If there’s one man in Jaisalmer who qualifies for the title of Mr. Jaisalmer, it is Jitendra Singh Rathore, Vice Chairman of Fort Rajwada, by far the best hotel in town. He has worked tirelessly to put Jaisalmer on the tourist map, an activity that has borne him bitter-sweet fruit. Bitter because as yet there’s no direct flight from either Mumbai, Ahmedabad or Delhi to Jaisalmer, and sweet because the resorts he has built have become industry norms in the area: now, every resort in Jaisalmer is spread out over spacious grounds, and makes extensive use of local building materials.
Rathore has been associated with Jaisalmer for the last 25 years, an association that began with the words of an American travel and tourism heavyweight to him when Rathore was but a callow youth. “My boy,” said the American, “Don’t forget Jaisalmer. It is the quintessence of Rajasthan.” It was natural that, a few years later, when the Rathore family was casting around for a venue to build a hotel, they decided on Jaisalmer. To Rathore, Jaisalmer, on the edge of the Thar Desert, symbolizes all the romance of the state: history, the stark beauty of the desert, culture and whimsically beautiful architecture. He is pained to see that Jaisalmer does not do better in terms of tourist arrivals. However, he is quick to point out the boost that domestic tourism received after a Satyajit Ray film was shot in the Jaisalmer Fort.
Indeed, domestic tourists are as welcome in Jaisalmer as foreign tourists, points out Rathore. In the months succeeding 9/11, it was the domestic tourist that kept this town going.” He is scathing about Government policies towards tourism. “In western countries, airlines and hotels were paid huge sums by their governments to stay afloat after 9/11 knocked the bottom out of their businesses. We, however, got nothing. Forget about not getting a penny in cash, the bank stepped up the pressure on us to repay our loan. How we survived that period is something I prefer not to think about. There was no income at all, yet we were expected to continue with our payment