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Jaisalmer in jeopardy

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Erected on a base of soft bantonite clay, sand and sandstone, the foundations of Jaisalmer Fort are rapidly eroding due to huge increases in water consumption, mainly related to tourism. At the height of the season, around 120 litres per head are pumped into the area – and due to problems with the drainage system, a large proportion of this water seeps back into the soil beneath the fort, weakening its foundations. The results have been disastrous. In 1998 six people died when an exterior wall gave way, and five more bastions fell in 2000 and 2001. Jaisalmer is now listed among the World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites.

An international campaign, Jaisalmer in Jeopardy (JiJ; w jaisalmer-in-jeopardy.org), has been set up to facilitate repairs throughout the fort, including assistance with upgrading underground sewerage. The scheme relies largely on donations; see the website for details if you’d like to help. Despite the work so far carried out, however, some authorities think the best way to save the fort would be to evacuate its two thousand inhabitants and start repairs to the drainage system from scratch, an expensive and time-consuming venture much opposed by the guesthouse owners inside whose earnings depend on tourism.

Given all this, some people (and guidebooks) suggest that travellers should avoid staying in the fort in order to relieve pressure on its crumbling foundations. Unfortunately, this also has a serious side effect in that it deprives many local hoteliers – some of whom have been in the fort for decades, and who are in no way responsible for Jaisalmer’s current plight – of a living. We have therefore continued to list certain guesthouses within the fort. All are long-established, low-impact, and occupy original and largely unmodified buildings. On the other hand, we haven’t listed any of the fort’s modern, custom-built hotels. Remember, too, that if you do stay in the fort, you can do your bit by minimizing your water usage as much as possible.

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