Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jaisalmer havelis and colorful citizens


After a leisurely breakfast on top of our hotel, we began our architectural tour of the old city. The morning light cast sculptural shadows on the sandstone havelis, built by weathy merchants in the 19th and 20th centuries. I was particularly drawn to the protruding latticed jalis, whose intricate screens were masterfully carved out of sandstone. I imagined the women who once gazed through these windows, capturing glimpses of the outside world without being noticed. Some of the havelis were converted into hotels; others contained tempting textiles and crafts of Rajasthan.

The narrow streets were a hub of quiet activity and life. Women sat on the doorsteps watching passers-by. Water poured from pipes out of the homes and into the street gutters. Men got their daily shave at barber’s. A punji player sat in a corner, puffing his cheeks as he blew through the instrument. Children sat on the floor of their school, a view framed through the large open door. Colorful marionettes hung on a wall, waiting for a buyer. Colorful laundry was strung out against a whitewashed fa├žade. Cows meandered through the streets; a long-haired goat rested in the shade, its ruffled pink tufts on its head causing curious glances.

The bus station and local markets provided particularly colorful photographic opportunities. Men wearing various colored turbans chatted as they sipped chai and caught up on the latest gossip. Women wearing tribal jewelry and dress sold vegetables and clay pots. A religious swamy paused and smiled at us before walking on, fingering the natural beads around his neck. Women carried cooking gear on their heads, gracefully walking through the busy street.

Tired from sightseeing and shopping, we enjoyed a saffron lassi at a restaurant overlooking the fort’s courtyard. Lights illuminated the courtyard’s occupants - some dogs and cows. The dogs began fighting, at which time the cows got up, charging at the dogs and effectively breaking up the fight. Satisfied with their work, the cows then laid down and rested.

See more photos of Jaisalmer on Flickr

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