The Golden fort (Sonar Kella, for anyone who remembers Satyajit Ray’s mystery novel), amidst the golden dunes of the Thar Desert, was built by Maharawal Jaisal in 1156 AD. Built from yellow sandstone, which fades to a sandy gold at sunset, it has three layers of walls and is one of the largest fortifications in the world. In the 13th century, the fort was attacked and captured by Ala-ud-din Khilji, who held it for nine years. At this time, as was the practice in the region, all the Rajput women committed ‘Jauhar’ (a practice of mass suicide to avoid capture and dishonour). The fort was attacked for a second time in 1541 by the Mughal Emperor Humayun.
However, unlike any other fort in Rajasthan, the Sonar Kella still has a thriving settlement within its walls. Thanks to its resident population of 4000, the fort has its own peculiar charm. However, as a result of the population pressure, the fort also faces manifold threats. There is overcrowding, the civic amenities are inadequate and modern plumbing has led to water seepage which has, in turn, led to collapse of significant portions of the fort. Fortunately, the problems have not gone entirely unnoticed and restoration work has been undertaken by various organisations.
The beautiful and unique Sonar Kella offers an insight into Rajasthan’s cultural heritage like no other fort. Here’s my pictorial guide to this incredibly fascinating place:
When to visit:
December and January. The days are pleasant and the nights chilly, making it possible to explore the fort without dying of heatstroke. Buy a sun-hat though, its always useful! And as always, wear sunscreen.
What to see:
The museum in the ‘Raja ka Mahal’ (King’s palace) and the ‘Rani ka Mahal’ (Queen’s palace), the Jain temples, the cannon overlooking modern-day Jaisalmer City and the myriad of intersecting alleys which lead to homes, shops and restaurants within the fort. Its a good idea to hire a local to guide you around the fort, they are quite informative and charge only about 150 Indian Rupees for the tour.
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