Exploring the Golden Fort

Some 1,000 people still live in the tiny village inside Sonar Killa, or Golden Fort, which has twisting lanes so narrow they can be blocked by a single cow (be warned that these animals know that they have the right of way, so step aside, and watch their waste products too). Exploring the fort is easily done in a morning -- you access the fort through Gopa Chowk, ascending the battle-scarred ramparts to enter the main courtyard, overlooked by seven-story Raja Mahal, or Maharaja's Palace, which now operates as the Fort Palace Museum & Heritage Centre.

After the palace, the other great reason to visit the fort is to check out the panoramas of the city below and the distant desert vistas (although a number of exquisite bird's-eye views are afforded throughout the palace tour) from various perspectives. There are a number of interesting vantage points (a few are specifically marked), but do be aware that buskers may try to take advantage of you by starting up a tune and then insisting on a donation.

Search for the many strategic cannon points which are peppered around the periphery or head straight for the pretty Jain temples, which lie west (just ask for directions) The best among these (Rishabnath and Sambhavnath) are open only to non-Jains after 11am. No leather is allowed within the temple, and menstruating women are restricted from entering.

Constructed between the 14th and 16th centuries, these temples are typical of Jain craftsmanship, with every wall and pillar as well as the ceiling covered with the most intricate relief carvings, and large statues representing the Jain tirthankaras, or "Enlightened Ones" -- note that you cannot enter the caged sanctuaries in which these sculptures sit, or touch or photograph them. A small library has a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and miniature paintings.

Take a breather at Toap Khana (Place of Cannon) for the views, then head north, turning right at some stage to find Laxminath Temple (again, just ask). Although the Jain temples are worth a visit to see the intricacy of the carvings, it is the Hindu temple that pulsates with energy, particularly if you get here when worshipers chant their bhajans, devotional songs (about 10:30am and at several other times during the day. From here it's a short walk back to the main courtyard.