Rajasthan : Jaisalmer to Jodhpur via Pokhran | Horn please, OK?

Rajasthan : Jaisalmer to Jodhpur via Pokhran

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Day 4 : Jaisalmer to Jodhpur via Pokhran
When : December 2014 | How far : 285 kms | How long : 4.5 hrs 

Jaisalmer Fort shines golden under the setting sun
The Golden Fort at Jaisalmer

What does India's only living fort look like?
It looks like every other unplanned city in India but made from 1000 year old yellow sandstone. To call it a city or even a town would be a stretch, 'settlement' I think is a better word. 

Steps leading up to a house inside Jaisalmer Fort
Steps leading up to a house inside Jaisalmer Fort
Narrow lanes selling souvenirs inside Jaisalmer Fort
Narrow lanes selling souvenirs inside Jaisalmer Fort
The Sonar Killa of books and movies is a more mysterious creature than the Sonar Killa that lay before us. It was missing intrigue and adventure. Not that we needed more adventure on this trip especially after getting locked inside a cremation ground.  

We were going to spend the morning exploring the fort and its resident monuments. It being peak tourist season we found a guide easily or rather he found us and tenaciously hovered around till we hired him. 

Travel Tip:  We can't stress this enough. Always get a government approved guide. Ask for their registration card

Jain Temples of Jaisalmer

The most elaborate structures within The Golden Fort are the Jain temples. There are 7 of them all built between the 12th and 16th centuries and interconnected through walkways. We wondered how such a staunchly Rajput settlement, predominantly followers of Shiva and the Sun God, came to have so many Jain temples inside. 

Jain temples inside Jaisalmer Fort
Parasvnath temple inside Jaisalmer Fort
The Jains made up most of the trading community in Jaisalmer and contributed massively to the taxes that were collected. In return for their contribution to the kingdom's prosperity the king gave them permission (and possibly the funds) for the construction of these temples within the fort walls. 

Jain temples inside Jaisalmer Fort

The temples are dedicated to various Tirthankars (Jain teachers/holy men) - Parasnath, Shitalnath, Chandraprabhu, Rishabdev and Sambhavnath amongst the ones we remember. The entrance into Parasnath temple was through an ornate Toran or gateway. 

Entrance arch (Toran) leading in to Parasvnath temple inside Jaisalmer Fort
Entrance arch (Toran) leading in to Parasvnath temple inside Jaisalmer Fort
Our guide pointed out the 3 different stones that were used to construct the base of the toran - yellow sandstone, marble and sea fossil stone. He claimed that the darker sea fossil stone was put there to ward off nazar (the evil eye) but it sounded like it was made up to add details to his narrative. What he couldn't have made up was this; the fossil stone implied that the Thar Desert on whose edge Jaisalmer sat was once submerged under the sea.  

Columns made of marble, yellow sandstone and sea fossil stone
Columns made of marble, yellow sandstone and sea fossil stone
Close inspection of the stone showed up small fossilised sea creatures and shells suspended in the stone. It was to us the most fascinating find in the fort. There were shops selling tumblers and bowls made of the stone. Shopkeepers claimed that it had some form of live bacteria that imparted qualities to water stored in it, which cured heart and blood ailments. Right. 

Back inside the temple we were surrounded by sandstone carvings of Tirthankaras, Apsaras (angels) and Gods. 

Exquisitely carved torans inside the Jain Temples in Jaisalmer Fort

The ceilings we thought, had the most interesting carvings. There was a sculpture of a being with one head and 5 bodies. It is said to depict the 5 basic elements.

Decorated ceilings of Jain Temples within Jaisalmer Fort

Some of the other carvings can only be described as stone lace, their delicate forms belying the hardness of the stone they are made of. 
Some ceilings were painted

Decorated ceilings of Jain Temples within Jaisalmer Fort

And some were not 

Decorated ceilings of Jain Temples within Jaisalmer Fort

And some had sprouted clumsy looking aluminium lamps

Decorated ceilings of Jain Temples within Jaisalmer Fort

Travel Tip :  If you're visiting in December, prepare to be jostled by the thousands of other tourists you'll be sharing the fort with. Not a fan of crowds? Plan your trip for after mid January. 

Jaisalmer the Golden City

Canon point is a steep climb up one of the 99 bastions of the fort. It overlooks the sprawling town that has mushroomed along the fort walls. Haphazardly placed boxes of dusty yellow sandstone fight for a spot between the fort and the desert. 

Canon point at Jaisalmer Fort
Canon point at Jaisalmer Fort
A view of the Golden City
A view of the Golden City
Rajmahal is the other noteworthy monument inside the fort but the crowds made us drop the idea of venturing in. We had a full day of driving ahead of us so we checked out of our hotel and headed out of the fort.

The Golden Fort at Jaisalmer

The Golden Fort at Jaisalmer made out of yellow sandstone

Golden Fort at Jaisalmer

Bada Bagh, The Garden of Bones  

10 kms away from Jaisalmer towards Lodurva is a cluster of cenotaphs built in memory of the Bhatti rulers. Cenotaphs are memorials built for kings and other royalty. In some cases its where the last rites were carried out. 

