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Jaisalmer has a new heroine in Sue Carpenter. 

Sue Carpenter and her 'Jaisalmer In Jeopardy' campaign, fight to save this heritage city.

In 1994, Sue Carpenter a free-lance journalist from England, was on a visit to India. One memorable evening, she lay on a roof-top in Jaisalmer and the magic of the place took hold of her, as they say the place often does.

For, Jaisalmer is an 800 year old mercantile town in the Thar desert that stood strategically on the trade route from central Asia and beyond. It's rulers fortified the town with an encircling fort and set up guards on it's ramparts and turrets. Caravans loaded with goods for the Indian hinterland entered her massive gates. Secure and prosperous, the bazaar boomed with life and was lined with establishments catering to the visitors from strange lands. Jaisalmer's merchants, as astute and wily as those of Venice, bought the goods for distribution in India and sold what they had gathered in their warehouses. The affluent city exploded with creativity . From the smallest residences to the sprawling havelis of merchant-princes, all were patrons of the decorative and performing arts. Jaisalmer was an amalgam prosperity, creativity and sensitivity to nature.

For 700 years life was an exciting and seemingly eternal joy. Jaisalmer's rude awakening was at the turn of the last century. As Bombay opened up as a port, trade found the sea routes more convenient. Jaisalmer's economy began to flounder and in the 1900s, her businessmen began to leave in search of new opportunities, elsewhere in India.

About a 100 years later, in 1994, Sue Carpenter's own reverie was to be rudely shaken. She looked around at the once lovingly created dwellings and streets and saw how the new economy was taking it's toll. Jaisalmer's new economy is tourism. Legends of her old-world charms attract hordes of foreign tourists, whose custom is of course, very important to it's citizens. But in a period when greed has blinded sense and self-interest, mindless development for tourists has begun to threaten Jaisalmer's post-mercantile relevance.

For instance, should expedient concrete constructions that are bare-box tourist utilities, be allowed to elbow out  hand-crafted pieces of old architecture. No doubt Jaisalmer's tradition of water carriers from the near-by ponds in the desert needed to be upgraded; but should the planners and administrators not have taken lessons from other heritage towns around the world? Instead, their solution was a  network of water pipes mis-matched with the drainages. The resulting profligacy with water use, over runs the drains and is literally drowning this gem of a town.

Several visitors have shaken their heads in sorrow, cluck-clucked and went away.

But Sue Carpenter decided she would fight to save the town. Being a journalist readily published by the likes of the Times of London, the New Scientist and Harpers & Queen, helped. She began by writing about Jaisalmer's predicament. An early attempt to form  activist groups in India came to naught.  There was then, much bemused commiseration at her attempts at 'getting anything done at all in India'.

Jaisalmer's spell on her however, appears to be strong. She braved the early set-backs and fixed her aim on what seemed clear to her: promote Jaisalmer as a heritage site and highlight the perils that face her, along the lines of the campaign to save Venice, a city with which Jaisalmer's past and present have much in common. A lecture at Nehru Centre in London drew two of companions who would stay with her to fight. And the campaign rolled on.

As often happens with such committed endeavours, a chance connection opened the right doors: an aide of the Prince of Wales helped her establish contact with the World Monuments Fund [WMF] of USA. Jaisalmer Fort was placed on the Fund's 'Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World' and prompted WMF to channel $100,000 to Jaisalmer, the largest single grant that the fund gives to a single subject. With local support from India's INTACH,  the 16th century Maharani's Palace has now been restored; it now houses the Jaisalmer Heritage Centre. JiJ is focusing on bite-sized projects like recreating an ambience that engenders a sense of care among the visitors and residents of Jaisalmer. It's Streetscape Revitalisation programme has taken two streets to restore them to their old world lineage. Sewerages are to be repaired, houses stabilised and lavatories constructed.  The idea is to establish Jaisalmer as a continuing, sustainable, living city and not just a collection of empty restored monuments. Work is on, out there! Now!

Sue carries on her campaign to spread awareness and raise funds. In October 2000 and January 2001, she will personally play the guide to groups of concerned Indophiles, brought to Jaisalmer and Rajasthan, to see for themselves what needs to be done.

Visitors to this page are particularly requested to go to the JiJ site [see link below] and learn more of the work by this friend of India. And support her work in whatever way, they are able.

She is hopeful of saving Jaisalmer. 'We are not fighting an endless war, but a contained battle, and the finances - millions rather than tens of hundreds of millions - are attainable. Perhaps one individual can make a difference', she says.

Surely, Sue Carpenter belongs with the many heroic Ranis of Rajasthan who at various times fought for preserving their culture and heritage.



Jaisalmer In Jeopardy is the official website of Sue Carpenter's campaign. Click this link to learn more. 

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