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February 20, 2003

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Jaisalmer crowns a hill and perches like a golden droplet on the edge of the Thar desert. People call it a sandstone city because every building is made from the stuff. Founded in the 12th century, little has changed since. Ten thousand people live a crammed existence within Jaisalmer's walls. It seems the builders attempted to pack every space with houses, temples and palaces. Winding lanes honeycomb the fort and join massive gateways, a maharaja's palace, a ceremonial courtyard and intricately carved Jain temples.

We arrived here at daybreak, aching from an overnight bus ride that jarred every bone. And we had an easier time than the people who stood all night in the aisles. As we emerged from the bus, the police kept back the touts with a barricade. We collected our things in front of a grasping crowd. They called, "Hello. Hello!" "Free taxi." "Where are you from?" "Camel safari?" "Cheap hotel. Come with me, my friend. Cheap." Our advice: know where you want to go. Be firm. Smile. Don't listen to a word spoken by any of the taxi drivers. If they say your hotel has burned to the ground then ask to see the ashes.

We sleep in an old merchants home (at last, a bed!) and we may even change our clothes.
A Jain Temple dominates a solid sandstone skyline.
Come here before it returns to dust. Jaisalmer is crumbling at an alarming rate. Its disintegration brings governmental and archaelogical interest groups together to launch a 'Jaisalmer in Jeopardy' campaign.
A sandstone city.