A lake in the middle of the desert!! You bet we were surprised!! What's more, it was a clean lake with loads of water, geese and boating!! We spent a very memorable new years eve evening here, a paddle boat ride for half an hour, a close encounter with geese in the lake and a memorable last sunset of the year 2008!
It has a beatifully arched roof, built by the prime minister who had differences with the king. Originally planned to be connected to the fort, when the king decided against it 2 storeys of this haveli were brought down. Inside there are myriad forms of intelligent architecture all built with the intention of thwarting enemies who may enter from outside. Uneven steps, narrow entrances that ensured the enemies could enter only one at a time so that the women of the household could defend themselves.
The roof is made from multiple parts that are only mechanically joint together. Very ornate and quite spectacular.
All of these Havelis are within walking distance of each other. So after getting done with the Patwon ki Haveli we walked up to the Nathmalji ki Haveli. It's facade is a riot of ornamentation. However we didn't go in.
This is one of the largest and most elaborate Haveli in Jaisalmer and stands in a narrow lane. It is five storeys high and is extensively carved. It is divided into six apartments, two owned by archaeological Survey of India, two by families who operate craft-shops and two private homes. There are remnants of paintings on some of the inside walls as well as some mirror work. The intricate work on the walls of the Haveli are absolutely out of this world!! You can see a lot of this replicated in many houses across the city.
patwa was a wealthy merchant who had many trading centres from China to Afghanistan. His haveli is truly an embodiment of his wealth and sucess!! The 5 storeyed building with it's myriad chambers are definitely worth a trip across the country!
Sam dunes are some 40 odd kms away from the Jaisalmer city, as we had come from Jodhpur by car we drove straight to the Rajasthan Desert Safari camp for our desert experience. As soon as we arrived we were served some piping hot tea- most welcome as the camp was really cold what with a steady gust of wind blowing all the time! Quickly we got out our jackets and headed for the camel safari. We found out our camel's name was Bablu Bhai, who quickly dispensed us of our romantic ideas of a camel ride. Camels are all about snorts and farts really!! :O After a nice bumpy ride to the desert the guuy who owned the camel started regaling us with stories of how the camp owner hardly pays him enough and so expected some cash from us. This was the only irritating experience of this desert safari. We gave him some cash and asked him to please leave us in peace as we settled down on a nice dune ready to catch the sunset!
The sunset was beautiful however the pesty camel owner was back to take us to the camp. All the way he kept telling us he was expectig more money, however this time round we told him to just talk to the camp owner if he were not happy with his remuneration as we had already paid the same a heady amount for this experience.Once back, they had lined up a series of rajasthani dance and music performances some of which were truly fantastic!! As women danced with fire, coal and various other items neatly balanced on their head we watched dumbstruck. Truly amazing to be able to watch people who were so talented. We had our buffet dinner and settled by the bonfire till late in the night.
You have to go through formidable gates before you hit the main centre of activities inside the fort of Jaisalmer. In sequence, these are named Akshay Prole, Ganesh Prole, Suraj Prole and Hawa Prole. The way each of the gates are placed in the overall structure is quite scientific (from the point of view of their functionality in thwarting raiders). After you cross one gate, you get a clear run of maximum 50 metres before encountering a hairpin bend. Tackling this bend, you immediately hit the next gate. The rationale behind such placement was that the enemy raiders would never acquire the requisite momentum to charge the fort because of these bends, compounded with the solid structure of the gates.
Walking on the cobble-stoned narrow lanes inside the fort is an experience by itself. Almost all houses that you see around you bear intricate carvings on sandstones amidst the jharokas. One such sample is appended.
Exquisite carvings on several temples in the fort are also noteworthy. One, specifically, dedicated to Jain tirthankaras, built around 700 years ago, is jaw-dropping.
Sam Dunes lie 42 kms west of Jaisalmer. A proper desert safari at Sam involves at least three nights, and you have multiple options for crystallising the same through various specialised agencies at Jaisalmer (you got to be careful of the choice of agency here, I'm told). My schedule didn't permit three nights in the desert; hence, I chose what was the next best option, viz. a night at one of the safari camps at Sam.
