The Golden City is aptly named
Its fabulous Fort towers over the small city.
The intricate stonework of the many havelis in the old town is worth seeing.
The Thar desert is alluring. Sleeping under a thousand stars is not an experience that one forgets in a jiffy.
The Fort Palace, Jain Temples and other tourist places.
It is difficult not to be charmed by the desert citadel, that is Jaisalmer.
The Golden City gets its name because the Jaisalmer Fort and several other structures are made of warm, yellow sandstone. This is the last outpost on the western border of Rajasthan.
How to reach Jaisalmer
You can reach via a road trip either from Jodhpur or Bikaner, and the effort is well worth it. The train journey from Delhi is more than 24 hours and something that is for the braveheart. There are now low-cost airlines options with direct flights both from Delhi and Mumbai to Jaisalmer, making it quite accessible.
What to See in and around Jaisalmer
The Fort of Jaisalmer is a breathtaking sight. However, if you are expecting a sanitised and well-kept environ like other forts in Rajasthan, a visit to Jaisalmer Fort would take you back.
There are about 3000 people residing within this massive sandcastle. It has houses, temples, guest houses, shops, restaurants and all the colour and chaos that you would associate with India.
We hired a guide – at the main entrance – to show us around one of the largest inhabited forts in India.
What we didn’t anticipate was the strong sun and the heat even in the third week of December. So do carry a hat and a bottle of water along.
Havelis in the old city
The most famous Haveli in Jaisalmer town is Patwa-ki-Haveli, which towers over a narrow lane. It was built between 1800 and 1860 by five Jain brothers. There are 5 sections within the Haveli; the first of the 5 sections has been opened as the privately owned Patwa Haveli Museum.
The other popular havelis are Salim Singh ki Haveli and Nathmal ki Haveli.
Bada Bagh was the Royal cenotaphs of the Bhatti dynasty of Jaisalmer. The best time to visit this site is just before sunset.
I was charged Rs 500 (includes the camera fee) to enter this venue. You can take photos without entering perhaps, but I wanted to see it up close. Foreign nationals may have to cough up a higher fee. I was aghast to see the place littered. There were debris and small rocks piled up haphazardly.
And yet, it is a beautiful site – just go wearing sensible shoes and walk carefully.
Other sites to visit
There are several other notable sites in and around Jaisalmer town to visit. I did not visit the Jain Temples, but those who are religiously inclined can do so. These are 7 temples made of yellow sandstone, located within the fort walls.
There is also the Fort Palace – an elegant seven-storey structure. Much of the palace is open to the public – there is the King’s palace, the Queen’s palace, the mirrored and painted Rang Mahal, and more.
I did visit the Kuldehra site outside the town, but unless you have a strong interest in archaeology, you could give this a miss. It is difficult to imagine from the pile of bricks and stones that the site is currently, that this was once a bustling town that was abandoned overnight and left cursed.
Gadisar Lake is a beautiful site to visit. It is one of the few surviving heritage lakes in Rajasthan.
Also, read: Weekend getaways from Delhi: Escape to the hills
Activities to do in and around Jaisalmer
Stay a night in the Thar
Besides the sightseeing in and around the old town, a must-do activity is to spend a night in the Thar desert. We were very happy with our choice of Damodra Desert Camp.
We reached the campsite and were shown into our tents; we had some tea/coffee and set off in a jeep towards the dunes. Half an hour later, we were transferred to camels. I loved this, so much so, that after getting off everyone on the dunes, I asked the camel guy to take me solo with the camel running. Exhilarating, a bit scary only when the camel decided to run down a dune at full speed!
My daughter loved the Thar desert as well. Not every kid (or adult) enjoys a camel ride. But no child can resist running up and down the dunes. We also tried sand boarding and enjoyed the dramatic sunset over the dunes.
And there was more in store once we returned back to the campsite.
All the rolling around in the sand required a bath, which delayed us for the evening cultural program. The camp hostess had mulled some wine in true Christmas spirit and gave it to all the guests. Good food, an interesting Rajasthani folk performance and the most magnificent sky with a canopy of stars that I had seen in a while – made for a lovely evening.
My husband and I are amateur cycling enthusiasts. Our hotel had a few unadvertised bikes for guests. So, dressed warmly and with 3 small water bottles stuffed in our side pockets (since the bikes had no holder for a bottle), we left for a morning cycling trip.
The idea was to do a short trip, not more than 10 – 15 km. I googled Bada Bag, and the map gave me a couple of options. I selected the closest one and after cycling for 5 km landed near a stone quarry. The weather was nippy and it was lovely to see the open wide landscape, with nothing but gigantic windmills dotting all over.
We asked a local near the quarry and got redirected to Ludarva, another site that showed about 10 km away. We gamely cycled till there. What we didn’t realise was that the route back to the hotel would be another 25 km!!
Soon, we ran out of water and enthusiasm to cycle. My husband who is much more used to cycling than I was game for this, but the last 5 km was sheer torture for me. The only thing that kept me going (for the last 5 km) was the thought that the lavish breakfast spread at the hotel would end at 1030 am!
For the adventurous, if you can wrangle good cycles, it is a nice way to get some exercise and see the landscape. The border roads are really well maintained. Do carry enough water though!
Shop in the local market
From bedspreads to colourful outfits to Rajasthani puppets for your kids, you are bound to find something nice in the local markets. I don’t wear bangles or carry colourful kitschy bags, but they do make for small gifts.
Where to stay in Jaisalmer
There are several options in the old town itself and much more on the main Pokran-Jaisalmer-Barmer Highway. We had driven from Delhi in our car and wanted to stay on the outskirts of the town. I cannot recommend Suryagarh enough – a plush boutique hotel about 15 kilometres outside the Jaisalmer city.
Do read my full review here – Suryagarh: reason enough to visit Jaisalmer.
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What was your favourite experience in Jaisalmer? Share with us in the comments below.
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