The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jaisalmer Fort is India’s only ‘living’ fort. The Fort is known as a living fort because, unlike other forts that have been turned into luxury hotels or abandoned, the Jaisalmer Fort still stands tall today. The fort, which was built in 1156 by King Rawal Jaisal, now has a population of roughly 5,000 people, largely descendants of Brahmin and Rajput families who originally lived here and now rely on tourists for a living. As I watched people living inside Jaisalmer Fort, it struck me how much of this history is still alive and well in these alleys.

The early rulers were so impressed by their subjects’ services that they decided to give them a 1500-foot-long fort. As a result, it is still inhabited by descendants of those families who served those monarchs and are now experiencing the rewards of their predecessors’ services, more than 800 years after it was created. Thousands of people live for free in the magnificent fort!

In the small passageways and congested courtyards today, life goes on much as it did in the 12th century. Despite the fact that thousands of people walk through the stronghold’s alleys every day, the fortress maintains a close-knit culture. The fort is 250 feet tall and has 99 bastions; the walls are made of yellow sandstone bricks, and the roofs are covered with 3 feet of mud to keep the inside cool when the weather gets hot.

A series of modest stores selling trinkets outside the main entrance gives you the feel of a real fort, but as you pass the boundary walls, you’ll be surrounded by the bustle of a bustling market and the sights and sounds of home – children running around, clothes being hung out to dry, and the occasional whistle of a pressure cooker.
Residents of the fort still wear brightly coloured cloth turbans, and traditional kitchens still use the same brass and bronze dishes and pans. The communal celebrations of Holi (a Hindu festival of colours) and Diwali (a Hindu festival of lights) are largely the same as they were hundreds of years ago – much as the daily worship procedures in the several Hindu and Jain temples within Jaisalmer’s walls have stayed the same. As I watched it all unfold, it struck me how much of this history is still alive and well in these alleys.

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