If you are not travelling in a large group, I insist that you hire a motorcycle (freely available at Hanuman Chowk, for instance) and undertake the 42 kms drive to Sam. Undulating desert sand all around, isolated hardened shrubberies, desert wind in your face, no traffic to negotiate on a perfectly-laid Border Roads Organisaton (BRO) road, landscape periodically dotted with camel caravans on their way to seemingly nowhere, small clusters of villages with a handful of population.........it's a magical ride!
Having arrived at one of the `camel points' at Sam, I boarded a restless 4 year old named Michael Jackson (that's the impact of globalisation!) to have a quick round of the local dune and the sunset. Unforgettable, to say the least.....but what followed later in the evening was ethereal.
I retired at one of the 25 odd desert safari camps dotting Sam, named Payal Safai Camp, run by Karim Bhai. Once inside my Swiss tent (adequately furnished, with an attached loo to boot), I changed into woolies for the cool evening ahead, and stepped out. Night had settled on the desert, and the camp owners had fitted out a proper bonfire, around which the guests settled in their settees. A band of professional Rajasthani folk singers and dancers moved in, and mesmerised us with their rustic, melodious and spontaneous fare for the next two hours. Later in the evening, post-dinner, I took time to saunter out and lie down on the desert sand, just to stare at the sparkling desert sky for a seeming eternity........
Waking up early next morn, I ventured a bit further towards Desert National Park on Michael Jackson, to watch the sunrise and also to move away from the crowd.
I returned later that afternoon to Jaisalmer, experiencing one more instalment of that motorcyle ride.
Some less pleasant thoughts, however, remained of the Sam sojourn. The place, clearly, has become littered on account of the irresponsible tourist influx. Unless you move away from Sam on a longer safari, the epicentre of this activity is rather crowded and dirty.
History tells us that as Jaisalmer's fortunes flourished, some of its noblemen and wealthy traders made use of their wealth to construct magnificent residences (or`havelis') for themselves. Three of them, situated at different locations in Jaisalmer, are part of regular tourist beat.
The first is Salam Singh's Haveli, on Asni Road, built by a former prime minister of Jaisalmer. The haveli has not been acquired by the Government, and continues to be inhabited and run by successors in the family. The results are but obvious. Most of the haveli is poorly maintained, and the pieces of architecture are coming apart. You will be charged INR 15 (additional INR 15 if you want to take photographs) to have a look-around inside the haveli, accompanied by a tour guide from the family. The only object that I found of real uniqueness in the haveli was the structure and carvings of the arch on the rooftop (see pic attached). I was informed that each of the knob-like hangings that existed below the balcony were detachable.
Next, and the grandest of the havelis, was Patwa ki Haveli. This is the creation of a Jain business family. Six buildings make up the haveli overall, of which two are in the possession of Archaeological Survey. My walkaround at this haveli was confined to these two buildings. Inside, I got a taste of the living style of the family. Three words can roughly sum up the overall interiors of this haveli.....colours, design and grandeur. Check out the four snaps attached to confirm what I mean.
The last stop on the haveli beat was Nathmalji ki Haveli. What stands out at this haveli are the two beautiful elephants designed at the entrance, and the exquisitely done up main door.
Once upon a time, Gadisar used to be the staple source of water for Jaisalmer. Along the fringes of the lake, I also observed some well-designed `serai-khanas' (or rest rooms). The story goes that subjects visiting the Maharawal from afar were accommodated at these serai-khanas to rest and ready themselves for royal darshan. The structures around also include a beautiful temple. Boating facility on the lake was visible, but I found no takers.
The elaborately designed entrance was constructed by a prostitute. To circumvent the issue of the maharawal having to pass under the house of a prostitute to access the lake, she constructed a temple above, which prevented destruction of the structure.
Gadisar is a serene location to while away your time, staring out over the expanse of the lake with a good book in hand........
A walkaround the Palace Museum is highly recommended with the audio tour, which you can procure at the entrance (charge : INR 150).
