Perched on the top of Trikuta Hill, Jaisalmer’s honey coloured fort rises above the city like a giant sandcastle. This is the second oldest fort in Rajasthan, one of the largest in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and almost unique in India in being still inhabited *.
There is only one way into the fort, through a series of gates on the eastern side. After passing through the first of these you cross a large open space; here we came across a young girl perched on a frame under the ramparts. Seeing us approach she stood up and we could see that she was a tightrope walker. Balancing traditional pots on her head she walked the rope, deliberately swaying it from side to side. She did several tricks too, all the time watched by her anxious father below.
Our guide Gaurav explained that her mother before her had done the same. She had obviously tutored her daughter well as she was very impressive. Gaurav suggested that 50 IR was an appropriate tip, but we felt she deserved more. She was very grateful for the 100 we gave her, saying that it would bring us good karma. That may or may not be true, but it certainly brought us good photos!
For this, the second of my Friendly Friday ‘Meet …’ challenges, I hope you’ll enjoy watching her in action in this short video. I apologise for the background noise – but then, this is India!
Jaisalmer Fort was built by the Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal in 1156 AD, hence its name. From the open square where we met the young tightrope walker you follow a path that twists and climbs past several more gates. The most ornate of these is the Suraj Pol or Sun Gate. Once through this the road turns back on itself as it climbs, passing beneath the Ganesh Pol and Hawa Pol (Gate of the Wind). The twists in the road enable it to climb steeply; they also made the fort easier to defend, or rather, harder to attack.
Eventually you reach the square at the heart of the fort, the Dashera Chowk. From here a maze of narrow alleys weave through the fort, lined with old havelis, many of beautifully carved stone. Many are still family homes; and only Brahmin families can live here, with the houses being passed down from father to son.
Tourism in the fort
Other houses have been turned into restaurants or hotels. This is causing some problems as the large amount of water they use drains away down through the sandstone and is causing damage to the historic structure. Most of the restaurants offer roof-top views and almost all claim to be the best. We later stopped for a cold drink at one and the view was certainly very good. Was it the best? I cannot say!
Gaurav explained that when he was growing up in Jaisalmer it was quite a poor city, with a lot of unemployment. This is a desert region where people struggle to grow many crops and there are few industries. But when tourists started to discover the city, things changed. Today they are the main source of income for most locals – working in hotels or restaurants, or as guides, or running desert tours etc. Perhaps that explains why they promote these services with such enthusiasm. Occasionally though this approach misfires. While I am sure we would all enjoy a ‘Lovely Jubble Camel Safari’, a ‘Bloody Good View’ or maybe a stay in ‘Hotel Paradise’, I am not so sure about ‘Child Beer’ or ‘Killa Corner’.
Meet the locals
Gaurav lives here in the fort (he pointed out his own house as we passed) and naturally knows it really well. We spent quite a lot of the morning here, wandering the streets and taking photos. He took us down a number of back streets less often visited by tourists where often we were the only people apart from the residents. Many of them called out a greeting to Gaurav, and to us, as we passed. But it’s highly unlikely that our young tightrope walker lives here; no one of the Brahmin caste would need to earn money in such a fashion.
I was very much struck by the number and variety of lovely old doors here; some ornately carved, others painted in bright or more subtle colours. I noticed that even newly built or restored houses followed the traditional styles and often had a particularly elaborate door even if the rest of the building was relatively plain. But it was the older ones that were the most photogenic to my eyes, having much more character.
This was a great opportunity to photograph lots of little details, which helped to paint a picture of life in this rather unusual town within a fort. Gaurav explained much of what we were seeing. The ‘seven chillies and one lemon’ are hung outside many of the houses for luck; and the Hindu swastika is also considered lucky.
I asked Gaurav about the many colourful paintings of the god Ganesh. He explained that it is the custom here to paint an announcement of a significant family event on the wall of the house; a painting of Ganesh announces a wedding. The couple’s names are given, and the date of the wedding. This is by way of open invitation; anyone can come along, regardless of if they know the families involved or not. With possibly several thousand to feed, as well as a dowry to find, marrying off your daughter can be an expensive business; and Gaurav told us that he has four!
Once the wedding is over the Ganesh painting remains until gradually with time it fades. Some may see these adornments on the walls of such historic buildings as defacing them. But houses, however old, are meant to be lived in; and these customs are part of life here: proof, if needed, that Jaisalmer Fort is not a museum but a living town.
On our way back out of the fort I saw that the young tightrope walker was still busy, putting on a great show for passing tourists. As I said when I introduced this new theme six weeks ago, it is so often the people we meet who make travel so rewarding and so memorable. Seeing this young girl so skilful and composed was a real pleasure, adding to the considerable enjoyment of visiting the fort.
Over to you
So now it’s over to you. Whom would you like us to meet? Perhaps a person or people you’ve encountered on your own travels, whether far from home or in your own country? Or maybe you’ll look closer to home to find someone we’d love to meet. Let’s celebrate the wonderful diversity of our world while also illustrating that important adage, that we have more in common than we often realise.
Please leave a comment with a link to your post; and tag it Friendly Friday (#friendlyfriday) if you want me to find it, as pingbacks tend not to work on my site. Thank you.
And meanwhile many thanks to everyone who participated in my first ‘Friendly Friday: Meet …’ challenge. If I’ve missed anyone off the list below I apologise – as I said, pingbacks aren’t currently working here.
- Sandy introduced us to the people of Cuba, and in particular the locals in the small village of Chivirico.
- Through Amanda we met Olav, a rather intimidating Norwegian!
- I. J. Khanewala of Don’t Hold Your Breath told us the story of Lem the singer.
- Sheetal introduced us to a rather special guide, Mukesh Jain, at the Golden Temple of Amritsar.
- Manja described hooking up with some travel companions in Trieste.
- And Sofia told us all about a memorable encounter with some high school children in Kyoto.
Thank you all!
* Most sources, and our guide, claim that Jaisalmer is unique in this respect, but Chittaurgargh, which we were to visit later in our trip, also retains its village.
I visited Jaisalmer in 2015