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Jaisalmer

The Desert Fort

Story by Rupert Marlow February 11th, 2016

The Desert

Jaisalmer is a living fort in the Thar Desert, in north-west India, relatively close to the border with Pakistan. Ideal given my dislike of both heat, sand and the sun! It is one of the places in India that should be seen but is a bit of a slog to get to and out of the way of virtually everything else. Once there, it’s easy to see why people should and are encouraged to go and see it. Peppering the desert around the fort are old derelict ruins of entire villages, the fort stands high on its walled foundations and can be seen for miles around.

The village shown below was abandoned (according to the events we were told by our guide, shown cooking) following a King’s forced marriage with a very young girl who he then maltreated, leading to the entire village vacating one night in protest of him and in support of her. We visited this old village on our way out into the desert for the most uncomfortable 45 minutes I have ever experienced - aboard a camel. Not only was it phenomenally rough and ball-busting with their weird gait but the cushions we’d been given were stuffed with extremely rough, prickly straw so my choice was either a battered groin or to suffer straw splinters in my palms as I pushed down on the saddle with my hands. I have now ridden a camel and other than a tick in a box, that was the only enjoyable part of it. I was so relieved to get off. Some people go for 3 or 4 days camel tracking… The men must all be eunuchs, if not before then effectively afterwards. Never again. Obviously, I cannot speak for the ladies here but no-one it seemed was overjoyed by the experience other than to say they’ve done it.

The meal in the desert was absolutely fantastic. It was one of the tastiest curries we’d had since arriving in India and despite everything being served ‘avec sand’, we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Jaislamer

Jaisalmer is a living fort - meaning it’s still inhabited by people. This is not particularly common with the older forts but there is something about being in such an old established dwelling that is still essentially as it always has been - apart from eh mobile phone shops etc. Seeing life in the ancient surroundings makes imagining the people years ago when it was ‘young’ so much more vivid.

This particular fort is struggling though as with an increase in guests and visitors, the mound on which the fort is built is changing due to the effect on the limited water supply and drainage. The wall surrounding the fort is built without cement in 1156 AD and has stood all this time but in 1998, one huge part collapsed, killing 6 people. The problem is the rapid erosion of the underlying soft rock due to the ever increasing water consumption.

It is simply magnificent. One huge bonus is the lack of motorbikes trying to kill you in the streets - it is largely pedestrianised with the exception of a couple of roads - either that or it’s just easier not to ride around given the tight streets and small size. As a place to wander aimlessly and simply take it all in, this is ideal. The narrow streets provide shade from the desert sun and covering a small footprint, you really can take your time and get to know it well in a day.

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Around the fort, there is plenty of the larger town to explore, where cows beg at front doors like the stray dogs and the colourful houses give each street a different feel. There is a large lake littered with small buildings surrounded by the water, which was teeming with odd looking whiskered fish. I think they were some sort of catfish but ‘small monsters’ suits them best.

The doorways and windows all around Jaisalmer are infinitely varied and fascinating - you’re lucky I only have space for 9 images at a time in these galleries!

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Rajasthan has a feeling to it which is unique to the area. The palace residences and huge forts illustrate its past power and opulence. There is a buzz to all the towns, forts and cities that is less prevalent in other parts of India. People tend to be a little more abrupt but generally friendly. Jaisalmer, was no exception. There was a little hassle from the shopkeepers, these were slightly more tenacious than we’d experienced before. However, many of the locals were happy to be photographed.

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We were pleased that we made the frankly tedious night train journeys in and out of Jaisalmir. It really is a pain to get to but well worth it and having ridden a camel, the return train was like floating on a cloud by comparison and on we went, to Jodhpur…

Footnote: All images were shot on Fujifilm’s excellent X100s, X-T1 or iPhone 6s Plus on 20-22 December 2015. Property of Rupert Marlow. All rights reserved
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India