Jaisalmer : Golden City / Festival of Lights

Jaisalmer Travel Blog

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View of the 'sand castle' glory of Jaisalmer fort from our hotel roof.

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.

Traditional Rajasthani marionette dolls
.. however I have trodden in three ruddy great cow sh*ts in just five weeks.  Yes, usually stepping back to get that 'perfect shot'.  An unhealthy quota of excrement.  Holy cows.  Holy sh*t.  My steps through this land have been blessed I guess?

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.

City guard.
  Jodhpur, 'The Blue City', so named for the indigo infused wall colourings of the predominantly Brahmin residences of the historical city quarter - the indigo acts as both a coolant and an insect repellent apparently.  And then out here, on the edge of the Thar Desert, sits 'The Golden City' of Jaisalmer.  Blue, pink and gold.  All colours the region's skies blend together with regular majesticality at the approach of sundown.

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.

Ganpati
  Whether it be in the over-size blocks that make up the high walls and buttresses visible from without, or the amazingly intricate open work carvings of the haveli windows and balconies that line the streets upper reaches within, each line is vibrantly traced.  Imposing and firm by day.  The fort glows with Arabian Nights mystique come late evening.

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.

The Little Maharaja surveys his kingdom :)
  Occasionally the alleyway 'planning' opens out to a tiny square where kids play with little paper snaps but generally speaking there's little room for manoeuvre within the fort... though the Indian men still insist on roaring and ‘beeping!’ around on their mopeds and bikes.

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.

Curvacious lines of Mughal haveli architecture inside the fort.
'  In a pleasing nod to sustainable tourism and historical conservation the recently published 2009 India LP refuses to list any hotels or restaurants within the forts boundaries.  For once LP, I salute you! ... though folks, don't miss out on the food at the Little Tibet restaurant not far from the entrance ;)    

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.

Fabric over market 1
  One grinning hero or god may grasp the decapitated head of his enemy in one hand whilst cupping the other around the breast of his buxom clasping female attendant/wife.  I see this ancient aesthetic fusion of sex and violence mirrored in the garish art of the old skool cheap Hindi masala ( 'spice' ) movie posters that one occasionally finds upon the walls of those modern day temples, cinemas.  Scantily clad female leads feign terror or lust whilst hoods and heroes burst out at you from the posters with guns, daggers, swords and blood aplenty.  Gods of a new era.  Popcorn peddling Shivas.

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.

The keeper of the rainbow shop :)
  It’s nice enough although I wish the little trio of ‘musical’ (read caterwauling) drummer boys who set up camp expectantly near our table would jigger off!  A perfect view down over the main square where sweet sellers have trebled the capacity of their normal operations ahead of Diwali’s commencement tomorrow.  Premature fireworks are let off into the sky every now and then.  We split a bottle of Kingfisher, the ‘local’ beer in north India.  Alcohol.  Such a rarity in my life these days.  No more cravings.  A strange state of affairs.  I jest occasionally these days that I will have my British citizenship revoked upon my return for abstaining if I’m not careful.  Following the End of Empire an appreciation of our figurehead Queen and a good head of cream upon a pint of real ale the only real last defining marks (some would have you believe) of that elusive, shape-shifting and politically troublesome creature The British National Identity.
The reed seller.
  Jules - if you’re reading this - an Intra Venous drip with attached bag of Guinness or IPA must await me upon touchdown at Heathrow upon my eventual return or it could just be too late!

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.

Honey & Blue
  Gracefully stepping works of art with their demurely averted, downcast eyes.  For my part I am unable to educate you on this visual colour code barring one example.  A few days later I am pleased with the revelation from the audio tour guide of Jodhpur fort that informs me that Peacock Blue is the colour that celebrates Diwali.  The annual Festival of Lights.  Peacock Blue having serendipitously been the colour of my chosen turban for my time in Jaisalmer.

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.

'Havin' a good old feel' : sensuous Jain temple carvings.
  Therefore it is a celebration of the victory of good over evil.  Light over dark.  It also marks the 'darkest night' and the passing from the season of summer into winter.  A defiance of the fading of the light.  This time traditionally being when the 'cold season' would generally commence in India... although interestingly, this aspect is somewhat upset by the effects of climate change seeming to be responsible for prolonging the heat these days.  Diwali is also held in honour of the Goddess Lakshmi.  Goddess of wealth and prosperity.  It's an important time for Hindus to hope for good times and prosperity in the year ahead and this hope is expressed in a mass bout of spending and gift giving whether it be sweets, silk saris, jewellery or wide screen TVs.
'Popcorn pedalling Shivas' : the old 'masala' spice Hindi movie posters with their heroes and gangsters and dames.
  The shop keepers eyes light up as you walk about streets : 'Just one thing, one thing, is for Diwali for good luck.  Yours and mine.  you must buy something for good luck!'.

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.

  Giggles and squeals twist and reel into the night as loud and incendiary as the little rockets and fire snaps that ignited them.

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.

Hundreds of butter oil lamps lighting the way for Diwali, the festival of lights.

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.

One of the beautiful 'rangoli' designs crafted by the ladies of Jaisalmer for diwali.
  Back in the narrow alleyways.  Made fairytale magical for Diwali by the presence of thousands of tiny flickering butter oil lamps.  Small circular clay dishes (sold by the thousands at Diwali from a huge mound for a couple of rupees each) with oil and burning wick, lit to guide Rama home from his exile in battle.  A cow moves along the alley way.  A substantial black shadow amongst the shadows, thinking 'Ooo! They're pretty.  I wonder if they're edible?'.      

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View of the sand castle glory of…
View of the 'sand castle' glory o…
Traditional Rajasthani marionette …
Traditional Rajasthani marionette…
City guard.
City guard.
Ganpati
Ganpati
The Little Maharaja surveys his ki…
The Little Maharaja surveys his k…
Curvacious lines of Mughal haveli …
Curvacious lines of Mughal haveli…
Fabric over market 1
Fabric over market 1
The keeper of the rainbow shop :)
The keeper of the rainbow shop :)
The reed seller.
The reed seller.
Honey & Blue
Honey & Blue
Havin a good old feel : sensuou…
'Havin' a good old feel' : sensuo…
Popcorn pedalling Shivas : the o…
'Popcorn pedalling Shivas' : the …
Hundreds of butter oil lamps light…
Hundreds of butter oil lamps ligh…
One of the beautiful rangoli des…
One of the beautiful 'rangoli' de…
Jaisalmer fort and its honey colou…
Jaisalmer fort and its honey colo…
Jain priest
Jain priest
Carvings
Carvings
Market roof web
Market roof web
Colour and cloth
Colour and cloth
Fabric over market 2
Fabric over market 2
My loooong suffering trek trainers…
My loooong suffering trek trainer…
(Stone carved) Muju [ www.mujuworl…
(Stone carved) Muju [ www.mujuwor…
Jain temple roof 1
Jain temple roof 1
Jain temple roof 2
Jain temple roof 2
Stevie and Gray, the camera addict…
Stevie and Gray, the camera addic…
Jaisalmer fort by night
Jaisalmer fort by night
Jaisalmer
photo by: lrecht