Jaisalmer: The charming desert citadel in Rajasthan

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The Golden City is aptly named

Jaisalmer Things To Do
Jaisalmer Fort has about 3000 people residing within its walls.

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

Jaisalmer Fort

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.

Jaisalmer Things To Do
Admire the intricate jaali work.

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

Bada Bagh was the Royal cenotaphs of the Bhatti dynasty of Jaisalmer. The best time to visit this site is just before sunset.

Jaisalmer Things To Do
The golden rays of the evening sun over Bada Bagh made the structure glow.

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!

Thar Desert Jaisalmer
Camels are the King of Thar Desert! – Photo courtesy: Freeimages.com

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.

Cycling adventure

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.

Jaisalmer Things To Do
Enjoying the landscape on cycle.

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.

Also, read – Magical music festival in Rajasthan at the majestic Mehrangarh Fort

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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Jaisalmer things To Do


What was your favourite experience in Jaisalmer? Share with us in the comments below.

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Author: zestinatote

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

22 thoughts

  1. Jaisalmer is my favourite city in Rajasthan. The fact that it is just on the fringe of the Thar Desert makes it magical. The Jaisalmer fort of course is exquisite with umpteen hidden treasures. We loved it when we were there. We too really reveled in the sands of the Thar Desert as the sun set over the dunes in spectacular fashion.

  2. Great travel guide for Jaisalmer. We are planing a trip in December and is really going to help us out. The Havellis and intricate work in them will be my favorite. Other things which we would love to cover for sure will be Gadisar lake, Kuldhera and the stay in desert.

    1. I would love to hear what you thought of Kuldhera; I wasn’t too impressed by the ruins. Bada Bagh on the other hand, at sunset time, was memorable. So were the fort, the havelis and the stay in the desert.

  3. Jaisalmer looks beautiful. The Jaisalmer Fort looks especially impressive. A desert tour would be fun too. I recently did a camel ride and dune bashing in Qatar it was a blast. Looks like you had fun too! Good job on staying on the camel while it was running.

    1. Dune bashing is the best in the middle east. The drivers there are such pros. I lived in Dubai for 3 years and experienced it several times. But the culture, sights and hospitality in Rajasthan is something else.

  4. I would love to visit and do a camel ride in the desert. I can imagine how scary it would be with the camel running down the dune. I am just intimated when they stand up. What time of year did you go?

  5. Jaisalmer Fort looks absolutely stunning and is the perfect kind of place that I’d love to visit. I would also love to spend a night in the Thar desert, although I guess it’ll have to be when the weather is not too hot or too cold as the desert can be a tough place during extreme climate. Thanks for sharing this post, it is an interesting read!

  6. Jaisalmer is delightful as always. Gadisar lake deserves some more time, especially in the evening when the reflections look beautiful. I would even suggest a misadventure at the government authorized Bhang Shop near the fort. 😉

    1. Thanks for dropping by Jitaditya. Your tip on Gadisar Lake noted. Water bodies across Rajasthan are worth spending more time. I like misadventures like bhaang only in the company of a large group of friends, and not while travelling with family 😉

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