The yellow-hued sandstone of the fort perfectly fits into Jaisalmer’s title of the ‘Golden City’. By Shrimayee Thakur
Also known as ‘Sonar Qila’, for its golden visage, Jaisalmer fort is one of the most massive forts in the world. It was built in 1156 AD, during the reign of Rawal Jaiswal, who also founded the city of Jaisalmer. The structure is 250 feet in height, rising out almost 20 storeys out of the surrounding landscape of the Thar desert. It is protected by 30 feet long walls and has 99 bastions, of which 92 were built between 1633 and 1647. The fort’s main gate is 60-feet tall and was carved out of rosewood. The door has a crack that, according to legends, appeared when a Hindu saint went through the door. Three concentric rings of sandstone walls inside guard homes, stables, and palaces that were once occupied by Rajput kings.
The fort is bustling with myriad small tea shops, cafes, restaurants, guesthouses, homes, temples, and boutiques. The fort’s most significant structure is a granary, built out of four different types of stones, and large enough to hold grain to feed the fort’s residents for 12 years. The fort’s main attractions are the Raj Mahal, Jain temples and the Laxminath temple. The temples feature exquisite carvings in the pillars of the structures. Near the Jain temples is Baa Ri Haveli, a 450-year-old mansion that has now been turned into a museum that showcases items from the 15th century to the present.
Legends say that Rawal Jaisal chose the site as the location for his fort on the advice of a wise hermit, who told him that in the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna himself had praised the location, and said that a fort built there would be almost invisible to enemies. From approximately 50 kilometres away, the fort looks like a sandstone cliff.
Jaisalmer fort is one-of-a-kind, not just for its exquisite golden sandstone structure, but also for the fact that it is still inhabited. Around 2,000, families still call the gargantuan structure home, over 860 years after it was built. The residents of the fort have ancestries going back to the 12th century when the fort was initially built. A fourth of the population of the city still lives in the fort, making it a ‘living’ monument.
The most famous landmark of Jaisalmer city, the fort was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, apart from also being declared as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India. The fort has withstood 800 years of damage, but now shifts and crumbles. According to experts, an ancient sewage system that has been seeping into the foundations of the fort is the main culprit. Other reasons also include damage due to increased amounts of rain, caused by climate change. While building the original structure, the workers had slathered large amounts of mud onto the roofs to keep the fort cool. Due to rain, the mud softens and leads to collapses. Tourists visiting the area have been requested to keep water usage to a minimum, to preserve this magnificent relic of Jaisalmer’s past.