Back in the 16th century, Maharana Jai Singh II had commissioned the construction of a dam near the desert. The water was used for irrigation and supplied to the town of Jaisalmer. The Maharana's son Lunkaran built a garden in the same spot as a tribute to his father and constructed a cenotaph in his memory. The tradition continued for the next 500 years.

The water has long dried up and scrub has taken over the land but you can still see patches of green that stand out in stark contrast to the desert landscape. 

The 500 year old cenotaphs stand next to towering wind turbines in a wind farm constructed nearby. The juxtaposition seems symbolic of the unique mix of history and modernity that is India.  The garden in the desert and wind turbines both technological advancements of their time.

Wandering through the serene yet strangely depressing Bada Bag, we noticed that the most recent memorial was built around the time of India's independence in memory of Jawahar Singh. It remains incomplete.

At the time we didn't know why, but something we found on the internet says that the King Jawahar Singh's son died a year after he ascended the throne. The event was considered a bad omen and the practice of building cenotaphs in Bada Bag was discontinued.

Travel Tip: Try and catch a sunset from Bada Bag.  

Cenotaphs at Pokhran

Remember that unsettling conversation we had with a passerby in Pokhran? The one in which we were told to stay away from the cenotaphs after we asked for directions?

Well, we decided to go ahead and find them anyway.

They could be seen from the highway looming in the distance. We turned left off NH 114 onto the only motorable road leading in their direction. The road got narrower and dirtier till it ended in a shallow depression being used as a garbage dump. We drove off the asphalt and continued straight for another 50 meters. We were stopped by a railway track.

The cenotaphs were on the other side of the tracks and could only be reached by foot. We got out of the car to stretch our legs and debate whether to continue on our quest. There was a low breeze creating eddies of dust and scattering the lighter bits of garbage. We saw the skull of a cow complete with horns, lying on its side.

The eerie abandoned feel coupled with the sight of the skull and the passerby's warning made the hair on our necks stand. On mine at least. The 4 of us split up.  2 stayed behind with the car and the other 2 walked over to the cenotaphs.

Made of a dirty red sandstone, the entrance was partially blocked making it difficult to climb the stairs leading up to them. We found a narrow gap and slid through.

Once beautiful, they're now disfigured by graffiti. There was a dried up water reservoir at the back. The floor was scattered with broken beer bottles and the place smelt of piss. Unsurprisingly there were no plaques or signboards stating who these memorials were built for.

Not a place that anyone would want to spend much time in, we hurried back to the car ready to leave. All of a sudden we heard a shrill, piercing whistle from not too far away. It was coming from a train approaching the spot we were standing on. We hurriedly got into the car and backed away from the tracks. It felt like a sign telling us it was time to leave.

Jodhpur City Lights

Pokhran to Jodhpr via NH114 is a smooth flat drive. The landscape became less dusty and barren as we approached Jodhpur. The only thing we had to watch out for were animal crossings.  

We'd left our hotel bookings till November and as a result had to give up on the idea of finding accommodation in the old city. We booked ourselves into Pal Garh, a haveli in Pal village 12 kms away. 

A turn off the NH 114 highway put us on a road that snaked through the village. It went around an enormous gazebo and brought us to a clearing in front of the haveli. 

It was the loveliest hotel we were going to stay in on this road trip. A few hundred years old (like everything else in Rajasthan) the haveli was stately and elegant. The rooms were palatial with ensuite bathrooms. 

The main dining hall and a recreation room had old photographs and memorabilia belonging to the family that owned Pal Garh. It was beautifully curated and told a good story of the haveli.

Pal Garh has a sister concern in the old city called Pal Haveli. Its sought after for its dazzling view of the Mehrangarh fort. A good way to spend an evening in Jodhpur, our hosts booked us a table at the rooftop restaurant. The drive in to the old city took us 20 minutes. 

Travel Tip : If you don't have access to a private car, try and find accommodation in the old city where everything is within walking distance.   

It was past 8 pm by the time that we got there. We left our car on the main road and walked into Sardar bazaar. Everything was winding down. We skirted the old, vibrantly lit clock tower and exited the bazaar from the rear entrance. 

A short walk later we were at Pal Haveli. The view from our table did not disappoint. 

The food was average and the service a little slow but thats not what we were there for. And we were reminded of it every time we looked up from our plates. 

Travel tip : Even if you're not staying at Pal Haveli, go have a drink at their rooftop restaurant. It was recommended to us by a friend and is a tip worth passing on! 

The right way to savour winter in north India is to swaddle yourself in a shawl and pile up on hot sweets. Its the only time of year that you can really enjoy their rich sweetness. Not one to shy away from food we'd gotten into the habit of looking for a sweet or paan shop after dinner.

Jodhpur is known for its silver jewellery and textiles but equally famous for its hot gulab jamuns. 

Nathulal's brightly lit corner shop called out to us and we ended the evening on the sweetest note possible - steaming gulab jamuns and hot jalebis.    

Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> Gurgaon to Bikaner via Mandawa & Fatehpur
Day 2 -> Bikaner to Sam sand dunes
Day 3 -> Sam sand dunes to Jaisalmer 
Day 4 -> You just read it
Day 5 -> Jodhpur, the blue city
Day 6 -> Jodhpur to Chittorgarh via Kumbhalgarh
Day 7 -> Chittorgarh to Bundi
Day 8 -> Bundi to Gurgaon

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