It was quite dark by the time Roop Singh bade us goodnight. A friendly match of Lawn Tennis was in progress on the flood lit tennis court adjacent to the mess. Watching the volley of shots we trooped into the dining hall. Smartly uniformed Jawans with their warm welcome smiles washed away any traces of tiredness that still remained at the end of a tiring day. A quick supper of tasty Palak Paneer (spinach with home made cheese and butter), Daal (lentil), a vegetable preparation of potatoes and beans accompanied with fresh hot fluffy Chapatties (Indian bread made out of ground wheat) and Basmati rice followed by a fruit salad dessert concluded our second day at Jaisalmer. The tennis match was still on as we trooped out of the mess. The chill in the air reminded we were in the desert. With chattering teeth we hurried to into the comfortable confines of our room.
Early next morning, I found I had beaten the buglers by half an hour and why not, we had a busy day ahead. There was packing to be done, breakfast before heading out for Jodhpur. But before that, the Cenotaphs, Havelis, the Lake (Gadisar Lake) and last but not the least in fact the NOT to Be Missed the Living Fort with its famous Jain Temple needed a “must be there” round up before bidding Jaisalmer goodbye. To do all that plus a photo shoot in half a day, more precisely in just 4 hours seemed a tall task, taller when Roop Singh had, the evening before, said that he may not be available today to take us around.
By 8:30 am we had finished our last breakfast at Jaisalmer and as we trooped towards our Ram Piyari we were taken by a surprise “Good morning Sir” echoing behind us. Roop Singh greeted us with a warm smile. “Sir, I’ll take you around Jaisalmer….” Roop Singh was beaming at us. With no second thoughts, we hurried into his Gypsy. Before leaving the camp, we left a request for packed lunch so that we would not loose on time when we started for Jodhpur later in the day.
Our first destination in the local sight seeing started with Gadisar Lake. As the Gypsy drove into the parking lot with an air of official authority in its strides, Roop Singh briefed us about the Lake which is now not only a place of tourist attraction but with its boating facilities its also a place to unwind for the local inhabitants of Jaisalmer. The structures on the banks of the Lake are a feast to the eyes. As we walked up the ramp, Gadisar Lake was slowly waking up to its glory. Vendors were busy setting up stalls to display their wares. The soft mist spread over the surface of the lake, was a surprise in the midst of a warm desert, the mist however added a romantic feel to the place. I busied myself clicking pictures. Roop Singh in the mean while led the rest of the family to the banks where a group of tourists from Kolkata were busy feeding bread crumbs to the giant catfishes jostling with each other on the water surface. A puppy accompanying the tourists watched intently as the fishes scampered for the bread crumbs and waited patiently for a chance to grab one of them probably for a fishy brunch. “Sir the lake looks more beautiful in the evening when viewed from the Fort…” Roop Singh was saying as he stood beside me intently watching me frame my shots. “… next time, I visit Jaisalmer, I’ll make sure that I’m here for at least a week…” Roop Singh smiled back as I replied. A few artistically decorated domed structures with the Golden Fort in the backdrop attracted my attention as we walked back. “Sir, those are cenotaphs too, but they are of the wise men and priests who lived around the lake…” explained Roop Singh.
The Golden Fort.
Not knowing how much justice we had been able to do to Gadisar Lake in the thirty minutes we were there, we followed Roop Singh to the Gypsy for our next Destination… the Fort. “Sir you must have heard of Sonar Killa…?” “Sir , Satyajeet Rai’s Sonar Killa….? Havn’t you seen that film….?” Roop singh looked utterly surprised as I fumbled for a moment or two because I was engrossed checking out the smelly camel hide cowboy hats I had just purchased for the kids at the Lake than listening to him. “Yes yes… I know…” I replied absent mindedly. “Sir when you reach home apply some mustard oil on the hats and leave them in the sun, the smell will go…” he said as we drove our way up the gradients of Trikuta Hill, on which the Fort exists. During the ride to the Fort, Roop Singh told us more about the Fort and his ancestral home with in the Fort.
