Jaisalmer has been on my to-do list for a long time. Rajasthan being the land of my ancestors, I always wished to see the desert. And the pictures of Jaisalmer: of the sand dunes, the starry sky with a hint of the milky way, the bonfire, the folk dance, the havelis (mansions) were always so alluring.
It finally happened. Just before the onset of summer in early March, we decided to visit the golden city. A beautiful city, it looks very much like a place from an Arabian Nights story! And it does glimmer golden in the sunlight.
One of the oldest forts in Rajasthan, it was built in 1156 AD by Rawal Jaisal, founder of Jaisalmer and after whom the fort is named. It is the most important landmark of Jaisalmer and a World Heritage Site. The Fort is the first thing you will see as you near the city.
All the walls and structures within the fort are made of yellow sandstone. There are four gates through which one enters the fort. It consists of the Raj Mahal, where the ruler would reside, around 7 Jain Temples, and the houses & havelis of people residing within the fort.
The residency has two distinct sides: one where all the Brahmins and vegetarians reside, and the other where Rajputs and the non-vegetarians reside; segregation which is as old as the fort. There are numerous stores for clothes and antique jewelry, cafes, restaurants, eatery stalls.
The Raj Mahal would take up most of the time. It’s quite interesting as you walk through various rooms which have been maintained in its old charm; for instance, the bedrooms, the darbar, etc. There is also a museum that houses all the old artifacts, war artillery, the portraits of all the Rawals of Jaiselmer to date, kitchen utensils, etc.
We had taken a guide for around Rs. 250/- to take us around the Fort. I always like listening to the history attached to any place, and since we were a big family taking a guide was definitely a good idea. There is also the option of audio guides available at the Raj Mahal.
Another landmark of Jaisalmer, it is a beautiful lake located not very far from the Jaisalmer Fort. It was built as a water conservation tank by Raja Rawal Jaisal and later by Maharawal Gadsi Singh.
There is a huge sandstone archway at the entry of the lake known as Tilon Ki Pol. The lake is surrounded by numerous temples and shrine. We visited a beautiful Shiv Temple. There is also a cafe with sit-outs. Great location & Good Chai but wouldn’t recommend the food there. There are also various shopping stalls for artifacts and clothes, which are quite reasonably priced.
One can go for boating in the lake. There pedal and rowboats available. We did boating in the afternoon so it was quite hot, but even then very beautiful and serene. To enjoy more I would suggest going there in the evenings.
Patwon Ki Haveli
Jaisalmer has numerous havelis. If you want a glimpse into the lavish lifestyles of rich merchants, visit Patwon Ki Haveli. At first glance, the architecture, the intricate designs, the jharokhas, the beautiful balconies, the elaborate pavilions will leave you astounded.
There are in total 5 havelis in the compound which the trader Guman Chand Patwa started building for his 5 sons. Patwa was known to be very rich and people say he even funded the treasury of the ruler of Jaisalmer. It took around 60 years for all 5 havelis to be completed
Currently, only one haveli is open to visitors. The remaining are either privately owned or sealed by the government. When you walk through the haveli you realize the grandeur of the Jaisalmer merchants. With gold embroidery on the walls & ceilings of some of the rooms, the original silk and brocade beddings used, and very surprisingly the kitchen machinery like ice-cream maker and pasta maker! I mean they lived a good life!
Because they were big traders there also a couple of meeting rooms and an accounting room. There are many wonderful archways and windows to click some great pictures of yourself!
There is a boutique selling shawls and sarees on the ground floor, which I felt was a little pricey.
An anecdote for Bollywood aficionados: one of the scenes of a song from the very popular movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is shot on the terrace of Patwon ki Haveli; with the Jaisalmer Fort in the background.
Bada Bagh, Kuldhara- a haunted village, and Salim Singh Ki Haveli are attraction which I unfortunately missed. But, they are supposed to be really good so if you have time definitely visit them.
The most popular activity of Jaisalmer is its Desert Safari. This is usually arranged by the camp or hotel you are staying in. It includes a camel ride to the sam dunes, a small area covered with sand dunes. Here you can enjoy sand-boarding, a beautiful sunset, and salty but tasty chai with biscuits! Some hotels also arrange for an overnight stay in the desert. I would suggest please check with your hotels about the arrangements they can do for the desert safari.
Where to eat: Jaisalmer has numerous roof-top restaurants and cafes, where you can enjoy a lovely Rajasthani meal. Most of these restaurants also have other cuisines like Punjabi, Oriental, Continental. I would suggest seeing the top-rated restaurants on Tripadvisor. There are also a lot of street stalls, which if it looks hygienic, try it out. It’s yum! We had some chaat from one of the vendors in Jaisalmer Fort and it was delicious.
Where to stay: I think it would be ideal to stay in a desert camp for a couple of days and spend at least one night in one of the many havelis or forts turned hotels to experience the best of what Jaisalmer has to offer. We had stayed in the amazing Damodra Desert Camp for 2 nights. Read my full review of this property here.
We spent one night at Hotel Jaisalkot. Jaisalkot maybe one of the few hotels located away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It has a beautiful courtyard with garden lawns and fountains, a huge pool, and a very artfully decorated dining hall. Elegantly designed like a palace it definitely has a very royal feel to it. Good food though I would advise you to stick to the menu; don’t ask for anything outside of it. They have a couple of good books about the royals of Rajasthan which are very interesting. Try out their spa for a complete royal retreat!
The best months to travel to Jaisalmer would be from Nov-early March. The nights would be extremely cold so pack proper winter wear.
It is surely one of the best places to visit in Rajasthan. It retains its old-world charm which is refreshing especially for people coming from cities. I have discovered the joys of traveling to culturally rich cities of India lately and Jaisalmer surely fits the bill. So if you are someone who likes culture, history and heritage definitely put this city on your to-do list!