Apart from providing a feel of the way of life of the royal family in ages gone by, the tour includes some noteworthy stops. These include the coronation throne, the armoury, superb inlay work in Gaj Vilas and Rang Mahal, breathtaking panoramic views of Jaisalmer town below, the Queen's lookout etc..
The audio tour commentary also provides a detailed backdrop of `jowhar' (mass self immolation by womenfolk at the fort prior to the last assault / charge by the soldiers defending against raiders). As per the commentary, Jaisalmer has witnessed two and a half instances of jowhar till date.
In a nation where the most trivial stuff are subject to archaic government regulations and controls, you'd be pleasantly surprised to encounter a GOVERNMENT AUTHORISED `Bhang Shop' at Jaisalmer. Bhang, to the uninitiated, is an outcome from the petals and leaves of the female cannabis sativa plant.
Overcoming the broad welcome to the dingy hole-in-the-wall outlet, try the bhang lassi for bliss! Better still, cajole the local `authorised' agent at the shop to prepare some bhang laddoos for you, with advance notice, of course!
The Jain Temple at Jaisalmer is ornately carved from marble and sandstone.The pillars are very ornate. Inside are beautiful stone sculptures and images. The temple is situated within the walls of the fort.
Bhang Lassi is an intoxicating traditional yogurt-type drink which is laced with a liquid form of cannabis. There are many different flavours, of which the sweet type is more popular. Liquid yoghurt(lassi) with a kick!
Bhang Lassi is legal in Rajasthan, and is sold at Goverment approved outlets.
Used at various religious and celebratory occasions by many Indians, it is extremely popular with western tourists. The Bhang shop at Jaisalmer is always doing a busy trade.
Feeling in need of a pick-up? Go have a Bhang Lassi.
The camels are very messy,snorting & spitting as they trot along, and they make a lot of funny noises(?) but the ride was such fun. The guide was always close by in case we needed him. We did not.Sunset is the very best time for this activity.........it was breathtaking. On the horizon, we could see other more camel-riders,silhouetted. And the quiet serenity of nature all around.
After the ride, the fireside meal at the camp ( we had around 40 people seated in a circle) was served, and then the real fun began!!Whirling dervish dancers,beating drums & cymbals, and fire-dancing....but beware, the dancers love to drag anyone up,and take part. I could not keep up, needless to say. But it was fun trying anyway. We were the only western tourists present, and got special attention...not something we like, though. All in all,it was a wonderful afternoon & evening. We got taken back by jeep to our hotel at about 10.30pm,tired, dirty but exhilirated.
Attraction: Architecture and miniatures, balconies
Timings: Early morning till 5 P.M.
The Patwon Ji ki Haveli is an interesting piece of Architecture and is the most important among the havelis in Jaisalmer. This is precisely because of two things, first that it was the first haveli erected in Jaisalmer and second, that it is not a single haveli but a cluster of 5 small havelis. The first among these havelis was commissioned and constructed in the year 1805 by Guman Chand Patwa and is the biggest and the most ostentatious. It is believed that Patwa was a rich man and was a renowned trader of his time. He could afford and thus ordered the construction of separate stories for each of his 5 sons. These were completed in the span of 50 years. All five houses were constructed in the first 60 years of the 19th century.
The havelis are also known as the 'mansion of brocade merchants'. This name has been given probably because the family dealt in threads of gold and silver used in embroidering dresses. However, there are theories, which claim that these traders made considerable amount of money in Opium smuggling and Money-lending.
This is the largest Haveli in Jaisalmer and stands in a narrow lane. This haveli is presently occupied by the government, which uses it for various purposes. The office of the Archeological Survey of India and State art and craft department is situated in the haveli itself.
Nevertheless, even after these encroachments and abuse you can find a good amount of paintings and mirror-works on the wall. The other important aspects are its gateways and arches. You will notice individual depictions and theme on each and every arch. Although the whole building is made yellow sandstone, the main gateway of the Patwon Ji ki Haveli is in brown color.