Jaisalmer : Golden City / Festival of Lights
Jaisalmer Travel Blog› entry 221 of 268 › view all entries
In alleyways not even wide enough to swing a kitten the cows nosey on along, as they do all over this land, without a care in the world. The cramped and sculpted daintiness of Jaisalmer forts Mughal era passageways are no impediment to their cumbersome, cud-chewing peregrinations. Remember, they are not in your way. The opposite is true Mister. Missus. 'Either step around me, fly over me, or find another route ya bipedal berk' those eyes seem to intimate. Doh-si-dohing with cows. It's one of the many arts of 'street' etiquette (survival!) one must acquire in India. Generally they are obligingly stationary as you shuffle by, but remember to raise your arm as you pass the arse or you risk a right good smack around the chops with his lord or ladyship's tail! A fate that's not befallen me yet.
Hmmm? Apologies for such an unnecessarily colourful commencement to proceedings. But well, let's stick with colours. Those of a spectrum more pleasing to ones eyes. You follow a trail of colours when travelling around Rajasthan. A point to point rainbow. Jaipur, 'The Pink City' ; although at the time of writing (02/11/2009) the black, orange and yellow city following a devastating explosion at a large oil refinery, the fires from which are yet to abate after three days.
It is in the hour or so ahead of this time that the dominating feature of the landscape, Jaisalmer fort looks it most radiant. That low sun bringing out the very best and brightest hues of the rich ochre-gold sandstone used for the forts construction.
Walking through the forts lanes today I'm struck with how compact a sense of magnificence needed to be back in the day. Of course there were less of us to rule over and to defend then. A stroll around the entire base circumference of the fort won't take you longer than about 20 minutes. Traversing the little labyrinth that composes its interior tapestry is great fun - getting lost a whole bunch of times. Trying to take your bearings from one of the infinite t-shirt and trinket stalls that line the entwined gullies and pathways between the old sandstone residences.
A lot of this overcrowding by both the stalls, hotels and restaurants that the fort now encloses is a cause of concern for the forts future. Going on no finer authority than the pages of the Lonely Planet, apparently pressure from the water supply being forced through the forts antiquated and inadequate drainage systems has caused three of its 12th Century bastions to collapse in the last 16 years. This fact and the over development making it 'one of the world's most endangered monuments.
Also squeezed inside the forts confines, almost half-buried and piled on top of one another is a wonderful cluster of Jain temples. Having not had time to stop and see the fabulous temple of Ranakpur (just north of Udaipur) this is an early encounter for me with the often sensual intricacy of Jain temple carvings. The flowing forms lovingly, intimately carved upon the warm ochre stone facades often imparting this sensuality to mixed scenes of spirituality and violence as well as those hinting mildly at the lascivious.
Being as it’s possibly our last evening on The Road together Gray and I treat ourselves to an above-average meal at one of the Haveli-top restaurants of Gandhi Chowk.
Gray departed for New Delhi now. Gray, a drab colour anyway... ‘just kiddin’ chum!‘ Stevie on his lonesome once more. Feeling blue? Nah, not really but I needed to forge a tenuous-as-heck link back to the subject of colours ya see ;D Yes, colour. It plays a vital role and is in fact a true visual language in the lives of Indians. Particularly in Rajasthan. For men in Rajasthan the colour (and manner of tying) of their turbans is an indicator of class/ caste, occasion or marital status. The same is true of the saris, veils, makeup, jewellery and other garments worn by the often visually enthralling women.
The 18th. Diwali! The festival of lights. One of the two largest festivals in the Hindu calendar. The other being Holi in February/ March. The festival of light has several layers of significance. It symbolises the return home from battle of Rama and his wife Sita; Rama having successfully defeated the demon Ravana of Lanka who had kidnapped his wife.
But the kids don't care about all that! Well okay, the sweets and wide screen TV are pretty cool. But, all they wanna do is make lots of noise! FIREWORKS! Diwali is an explosion of noise and colour. Fireworks, firecrackers and bangers crack and ricochet off the fort walls as I have an after dark stroll, killing time ahead of my late train to Jodhpur. In the small open 'squares' within the fort whole gangs of kids twist and light zinc fuses and run for their lives to cower and grin behind the sandstone walls that flare an after-dark gold briefly in the brightness of their thousand tiny explosions.
Walking along, a mother marvels as her child scrawls - what seem to my untrained eyes anyway - fluorescent Sanskrit squiggles, flourishes and dots through the night air with a fizzing pink sparkler. The owner of a haveli (<-- historic Islamic female quarters with lattice grill windows) hotel I've momentarily befriended offers me a few of the little home made paper parcel fire bangers the kids are all lobbing with abandon. After chucking a dud or two ( you really have to throw them with some "oomph!" ) I manage to cause a minor detonation or three within the old fort walls. 'Under siege again after so many centuries?!' the aching stone-deep soul of the city groans.
I marvel at the beautiful and intricate geometric and floral pattern crafted in a rainbow coloured profusion of colours that sits within the haveli doorway. These are called rangoli and are traditional creations at Diwali (and other times). I have noticed these little flourishes of public art blossoming forth from the fingers of families all over Jaisalmer these past few days. Smiling, squatting mothers keen to infuse and excite the minds of their sons and daughters with the colours and patterns of their own childhoods. 'Who made this? It is so, so beautiful!' I ask in the haveli. The young lady of the house silently blushes and bows her head. 'She did' the boys say.
Nearly time to leave.