Home India Cultural Travel Inside the Jaisalmer Fort: The Sonar Quila

Satyajit Rays’ ‘Sonar Kella’ or ‘The Golden Fortress’ (the film was released in the USA with this name) is better known as Jaisalmer Fort to the world. We were both cold and hungry when we reached our BnB in Jaisalmer Fort at eleven, in one of the freezing nights of January. Our host gave us a nice and warm welcome to his place. Luckily we got a Bengali cook there who cooked an exclusive cuisine of Boiled Rice, Lentils, Potato Fry and Cauliflower Curry for us! The aerial view of the fort from the rooftop restaurant of our BnB made all our gloominess fade away. The fort was standing in front and around us with all its majestic and royal beauty. While snapping the fort’s magnificence, our host stated his gratitude towards Ray in making the fortress famous with his film. Upon asking, he gave us the specifics about the fort.

Jaisalmer Fort is one among the two ‘Living’ forts of India, the other being Chittorgarh Fort. A ‘Living’ fort is such a castle where still individuals of present generation live or stay after their ancestors who lived there in the same house or ‘Haveli’ since the fort was built. Though most of the houses in the fort required repairing and retrofitting, yet most part of an individual house has been kept intact as was since their ancestors.

From ‘Sonargarh’ to ‘Sonar Quila’ and finally to Jaisalmer Fort, it was built in 1156 AD by Rawal Jaisal (from whom the place derived its name Jaisalmer). Jaisalmer being an important trade centre, Maharaja Rawal decided to make the city as his capital and named it after him.  Since then, the fort has perceived many ups and downs till 1762 after which the Mughals handed over the fort to Maharawal Mulraj. Later in 1818, the East India Company allowed Mulraj to take over its possession and protect the ‘Quila’ from trespassers.  The fort, standing on Trikuta Hill is triangular in shape. It is the second oldest castle in Rajasthan and holds its position in the link of many important trade routes including ‘The Silk Route’. The Citadel is made of yellow sandstone which imparts a light brown to brownish orange color in the day. As the sun sets more to west it gives the color of melting gold as a result of which it derived its name of ‘Golden Fortress’ or ‘Sonar Quila’. The whole area of the fort is divided into two segments, the upper segment is meant for the Brahmins and the lower is meant for the Rajputs. Though this fort has been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet this tradition is being followed till date! As we were feeling the cold profoundly, with this much in a row from our host we bade him goodnight.

Our morning started with Pancakes, Potato Curry and tea. The morning view from our rooftop restaurant was breathtaking. The whole city rested in front of us, the roads, the vehicles, the antique shops, travelers everything. We could see every detail of the city! Rooftops of houses, temples, wall tops along with their boundaries, every single feature were evident. Far beyond the city, the Thar Desert can be seen. The citadel itself was built in such a manner so as to keep an eye on both the capital and the desert so that an alarm can be raised in case of any intrusion. After having some tips and facts from our host we set out for the day. As we drew near the centre or Dussera Chowk, hustle-bustle of the city became more distinct and flawless. We found quite a big number of visitors from far and near exploring and gazing at the old sandstone structure. We caught up a guide quickly for our fort expedition.

Main entrance of the fort is surrounded by four huge and colossal gates that keep an eye on every trespasser. They are precisely names as Ganesh Pol, Suraj Pol, Rang Pol and Hawa Pol. In earlier days, cannons and large boulders were kept at the top of these gate entrances. These were fired at the enemy as soon as he tried to enter the citadel through these gateways. The main bastion is the Raj Mahal palace which was also the residence of Maharaja Rawal. The seven storey palace cum museum is located at Dussera Chowk and is the main attraction of the fort. The museum inside displays numerous historical items including royal arms and weapons, carved furniture, majestic attires and ornaments and kitchen ladles.  The palace demonstrates a unique combination of the Rajputs and Mughal architecture that add special tint in its exquisiteness. The windows and balconies of the forts of Rajasthan have their exclusive ‘Brand’ of representing the Royals and this fort doesn’t fall short in the same as well. The splendour of the sandstone frescos along with its finishing signifies the labour and skill with which the fort was constructed.

There are a number of temples inside the fort including seven Jain temples. These temples were built during 12th and 15th century and are dedicated to the Jain Tirthankaras. Built in Dilwara style, the art and sculpture in each of these temples have their own panache and exclusivity. Out of these, Paraswanath Temple is the largest and the most attractive. Apart from Paraswanath Temple, there are Chandraprabhu temple, Laxminath Temple, Rishabdev temple, Shitalnath Temple, Kunthanath Temple, and Shantinath Temple. All these temples are carved of yellow sandstones and have long corridors that connect all the seven temples. The carvings along with their design and chic still bear the emblem of a prosperous and wealthy fort of past. There are also few small Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Lord Shiva.

Apart from temples, there are some museums and merchant ‘Havelis’ in the fort. These were built by the wealthy merchants who used to carry out trade in this city. Some of these sandstone erections date back to even 15th century. The fort has numerous small interconnecting ‘Galis’ or narrow lanes. The classy houses standing along the lanes have unmatched singularity. Some of the house’s walls also had beautiful paintings and designs on it. Apart from the places mentioned above, nomads can also go around Patwon Ki Haveli, Salim Singh ki Haveli, Jawahar Palace and Tazia Tower.

Along these ‘Galis’ one can also find shops selling Rajasthani costumes, knick-knacks, sandstone crafts and implements, colourful puppets, Rajasthani turbans, camel skin shoes, wallet, and many other vintages and unique items. Diverse stone carvings other than that of sandstone can also be found in these shops.

Wrapping up most of the fort’s exquisiteness took us three hours. Walking continuously through the up and down roads of the fort wearied our legs. Every nooks and corner of the citadel gleamed brownish of its blush. The flashy and gaudy street shops supplemented vigor to the brown tint of the fort.  As the sun inclined, gathering at the fort augmented. Our tired feet and hungry stomach tempted us for lunch which took us back to our BnB.

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