In June this year, 2013, Jaisalmer was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a great tribute to this surviving mediaeval fortified city, its palaces and havelis finely carved in yellow sandstone, the colour of the Thar desert. For centuries Jaisalmer, built by Rawal Jaisal in 1156 AD, was an oasis on the inter-continental trade route linking India with Central Asia, Persia, Egypt, Africa and beyond. In 1974 Indira Gandhi visited the city and declared it a protected site but despite that Jaisalmer was neglected and allowed to degrade without a conservation management plan and the necessary enforcement of laws and norms to ensure its protection within the parameters of it being a living city and therefore, a living ‘monument’.
Today, as a World Heritage Site, Jaisalmer will finally get the attention it deserves. Three Cheers! Congratulations to all those responsible for pushing the envelope and the agenda for Jaisalmer forward. India can learn a great deal from countries like Italy where ancient legacies are preserved, used carefully with respect and celebrated, within the constraints of contemporary change and energetic growth, amidst creative contemporary architecture and development. We too have layered histories in our towns and cities that are waiting to be embraced and honoured.
The many newer ‘stakeholders’, along with the traditional residents of the fortified city, have an opportunity to come together and restore Jaisalmer as the City of Gold in the great Thar desert of Rajasthan, connecting it yet again, in this new age, with the other well preserved ‘symbols’, cities and capitals’, of ancient and mediaeval civilizations across the world. The Serai, Jaisalmer, a luxurious desert camp and spa is the perfect place from which to explore this Golden Fortress.
Written by Malvika Singh
Photographs by Hajra Ahmad