The Sky line on which we had been keeping our eyes fixed ever since we had come to Jaisalmer gradually began to turn its self from the haphazard peaks and lows of non-uniform dwellings to a majestic one offered by the imposing Golden Fort of the Jaisals. Roop Singh did not speak a word as he expertly navigated into a slot in the parking which doubled up as a vantage point offering a magnificent view of the Fort. He watched us in silence as the awe sank into each one of us. And when he knew that we had had enough of it, “Shall we…” is all he said with a disarming smile.
We trooped out of the Gypsy and followed Roop Singh. The streets, which initially seemed like any other dirty bylane at any other tourist destination of India, unlike most of its brethren, transformed into a clean passage winding itself up to the main square in Fort, as soon as we entered the Fort precincts. Vendors were already lined up with their stalls, only the wares were different. While in Agra, one gets to know in how many sizes and forms, the Taj is available, in Delhi one gets to know about the plethora of jewelry and handicrafts available, in Jaisalmer, one gets to know about the Colourful Puppets, Peacock Feather, Leather, Wooden, Yellow Stone souvenirs, traditional Musical Instruments, dresses and jewelry that is available in this part of India.
A beautiful ornate tower partly hidden behind a tree welcomed us at the entrance of the Fort. I presumed it to be a watch tower but with its height about two floors lower than the highest point on the Fort it seemed to be a farfetched presumption. Roop Singh broke silence. “Sir that is the Execution Tower… it extends two hundred feet below the lowest point that can be seen above the ground… criminals were executed here and left to hang from a noose, which was later cut and the body dropped two hundred feet below to be forgotten for ever…” He said. I did not how to react. What a little earlier seemed such a “Wow Thing” changed into something so distasteful so quickly was something too sudden to happen. What must have been an object of distaste to the early Jaisals seemed to retain its distaste even today as Roop Singh casually walked past it without any visible interest. I fought hard to refrain myself from asking “when it was last used…?”
The lanes winded into tight zig zags. Occasionally a bike or a two wheeler would be seen cautiously riding up or down the Lane. Though four wheelers are not allowed here, three wheelers ply up and down the slopes ferrying tourist. We preferred walking up. Roop Singh explained that the Lanes have been purposely made into tight zig zags, so that in the event of an enemy aggression, the soldiers don’t get foot hold or enough running distance to gate crash into the huge heavily armoured gates. However a staircase leading to a small puncture on the wall or leading to a rampart would suddenly emerge from no where would amuse the children to no ends. These staircases, Roop Singh explained as we walked on, actually leads to vantage points from where enemies could be targeted if required. Roop Singh almost sounded as if he was explaining ‘Plan B’ to Raja Jaisal’s elite team of mercenaries. A huge rolling pin kind of a stone and a few round cannonball like stones placed besides them, Roop singh explained were the missiles to be made use of.
Crossing the Poles (Gates) of which I recollect the Suraj pole, Ganesh Pole and Hawah Pole, we found ourselves into the main square of the Fort which was buzzing with Tourists and humming with voices of guides and hawkers. Here, unlike a metropolis, only the local men folk were to be seen in the thick and thin of activities, with the women folk restricted to house hold chores behind closed doors. Roop Singh invited us for a cup of tea, at his ancestral home, but since we were terribly short of time we declined the tea but promised to come back some other day when we visit this wonderful place again. Roop Singh took us to the terrace of his house where he introduced us to his younger brother, who is a professional tourist guide and who was already present there with his group of tourists. The terrace of Roop Singhs house offered a truly breathtaking bird’s eye view of Jaisalmer City.
