Jaisalmer- on the edge of the golden desert in India is the last town on the Western front. Inspite of the dry arid weather, lack of water, extreme climates et al, the impression of the golden city stays with you for ever !! I grew up with the generation of Bengali’s for whom “Sonar Kella” ( detective thriller by Satyajit Ray shot in Jaisalmer Fort) was a part of childhood and I lived every moment during my trip. Everything here is golden constructed out of the famed yellow sandstone popularly known as Jaisalmer Stone or painted a similar hue. If you are willing to spend some time walking aimlessly through the streets enjoying the haunting melodies of street music on their rustic instruments which are slowly fading into oblivion, or admire architectural wonder, hop in and out of shops in the narrow fort lanes, or simply lie on the warm desert sand staring at the vast blue sky then this is the ideal place for you. A few decades ago, it was a punishment to be sent to Jaisalmer known in local circles as “Jaa Sale Mar” which means “Rot in Hell” for the weather and remote connectivity but now it is a slice of heaven that every one wants to experience.
Best Time to Visit :
October to March is the best time to visit Jaisalmer though it gets really cool and pleasant between December and February. The 3 day desert festival in the first week of February is a splash of colour, folk culture and not to forget about the camel rides and races.
1. Jaisalmer Fort (Sonar Kella): Built in 12th century AD by monarch Rawal Jaisal, this imposing golden fortress on Trikuta hill is built from locally available yellow sandstone. This is only living fort in Rajasthan. Apart from the palace and temples, the smaller houses within the fort have been converted into homestays or shops selling local handcrafts. Stay One night in one of the home stays within the fort as budget permits and experience life in a different way. After a 2 -3 hour visit to the palace, just indulge in some retail therapy and while walking through the lanes, observe the way air flow to keep the place cool in harshest summer. Please take an auto from the first gate up to the palace museum since it is quite a steep walk. Charges will vary around Rs 30-Rs 50
2. Gadsisar Lake: The beautiful patch of water in the heart of Jaisalmer city is soothing to the eye. Several centuries ago it was built as a reservoir for rain water harvesting and eventually developed as a hot spot with temples and shrines along side. Begin your day here with bird watching or spend some time in the evening boating on the lake and watching the sun slip away lending a deep golden hue to the structures around.
3. Haveli’s: The Haveli’s or Mansions in Jaisalmer are testimony to the very prosperous past courtesy trading on the silk route. Mostly made of locally procured yellow sand stone, they are built in an interlocking style without the use of mortar. They have exquisitely carved facades, with floral patterns, animal and bird motifs as well as latticed windows often known as jharokhas. Must Visit – Patwon ki Haveli ( including the private museum); Nathmal Haveli (built by 2 brothers on two sides yet in harmony) and Salim Singh Haveli ( arched peacock brackets that stand out)
4. Jain Temples: The Jain temples within the Jaisalmer Fort are exquisite to say the least. They are open till noon for public viewing. They are primarily dedicated to Rishabhdevji and Sambhavnathji. The Jain Temples in Lodurva the ancient capital on the way to SAM Sand Dunes is worth a visit to experience its former glory and the elaborately carved pillars and arches
5. Kuldhara: About 20 kms outside of Jaisalmer, this is the set of abandoned village on the way to SAM Sand Dunes from Jaisalmer. Paliwal Brahmins flourished here between the 14th and 18th century only to abandon their homes and livelihood one night under the threat of losing their daughters to the lust of Dewan Salim Singh. The area is believed to be cursed with reported paranormal activities. We went there in the afternoon and while ghosts were away, we could feel the mother’s despair, a father’s sigh, unfulfilled desires of young hearts as we sauntered in and out of some of the restored buildings.
6. Bada Bagh: About 8 kms outside Jaisalmer town, this was originally built as a son’s tribute to his father in the form of a Chhatri and adjoining pond and garden. Over time, more and more Chhatri’s came up in the area. It still retains the old charm of golden drops interspersed with small patches of green but surely has seen better days.
7. SAM Sand Dunes: Sometimes words cannot do justice to what the eyes experience and the heart feels. This is one such place if you can shut your ears to all the cacophony around. Enjoy a Camel Ride, walk on the warm desert sand and get that sinking feeling and yet manage to retain balance, adventure with dune bashing in an open or closed jeep and watch the sun slip away in the horizon when the golden desert attains red hues for a few minutes !!
8. Tanot Mata: Often skipped due to the distance from Jaisalmer, this is a rewarding journey through the desert almost close to the Pakistan Border. Maintained by the BSF Jawans, who swear by her protection, they take care of her like worthy sons of the divine mother. She protects us on the western front and there are many stories of her avatar taking care of the Indian soil and the sons of the soil during war. The journey to her abode has something for everyone, be it the photographer, the traveler, the tourist or the spiritual seeker. Do not forget to stop at Longewala. The day trip would easily take 7-8 hours and maybe Rs 3000-Rs 4000 given that it is 120 kms away from Jaisalmer. Make sure to carry lots of water and food.
9. Food: While in Jaisalmer, keep aside the pulao’s, dal’s and paneer and dig into some authentic local dishes. Some of the curries made of dried desert berries and vegetables is mouth watering. Apart from the Dal Baati Churma, do taste a bowl of Ker Sangri with ghee dripping parathas. Ker is a wild berry and Sangri is a desert bean and they are cooked together with spices and yogurt to get that tangy taste which will leave you yearning for more. Try Desert Boys Dhani.
10. Puppet Show: The puppet show (Rs 100/-) in the evening held at Desert Culture Centre and Museum in Jaisalmer is one man’s (N K Sharma) love for local culture. The 45 minute show is worth every penny and the series of artefacts collected from rural areas of Rajasthan present the evolving culture of the state.
If you have time on hand, do visit the Wood Fossil Park located 20 kms from Jaisalmer.
- Nearest Airport (Jodhpur) about 300 kms away. Though ready, the civil airport is yet to commence regular service . Jaisalmer is connected by rail to all major cities within Rajasthan.
- If you intend to cover all the important sites in Jaisalmer, minimum 3 days will be required
- Most places in Jaisalmer charge separately for camera.
- Hire a authorized guide for sightseeing.
- Collect the permit from BSF office in Jaisalmer if you are intending to visit Tanot and Border area.
- Hire a Car for SAM Sand Dunes, Bada Bagh, Kuldhara, Lodurva and Tanot. Make sure the car and driver are experienced for Tanot.
- Stay in a Jaisalmer Fort Homestay just for the experience. Stay overnight in SAM Dune Camps only if you are okay with basic amenities and noisy shows.
- Preferably stick to vegetarian food in Jaisalmer, since non vegetarian dishes seem to be chewy. Enjoy Laal Maas and other non vegetarian delicacies in Jaipur or Jodhpur.