Travelling solo has been one of the joys in my life, it is how I’ve discovered myself and also connected with local people where ever I went. Right before the lockdown I went on work to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. I got a few days to myself and went to stay in India’s only living fort, which was my first visit.
I spent my time walking through the little alleyways inside the fort. I have this thing where I normally pull out my camera only at night. I love how things change at the end of the day, how the light gets very low key (high contrast) with shadows and slow lethargic movement. What was a busy bazaar street filled with little stalls became abandoned and empty, devoid of the massive crowds of a few hours ago.
Sonar Quila or Golden fort as it’s called, is built on a hill with a 30 foot wall all around made of yellow sandstone. Most of the locals who live there have been gifted their homes by the last ruler of the fort, for having taken care of the royal family right up to the time of independence of India and formation of a democracy. The homes, temples and palace exteriors have been preserved exactly as they were. Any changes made were to the interiors; homes and palaces have been converted into bed n breakfasts, restaurants or hotels.
At night, the fort started showing new signs of life. A group of women huddled together and a Sangeet was under way. A little distance from it the streets got quieter and I bumped into cows looking for food beside the high walls of a palace. In a different corner, a temple was full of life. A family gathered, dancing. I peeked into houses and fell in love with the tiles on the floor and the painted doorways and walls.
I had walked through these alleys a few times already and eventually found my way back to my B&B. Lucky (the boy at the front desk) showed me to the terrace and we sat there a few hours watching the lights. I had remarked to him about the different flags I found inside - on the same wall as photographs of the owner’s dead relatives. I had seen the Israeli flag below a cupboard, and a Korean flag above the stairway.
It was interesting to me that these were the changes that were inflicted upon this town. Foreign flags of different countries gracing the interior walls, acting as friendly beacons to tourists; the occasional two wheeler - the only kind of vehicle allowed inside the fort, the hundreds of signage inviting tourists into the various shops, restaurants and hotels and Bollywood music floating into the air.
The fort and it’s keepers had found harmony between the ancient and the modern way of life. Since the lockdown, we have all been following the news from India and the world which generates a slow realization that things cannot return to what they were before the health crisis that is upon us dissipates. The migrant and eventual food crisis will change how we perceive life and society.
How do we move forward preserving our culture and yet forging a new path towards an India that is all inclusive? Time will tell.
Written and photographed by: Pretika Menon