A few shutter clicks and we were walking again, this time to the Famous Jain Temple of Rikhabdevji and Sambavnatji which it is said has an uncanny resemblance to the Jain Temle at Dilwara. While the later is in white marble, the one at Jaisalmer Fort is of Yellow Stone. On the way we stopped at the Dushehrah Chowk (Square) enveloped on two sides by the Royal Palace and the Queens Chambers. Exquisite carvings in yellow stone that adorn the palace walls are seen to be believed pieces of art. “Sir can you see the small peacocks carved on the balconies….? They have been carved from a single stone… they are not separate pieces…” we trained our sights toward where Roop singh’s finger pointed. Yes indeed that was a carved peacock in yellow stone and of course it had to be from a single stone… so what was so special about it I was thinking, when Roop Singh began once again, “No Sir not that one… Use your camera’s zoom… you’ll be able to see them… there are a hundred of them in a single panel all chiseled to perfection to the minutest detail….” I aimed the camera on the balcony frieze and made use of the 15x optical zoom. Sure there were tiny yellow peacocks. Three pairs of eyes crowded over the LCD screen as we repeated “Wow” four times over. At the far end, near the main entrance to the Palace, we could see tiny red coloured hand prints on the walls. “Those are the Hand prints of Sati Rani’s… of those queens who gave their lives on their husband’s pyres…” Roop Singh explained. My younger daughter seemed quite distraught hearing Roop Singh’s description…
It was close to 11:00 am when we reached the Jain Temples. Roop Singh could not have been more accurate when he had said that this temple was a replica of the Jain Temple at Dilwara. The only difference was that the temple was built out of Yellow Stone. It is said that during Mahmud Ghazni’s invasion the Jains from the surrounding areas sought the protection of the Jaisal Kings. An agreement was reached where the Jains would be protected but in return, they would have to bear the cost of maintenance and up keeping of the Fort, army and armoury required to thwart the invaders. Thus, slowly and steadily, the Jains established themselves in the form of Temples and other structures under the protection of the Fort.
Cameras are allowed inside the temple, for a fee, but since Roop Singh was accompanying us, we were waved in. The interiors were so exquisitely carved that the carvings at the Palace were dwarfed when compared.
Patwon Ka Haveli.
45 minutes later we were once again heading for Roop Singh’s Gypsy. We had the Havelis to cover too. Patwon ka Haveli is about 10 minutes drive from the Fort and it was close to mid day when we reached there. Since we were due to leave for Jodhpur by 1 pm, we had barely half an hour in hand to cover the Havelis. The exquisite stone carvings on the exterior told us that we were being extremely unjust to the destination which under normal condition can easily stretch an art lovers’ visit to the place from one whole day to two.
We were led into the court yard which was full of tourists and local artisans making the place look like a mini fair. Puppet makers, souvenir sellers and pigeons added colours to the place. Also to be found was the sun goggled red turbaned man with the longest moustache in the world who could be easily spotted from the grandeur of his red and gold attire and out stretched arms holding his moustache. Another person who had left an indelible impressing in my mind is a bearded yellow turbaned man selling peacock feather fans. It was not due to the beard or the turban or its colour that has impressed me, it was the man himself. I had seen him at the Fort yet found him again Patwon ka Haveli. He was there even before we had made it on the Gypsy. To be doubly sure that I was not imagining things, I checked out the shots I had clicked and sure enough I had two shots of the same person with me… once at the Fort and another at the Haveli. Sounds paranormal unless there is a hidden short cut from the Fort to the Haveli, or the men are twins.
The Royal Cenotaphs remained to be seen, but, it was time to bid farewell to Jaisalmer and I needed to visit an ATM before taking the highway so Roop Singh took me to a vantage point away from the Fort from where I could quickly click the Fort and Cenotaphs.
It was salary day and all the ATMs near the Fort had long queues. Those which did not have any were dried of cash. Finally A Union Bank ATM with no queue doled out my peace of mind. “Sir, yeh koi gumna nahi hua, kum se kum saat din rehten to sahi gumna hota…” “Sir, Is no sight seeing, had you stayed here for a seven days, you would have had a proper round up of Jaisalmer…” Roop Singh lamented as we drove into the camp. A person from the mess was waiting for us with four neatly packed lunches comprising of Curd and soft Aaloo Parathan, pickles and a vegetable preparation. Helped by Roop Singh and the others at the mess, we loaded our luggage on our Ram Piyary and finally it was time to say “fir milengey…” “Will meet again…”. “ Sahab, lunch yahin karke nikaltein dopahar to ho higya hai…” “Sir why not have your lunch here itself, its already afternoon…”. This is very much in line with the Indian belief of not to leave home with out eating particularly when it’s afternoon and when food is ready. I was overwhelmed by the gesture of these men in uniform. But I had my problems and with an apologetic nod, we set off for Jodhpur.
Points to be noted:
• Seven days is the time required to fathom the beauty of Jaisalmer
• The Fort is best visited on foot but be sure to have with you a good guide
• remote highway filling station rarely have pay by card facility so its wise to carry cash and when its near salary day, draw cash before people queue up at the ATMs.
Coming up next: Destination Jodhpur…