Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fortifications in the world. It is situated in the city of Jaisalmer, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is a World Heritage Site. It was built in 1156 AD by the Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal (whose son was Shalivahan II. Manj & Bhati Rajputs are the descendants of him.), from whom it derives it name. The fort stands proudly amidst the golden stretches of the great Thar Desert, on Trikuta Hill, and has been the scene of many battles. Its massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion colour during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets, thereby camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert. For this reason, it is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort. The fort is located in the very heart the city, and is one of the most notable monuments in the locality.
During medieval times, the city played a major role in trade with Persia, Arabia, Egypt and Africa. The fort contains 3 layers of walls. The outer or the lower layer is made out of solid stone blocks and it reinforces the loose rubble of Trikuta Hill. The second, or middle, wall snakes around the fort. From the innermost, or third, wall, the Rajput warriors once hurled boiling oil and water as well as massive blocks of rock at their enemies, who would become entrapped between the second and third walls. This defences of the fort include 99 bastions, of which 92 were built between the period of 1633-47.
Ala-ud-din Khilji attacked and captured the fort in the 13th century and managed to hold it for 9 years. During the siege of the fort the Rajput women committed Jauhar. The second battle at the fort happened in 1541, when Mughal emperor Humayun attacked the fort city.
With the advent of British rule, the emergence of maritime trade and the growth of the port of Bombay led to the gradual economic decline of Jaisalmer. After independence and the Partition of India, the ancient trade route was totally closed, thus sealing the fate of the city. Nonetheless, the continued strategic importance of Jaisalmer was demonstrated during the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan. Although at one point the entire population of Jaisalmer lived within the fort, it today has a resident population of about 4,000 people who are largely from the Brahmin and Daroga communities. They are mostly descendants of the workforce of the Bhati rulers of Jaisalmer which was permitted to reside within the fort’s premises. With an increase in population, people gradually relocated to the foot of the Trikuta Hill and the town of Jaisalmer spread out from the fort.
Raj Mahal (Royal palace)
4 massive gateways
Merchant Havelis. These are large houses often built by wealthy merchants in Rajasthani towns and cities in North India, with beautiful, ornate sandstone carvings. Some havelis are many hundreds of years old. In Jaisalmer there are many elaborate havelis carved from yellow sandstone. Some of these have many floors and countless rooms, with decorated windows, archways, doors and balconies. Some havelis are today museums but most in Jaisalmer are still lived in by the families that built them. Among these is the Vyas haveli which was built in the 15th century, which is still occupied by the descendants of the original builders. Another example is the Shree Nath Palace which was once inhabited by the prime minister of Jaisalmer. Some of the doors and ceilings are wonderful examples of old carved wood from many hundreds of years ago.
The fort has an ingenious drainage system called the ghut nali which allows for the easy drainage of rainwater away from the fort in all four directions of the fort. Over the years, haphazard construction activities and building of new roads has greatly reduced its effectiveness.
The fort has numerous eateries, including Italian, French, and native cuisines. The famous Indian film director Satyajit Ray wrote the Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), a detective novel, based on the fort and he later filmed it here. The film became a classic and a large number of tourists from Bengal and around the world visit the fort annually to experience for themselves the world that Ray portrayed in the movie.
THREATS TO THE FORT
The Jaisalmer Fort today faces manifold threats that are a result of the increasing population pressure on it. Water seepage, inadequate civic amenities, derelict houses and seismic activity around the Trikuta Hill are some of the major concerns impacting the Fort. Unlike most other forts, the Jaisalmer Fort has been built over a weak sedimentary rock foothill which makes its foundations especially vulnerable to seepage. Over the years this has led to the collapse of significant portions of the Fort such as the Queen’s Palace or Rani Ka Mahal and parts of the outer boundary wall and the lower pitching walls.
The World Monuments Fund included the Fort in its 1996 World Monuments Watch and again in the 1998 and 2000 reports due to the threats posed to it by an increase in its resident population and the increasing numbers of tourists who visit it every year. The Fort is one of Rajasthan’s most popular tourist attractions with as many as five to six hundred thousand tourists visiting it annually. As a result, it is abuzz with commercial activities and has seen a phenomenal growth in both human and vehicular traffic.
Major restoration work has been undertaken by the World Monuments Fund and UK based charity Jaisalmer in Jeopardy. According to former INTACH chairman S.K. Misra, American Express has provided more than $1 million for the conservation of Jaisalmer Fort. The absence of coordinated action among the various government departments responsible for civic amenities, the local municipality and the Archaeological Survey that is responsible for the upkeep of the fort is a major impediment in its maintenance and restoration.
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