Jaisalmer, the Golden City, is a city of splendor with a medieval feel and fascinating atmosphere. Situated on the western tip of India, in what seems to be a million miles from anywhere, and the gateway to the Thar Desert, it is a place of magic and mystery, hectic yet relaxed, and with a startling blend of stunning Rajasthani architecture and crumbling city walls to match.
The colossal sandcastle that is Jaisalmer Fort dominates this otherwise small city. Within the fort are a maze of narrow alleys, Jain temples, local shops and restaurants, and one quarter of the city’s inhabitants. As large as it may seem, the fort is still small enough that it is a challenge to get lost for too long. To the north of the fort are Gandhi Chowk and Bhatia Market, with an array of hotels, restaurants and shops showcasing the finest local handicrafts.
Whether shopping is on the agenda or not, one cannot help but marvel at the delights on offer in the streets of Bhatia Market. A stroll through the winding streets is met with a spectacular collection of rugs, blankets and bedspreads, all immaculately embroidered, alongside typical mirror work pieces. Do not hesitate to bargain and buy as, as is often the case in India, the same piece is rarely found twice.
Although a place of pride and grandeur, the city is actually in serious trouble and the fort is slowly sinking. The strain on the sandstone construction resulting from the city’s poor sewage system and a degree of carelessness from the locals has placed it on the list of endangered monuments. Fortunately, a number of organizations, including the British charity, Jaisalmer in Jeopardy, are battling to save and protect it.
The city can be reached by both bus and train, with services running to a number of neighboring and long distance cities. Departing from the bus stand to the south of the fort are regular services to Jodhpur and Bikaner, and daily runs to both Jaipur and Ajmer. Private buses depart to a number of destinations in Rajasthan and Gujarat, with most changing bus in Jodhpur, so be sure to get full clarification of the ticket. From the train station, to the east of the fort, services depart for Jodhpur, Jaipur and Delhi (about 19 hours). Rickshaws and jeeps are on hand for short trips, however due the city’s size it is best explored on foot.
Jaisalmer is a picturesque city of history, heritage and cultural diversity. The constant hassle from safari sellers can at times be a strain, however is soon forgotten with the warm local hospitality. Take a step back from the heat and relax in the shadows of one of the worlds most marveled forts as the sun drifts down over the desert horizon.
Things to do in
Jaisalmer Fort - Dominating this historical city is one of the world largest forts, built in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal (Rajput ruler), and a village of narrow sandstone alleys, housing 25% of the city’s population and livelihoods. Strolling around the fort, with its 99 bastions, is like wandering through a living museum, with the daily life of the locals unfolding before the eyes. Often referred to as the “Golden Fort” due to its changing of color with the sun. Unfortunately, the fort is extremely endangered and is currently on the World Monuments Watch list.
Inside the fort are the following:
Maharaja’s Palace - Striking 7 storey sandstone palace lying in the courtyard immediately after the main gates. Opening times are 8am - 6pm, from March to July, and 9am - 6pm, from August to February. Entrance Rs70 (camera/video Rs50/100).
Jain Temples - A labyrinth of 7 interconnected temples, all constructed of yellow sandstone and with roots from the 12th to 16th centuries. Opening times vary for each temple. Entrance Rs10 (camera/video Rs50/100).
Desert Camel Safari - Most visitors to Jaisalmer find themselves, at some point, taking a camel tour into the Thar Desert. A fun and relaxing way to experience the life of the desert, sleep under the stars and play out Lawrence of Arabia fantasies. Like the sun, competition for tours is hot in the city so be sure to shop around the agencies and consult other tourists. Most safaris run for 2/3 days and include all food, water and sleeping blankets.
Desert Festival - Held during the month of February this festival has a feast of cultural events, from camel racing to turban tying contests to the best moustache competition, alongside traditional Rajasthani song and dance.
Gadi Sagar - South from the city is this tranquil man made lake (tank) surrounded by temples and holy shrines. The gateway to the lake is through the spectacular Tilon-ki-Pol, rumored to have been constructed by a local prostitute. The area is a great place to relax and marvel as the fort changes color as the sun sets behind the city walls.
Budget Hotels Jaisalmer
Hotel Golden City - This family run hotel has a number of well-decorated rooms with TV and balconies. The swimming pool and rooftop restaurant are ideal for relaxing after a day in the city heat. Opposite SBI Bank. Tel (91) (2992) 251664.
Hotel Swastika - Simple laid-back hotel with friendly management. Rooms are clean and some have balconies. Amar Sagar Pol. Tel (91) (2992) 252483.
Hotel Renuka - Another simple hotel with some rooms having balconies and private bathrooms. The rooftop terrace has a decent restaurant and fantastic views of the fort. To the North of Gandhi Chowk. Tel (91) (2992) 252757.
Midrange Hotels Jaisalmer
Hotel Jaisal Palace - Located in the heart of the city, this hotel has clean rooms, some with balconies overlooking the fort, and rooftop restaurant. The in-house travel team can arrange camel safaris. Tel (91) (2992) 252717.
Nachana Haveli - Close to the Jaisal Palace, this hotel is tastefully decorated in the confinement of a peaceful courtyard. There is a good restaurant serving up local and continental food. Gandhi Chowk. Tel (91) (2992) 251910.
Luxury Hotels Jaisalmer
Hotel Heritage Inn - Ultra relaxing hotel with accommodation in the form of quaint, garden facing cottages. Excellent swimming pool, multi cuisine restaurant and bar. 4 Hotel Complex, Sam Road. Tel (91) (2992) 250901.