Given the amount I post about Rajasthan on this blog, its alternative name could very well be: Rajasthan, Much?! In that context, when I had to travel to Jaisalmer last year for a journalism assignment, I surprisingly enough wasn't too excited about visiting it. Jaisalmer is situated near the India-Pakistan border and popularly known as the Golden City due to its architecture being wrought from indigenous honey-hued sandstone as well as the surrounding sand dunes. During my last visit there in 1999, I had already been witness to the gradual touristification of the city, the place having become one giant tourist spot, lodges, hotels, restaurants, and cafes sprouting here, there, and everywhere; the authentic Jaisalmer had already become submerged beneath the tourist veneer - and I anticipated the situation to have become even more acute eleven years later.
Last year, we arrived just before the monsoon, the tourist season yet to begin: the city was sluggish and sleepy and up inside the fort premises, which happens to be the oldest living fort in the world and for a long while, was what constituted Jaisalmer in itself, it was perhaps possible to get a glimpse of what life was like out there before the tourist encroachment began. Having wandered up there in the evening, men chatted amongst each other while boys played cricket in the quadrangle of space outside one of the many Jain temples inside the fort; inside the temple, the priest stood guard in pitch-darkness, watching a lamp's flame flicker in the little spurts of wind, power-cuts having beset the city again. Walking through the lanes crosswording the fort, I saw grandmothers and grand-daughters sitting cross-legged outside their homes, each generation gossiping amongst their friends. "Who would want to leave this place?" one of the girls, a college student, told me. "This is a world in itself: we are one big family over here and look out for each other." From the fort's ramparts, I surveyed the sea of roofs below, trying to imagine what the land had been like centuries before when Jaisalmer and the fort were synonymous with one another.
The following morning, we visited Lodarva Jain temple, which was situated upon the site of Jaisalmer's former capital, Lodarva; amid the curiously green-covered dunes (a beneficiary of the cyclone, Phet, which had coincidentally visited Oman in June before inexplicably changing course and swerving towards Gujarat and eventually, Rajasthan, where it spilled over into Jaisalmer) and ancient ruins, I heard the dawn wind whistling and keening through the temple, lifting up what was virtually a carpet of sand although the temple caretaker assiduously swept the floors every morning. This is what silence sounds like, I thought to myself, and it was pockets of loveliness such as these that helped me access an alternative Jaisalmer.
I particularly like this image of the wall because for me, it is representative of a Jaisalmer that I discovered beneath its customary glossy postcard prettiness of golden dunes and architecture and camels. In the corner, there is the tourist regalia waiting to be bought: the scarlet and mauve patchwork bedspreads, an omnipresent reminder that Jaisalmer is essentially a touristopolis, all said and done; one can also see the dainty Rajasthani jali [fret-work] detailing that has made Jaisalmer one of the most photographed cities of Rajasthan. Yet, whilst the Hindi script urging the populace to vote for a particular BJP candidate undoubtedly desecrates the fort wall, it is but yet another layer to the many layers that the fort wall has seen over the years and that is what gives the image a voice - the voice of a Jaisalmer, existing for itself, rather than an entity to be photographed and consumed and eventually, said goodbye to.
I have included a few more images from my Jaisalmer trip, tourist shots - and one that I particularly like of a man and woman having a conversation in the street.
|Patwa Haveli facade (and a pigeon!)|
|Lord Ganesha frescoes were commonly seen painted outside homes' entrance doors|
**Edit: I would like to mention that I discovered a wonderful piece, Breathing Walls by Jenny Gustafsson, published in Mashallah News, which I will shortly be contributing to; the title of the piece is based upon a book of the same name, Breathing Walls, by Lebanese photographer, Rhea Karam, whom Jenny interviews - Karam's thoughts about walls in this interview very much encapsulate and reflect the intentions of my very own Wall Project. I am looking forward to reading the book at some point in the future...!