Page C1.1 . 20 April 2005                     
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    Postcard from Jaisalmer

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    Patwon ki haveli: Delicately carved "lace" of golden sandstone in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. Photography by Mamta Malhotra.

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    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    In medieval times, camel caravans heading towards Arabia, Persia, and Central Asia, laden with silks and spices, would have seen Jaisalmer, India shimmering in the desert haze much as it appears today. The ancient fort, the oldest in Rajasthan, rises above a maze of streets, squares, palaces, and clusters of dwellings, all in the local golden yellow sandstone.

    Jaisalmer, founded in 1156 A.D. by the Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, was India's gateway to the Silk Route. On the western edge of India, in the barren Thar Desert, it was a flourishing trading outpost for 700 years. With the downfall of the Mughal Empire in the mid 1700s, commerce shifted to the sea ports, and the age of camel caravans drew to a close. Isolated in the middle of the desert, a five-day journey on camel from the nearest city, the city remained frozen in its medieval history.

    Walking through the narrow cobbled streets, you can see traces of the city's rich past in the havelis, the houses of the rich and powerful merchants. Built around courtyards, these dwellings have intricately carved balconies, window screens, and facades. These architectural features keep out heat and dust, let in breezes, and conserve scarce water supplies. The dense street patterns, clustered dwellings, and the marvelous surface treatment lace in golden sandstone make the urban streetscape unique.

    On the Trikuta hill above the main city square, rise the bastions of the 12th-century fort. Massive gates lead up to perhaps the oldest still-inhabited citadel in the world. Along with the palaces, beautiful temples, and shops, more than 2000 people, descendents of the Maharawal's entourage, live within the walls. Life goes on, almost as it has for centuries.

    On the road in Rajasthan,
    Mamta Malhotra

     
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