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Golden Fort

Jaisalmer Fort, also known as Sonar Kilar, or the Golden Fort, looks like a child’s giant sandcastle. But this is in fact the ultimate in desert forts, dominating the landscape for miles around from its spot at the top of Trikuta Hill. One of the fascinating things about the fort is its color: its massive sandstone walls are a tawny lion color during the day, turning to a magical honey-gold as the sun sets. Jaisalmer Fort stands on a triangular hill 250 feet high, enclosed by a thick, crenellated wall over 30 feet high and reinforced with 99 bastions, most of which were built in the mid-17th century. Remarkably, these walls used no mortar at all. They were made entirely from huge, intricately interlocking blocks of stone. At one time the town of Jaisalmer lay entirely within the fort walls but sometimes in the 17th century, part of the town moved outside, on the leeward side, protected by the hill and the fort itself. However, much of the town still lives within the fort, making it a kind of living museum. Walking through it at night, especially, is like stepping into a time machine and going straight back to the 14th century.

You enter the fort up a steep incline paved with enormous flagstones, through a series of four huge gates, passing along the way a second fort wall running parallel to the outer one, and rising to half its height. Reaching the innermost gate, Hawa Pol (Gate of the Winds), you enter the spacious Chauhata Square. This is the heart of the fort complex. In front are the palaces of the maharajas. Toward the left is a flight of marble steps topped by a white marble throne, where the maharaja used to sit, listening to petitions or reviewing his troops. To the side of the square is Rao Jaisal’s well where the sage Eesul is supposed to have shown Rao Jaisal the prophecy of Lord Krishna carved on a rock.

As you enter the fort’s palace, you find it is actually a maze of interconnecting palaces, the oldest of which is Juna Mahal dating back to the early 16th century. Rang Mahal, built in the 18th century, is especially interesting with its richly frescoed walls (look for the scenes of old Jaisalmer, Jaipur and Udaipur). Equally interesting is the slightly older Sarvottam Vilas, with its blue tiles and glass mosaics. Also within the fort are some old Jain temples dating back to the 12th century. The most interesting are the temples of Rishabhdev and Chandraprabhu. Rishabhdev Temple has a splendidly carved torana archway over its entrance, and a striking group of tirhankara images, with jeweled eyes that sparkle in the dark. Next door is Sambhavnatha Temple. It has a fabulous library in the basement, reputed to contain some of India’s oldest and rarest palm-leaf manuscripts, dating back to the 11th century.