Thursday, 2 April 2009

Jaisalmer Day 3 - Temples, Havelis and Vyas Meal Service

Breakfast of Paratha and Masala Chai is proving to be a big hit: it’s exactly what people here in Jaisalmer like to eat, and coupled with a hefty dose of Makhania Lassi later in the day, it’s all we really need in this baking hot Rajastani weather. The spicy, hot curries can come later, although we did chomp our way through a fantastic dish of stuffed chilli peppers back in Jodhpur! And come to think of it, on the roof of Saffron Restaurant here in Jaisalmer we had the BEST vegetable Jalfrezi we’ve ever tasted. Today was a day for seeing more of the wonders of this timeless city: timeless because it really IS like stepping back into the medieval world; our fort her dates from the twelfth century, and all the artisan’s shops huddle together in narrow alleyways around the base of the fort. All this seems like we are being transported in a time machine back eight hundred years. That, and the open sewers, of course. Jaisalmer was a noble and proud trading city on the silk route between South Asia and Afghanistan and Iran. It was only eclipsed in its power by the growth of Bombay with the development of sea routes to India rather than the arduous trek overland. But here the mercantile past still lingers on; the Brahmin caste is dominant in the fort and wealthy Jain merchants financed the building of some of the most magnificent Jain temples in the whole of India. Rather handy, then, that they are right next-door to our Haveli, the Suraj. The Suraj is owned by Chimmy, and his surname, Vyas, also gives our street its name. His family have been in the personal service of the Maharaja of Jaisalmer for centuries.
The temples took a fair amount of our time; we were shown around by a Jain monk, and whilst we bought our tickets a bystander said he thought Simon was a very spiritual person. He must know about Simon’s CD perhaps? The most important feature of the seven Jain temples we saw is the riot of lavish carving. The detail of sculpture here even includes many representations of Shiva, and the Jain monk pointed out that it was a Karma Sutra in stone.
We then moved onwards to the fort’s Hindu temple, Laxminath. Less ostentatious than the Jain temples, it had a constant flow of passers-by who simply popped in offering prayers, their lips moving silently as they gazed on the particular deity within the shrine.
In the nineteenth century the Jains also demonstrated their financial and trading powers by building the Patwa-ki-Havelli. The most impressive building outside of Jaisalmer fort, it towers over the surrounding houses with an array of shuttered balconies and intricate decoration. Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile the grandeur of these buildings with the narrow, fly-infested alleyways overflowing with emaciated cows and their ‘calling-cards’!
In the evening we decided to try and really get a feel for what it’s like eating in an Indian household. Within the fort, in an even smaller street impossible to get a car down, lives a widow who earns her living by inviting people into her home and cooking scrumptious traditional meals. Last night we were a bit full of lassi, so there was only room for a naan each and a vegetable curry. Great food and full of flavour! As soon as we entered the house we noticed the steepest set of steps ever… Goodness knows how this woman gets in and out of her house. Maybe she doesn’t. Before eating we also drank an aromatic masala tea, which was slightly spicy and sweetened. We ate our meal in the window space and looked onto the street below. It was interesting to see from a different perspective how people selling their wares interact on the street and then to see people leaning out of their upstairs windows talking to each other.

1 comment:

  1. Love reading your blog it is like being there. You have gone to a lot of trouble writing in such detail. How about publishing a book about it. How on earth did you come across an old widow lady who cooks yummy food?? Is the food really that good?