Trip Start Feb 16, 2005
Trip End Apr 24, 2005

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, March 27, 2005

Jaisalmer was founded in the 12th century by Maharawal Jaisal. It was once a flourishing trade center, strategically located on the busy caravan trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Its earlier rulers grew rich by looting gems, silk and opium from the caravans, but by the 16th century Jaisalmer had become a peaceful town, whose wealthy rulers vied with each other to beautify their austere desert surroundings with splendid palaces and havelis. In the 18th century, with the growth of sea ports at Surat and Bombay, Jaisalmer's importance dwindled. The old fort, with its 99 bastions, is apparently the only living fort in India, as ~3000 people still reside within its walls.

We happened to be in Jaisalmer during Holi, the festival of colors, variously celebrating the harvest, the arrival of spring, or the triumph of good over evil, depending on the region. Either way, it's a lot of fun throwing colored powder on strangers and wishing them Happy Holi. We played Holi with an extremely nice community of folks in the fort. In the afternoon we visited Gadisagar Lake, a rain reservoir built in 1367, and watched the sunset from the collection of the royal family's cenotaphs outside the city.

The next day was spent exploring the fort some more, and checking out the ornately decorated havelis surrounding the fort. These mansions, built in the 19th century by the town's merchants and ministers, have wonderfully intricately carved stone facades and canopied projecting balconies (jharokhas) on which the stonemasons could display their creativity and skill. We paid a quick visit to the Jain temples in Lodurva, the former capital of the region before the construction of Jaisalmer, which was abandoned after it was sacked in the 11th century. Continuing on into the desert, we hired a couple camels and meandered through the rolling sand dunes of the Thar Desert until sunset. Then it was back to the train station for another overnight journey to Jodhpur, where we caught a morning flight to Jaipur.
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