Jaisalmer's dazzling 12th-century fort, often likened to an oversized sandcastle, is unquestionably the most charming aspect of an already very charming city. Some 250 feet above the town, on Trikuta Hill, the fort has been inhabited for centuries and is a little town of its own; it's protected by a 30-foot-high wall and has 99 bastions, and several great pols (gateways) jut outward from the battlements. Built of sandstone and extremely brittle, the fort is rumored
to be an architectural time bomb, destined to collapse in the face of a particularly aggressive sandstorm. So lovely is this structure that the poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) was inspired to write a poem Sonar Kila after seeing it; this, in turn, inspired another creative Bengali—Satyajit Ray made a famous film by the same name.
Inside the web of tiny lanes are Jain and Hindu temples, palaces, restaurants, shops and charming havelis. The fort is very clean and has a sleepy, time-has-stood-still vibe to it. The seven-story Juna Mahal (Old Palace), built around 1500, towers over the other buildings and is now home to the Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum and Heritage Centre. A visit to the museum is worth the time: enter via the Satiyon ka Pagthiya (Steps of the Satis), where the royal ladies committed sati, self-immolation, when their husbands were slain.
Cars and larger vehicles are not allowed in the fort so you most hire an autorickshaw (Rs 50) to take you. The walk up is also pleasant in cool weather.
Jain temples. Make sure to visit the seven intricately decorated Jain temples within the fort. They were built from the 12th to 16th centuries, and house thousands of carved deities and dancing figures in mythological settings. The carvings of both the exteriors and the interiors are notable. There are a few rules to observe: photographing some sculptures is not allowed; you'll have to leave any leather items at the gate; food, shoes, and cell phones are not allowed; and menstruating women are asked not to enter the temple. Inside Fort. Rs. 200, including camera fee. Daily 8–noon.
Gyan Bhandar. Within the fort, the Jain temple complex library contains more than 1,000 old manuscripts—some from the 12th century, written on palm leaf, with painted wooden covers—and a collection of Jain, pre-Mughal, and Rajput paintings.
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India