this part of the Thar Desert. It is one amongst a few living forts in the world. You have houses , shops, Hotels , Lodges and Temples inside the fort ; All bustling and throbbing with activity . Open drains , Stray animals , winding narrow and dirty lanes lead you to these Hotels and Lodges . During winter months ,these lodges and hotels are packed to capacity with tourists mostly from Japan , Europe and America. . Yes you may also notice a Rajasthani Youngman with earrings Conversing in German or Japanese with the tourists. These semi-literate young boys , who have poor knowledge of History and culture of the area , call themselves “ Tour Guides”. They keep bothering you outside the Fort Palace, Fort Gate and the Jain Temples seeking engagement . In case you have not studied the history and culture of the area , You need to look for some senior , approved and well informed guide from some recognized Tour Operator for a satisfying visit to the Fort .
When you move inside the Fort area , you find old Houses , open drains , Narrow lanes , Tourists , Guides , Handicraft shops , Tea and Bhelpuri stalls ,Speeding motor bicycles /Auto Rickshaws , Roof Top cafes , Yellow sand stone balconies with Ornate carvings , Travel Agents , Middle men , Brokers and Beggars singing and playing on Ektaara .
Marriage invitations are painted on outer walls of the houses . Guests are invited by writing Marriage Programs decoratively on outer wall . Something unique to this fort city .
If you shop , you need to Bargain . The Prices quoted appear on a very higher side .Accommodation booked through net may turn out a Ramshackle residential house in some dark and narrow alley inside the Fort. Quite often what is advertised through attractive phrases on net by lodge or guest house owners does not exist on ground. Good Hotels and Restaurants are also available outside the Fort area .
The fort has four wooden gates ( Pols ) having thick iron nails .The Palace is built atop a gate known as HAVA POL . The fort has 99 Bastions for security purposes. Other gates to the fort are known as Suraj Pol, Ganesh Pol and Bhoot Pol.Observed from a distance , this fort looks Golden yellow at Dawn but changes its colour to something close to Honey at sunset time. The yellow sandstone available in the region has been extensively used in the construction of this fort.
Most of the palaces inside the fort have beautiful carvings on yellow Sand stone depicting Hindu Gods , women , camels , Peacocks ,elephants , flowers and Leaves .The view from the balconies, Jharokhas and windows of the Palaces inside the fort is majestic . The interior portion of all the Palaces is cool and airy. The palaces worth visiting are SARVOTAM VILAS, RANG MAHAL, MOTI MAHAL and SHEESH MAHAL .
Another Palace built lately in 1830 AD lies outside the fort area . This palace is known as Mandir Palace and has two elegant yellow sand stone carved buildings called BADAL VILAS and JAWAHAR VILAS. The descendents of the rulers live in this palace which has been partly leased to a Prestigious Hotel .
The Trikuta hill upon which the Jaisalmer fort is built is about 250 Feet from the ground. The lower part of the hill around the fort has a solid stone Boundary wall. The fort has been constructed perfectly for defence against enemy attacks.
THE BHATTIS OF THE THAR DESERT
The Bhattis were a feared lot who thrived by levying Taxes on Carvans of Merchandise moving on this ancient Trade route . This route from Thar desert was a preferred route for movement of goods from Delhi to sindh and thence to Iran and Arbia and vice versa .Bhattis , who claim to be Chandervanshi Yadav Rajputs , were Feudal chiefs who amassed wealth on account of the Trade Taxes and occasional looting of Carvans .It was in 1156 AD that Rao Jaisal , A Bhatti Chief founded the Jaisalmer city atop Trikuta hill and consolidated his wealth and position in the area. He ordered that only Brahmins , Rajputs and Traders would inhabit the fortified city while other communities had to live outside the fort .So the inner area of the old city is mostly inhabited by Brahmins , Rajputs and a small segment from Trading community only. At the moment , Roughly about 4500 People live inside the Fold fortified city .
The Bhattis were Hindus but patronized Jainism as well. Eight Jain temples with Extensive stone Carvings were also built by them inside the fort .These Jain Temples have exquisite yellow sand stone carvings depicting flowers , Dancing women , gods horses and elephants . These Jain Temples are known as Parshavnath , Sambhavnath ,Shantinath , Sheetal Nath ,Ashthapath, Chander Prabhu Swami ,RishabhDev and Mahaveer Swami Temples . A Laxmi Nath temple dedicated to Laxmi and Vishnu located inside the fort is also worth seeing.
The Bhattis lived happily except when they looted the Carvan of Mohd Ghori. The sultan was annoyed at this act and his army attacked the Fort . The Rajputs lost and the Royal ladies Performed first *Jauhar inside the fort.. Jaisalmer remained disturbed for about 200 Years thereafter . Alla Ud Din Khilji’s forces also attacked the fort in 1308 AD and the Royal ladies performed another Jauhar after the Rajput forces lost to invading Forces of Delhi’s sultan. Mohd Tughlak’s forces attacked the fort in 1326 AD and laid a siege for 8 years . The royal ladies performed another Jauhar when Rajputs were defeated .Another Jauhar was performed in 1485 AD when Rao Lunkaran died fighting Ali khan’s forces . This Jauhar of Royal ladies is remembered to this day in some folk songs of the desert.
Bhattis also kept moving out and scattered themselves in many directions .Some went to Punjab , others settled in Sindh where they came to be known as **Bhuttos.
The period from 16th to 18th century was a golden age for this desert kingdom. The Rajputs made peace with Akbar .
Autar Mota is a blogger and writes in English & Hindi for local and national papers and magazines.