Built on the summit of Trikuta Hill in the middle of the Thar desert by Rawal Jaisal in 1156, Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fully preserved fortified cities in the world.
The fort was strengthened just over a century later in 1276, when King Jetsi was facing the invading army of the Sultan of Delhi. The 56 bastions were manned by over 3,500 soldiers in a siege that lasted over eight years. Eventually the Sultan’s army breached and destroyed the castle, but it wasn’t for another 30 years before work was undertaken to repair and strengthen the fort.
The fort contains three layers of walls. The outer lower layer is made out of solid stone blocks and it reinforces the loose rubble of Trikuta Hill. The second middle wall snakes around the fort. From the innermost 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. The defences of the fort now has 99 bastions, of which 92 were built between the period of 1633-47.
Alauddin 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, some say as many as 24,000 women took their own lives.
The second battle at the fort began in 1541, when Mughal emperor Humayun first attacked the fort city. The Rawal was eventually overwhelmed by the repeated assaults of the Mughal emperors and finally agreed to parly with Akbar, Humayan’s successor, in 1570, offering his daughter in marriage to the emperor in the process.
The fort remained under the control of Mughals until 1762 when Maharawal Mulraj took control of the fort. The fort escaped the ravages of the Marathas due to its isolated location. The treaty between the East India Company and Mulraj on 12th December 1818 allowed the Mulraj to retain control of the fort and provided for protection from invasion.
After the death of Mulraj in 1820, his grandson Gaj Singh assumed control of the fort.
The emergence of maritime trade and the growth of the port of Bombay led the ancient trade routes dissolving, which led to the gradual economic decline of Jaisalmer.
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.
The main structure types within the fort are
- Four Gateways
- Raj Mahal (Royal palace)
- Jain Temples
- Hindu Temples
- Merchant Havelis
There’s a very good audio guide to accompany your tour around the palace that should take no more than 90 minutes to complete.
For me the highlight of the palace was the exceptional views you can get from the balconies and rooftops of both the fort itself and the Thar desert beyond.
It’s also well worth revisiting the fort complex at night, which if you are staying here is pretty much unavoidable anyway ! As you would hope and expect, the fort is illuminated at night. Plus of course the countless rooftop restaurants from which to admire the view, which is impossible to grow tired of.
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