A fairytale fortress city, every traveller entering Jaisalmer is greeted by the magical vision of Jaisalmer Fort rising like a mirage from the golden sands of the Thar Desert. The only ‘living fort’ in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the inspiration behind Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella, Jaisalmer Fort is just one of the many reasons to make the long, tedious journey to the western corner of Rajasthan. The barren landscape of this region is in direct contrast to its treasure trove of rich architecture, culture, and folklore.
Need to Know
Summers in Jaisalmer are unbearably hot with temperatures spiking to 49º C, while winters are usually chilly. The region receives sparse rainfall, and sandstorms occur frequently between April and June.
The easiest way to navigate the tiny bylanes (and avoid cows) is on foot, but the more adventurous can also rent a bicycle. Auto-rickshaws are available for short trips in and around the city. Bargain hard and fix the fare before your trip.
The local cuisine is vibrant in taste and variety, influenced as it is by the availability of produce in this arid region. Jaisalmer is famous for its ker sangri, a vegetarian curry made from desert beans and berries. Though most dishes are primarily vegetarian, meat eaters can feast on laal maas, a rich, fragrant mutton curry.
Things To Do
For Architecture Enthusiasts
Jaisalmer Fort is a giant enigma made up of sandstone corridors, ancient temples, and grand havelis. With a quarter of the city’s population living within its sturdy ramparts, the 850-year-old fort is always brimming with people. Maharawal Jaisal’s former palace stands tall at the top of the fort. A 90-minute audio tour takes travellers through the mirrored Rang Mahal, a gallery of 15th century sculptures, the queen’s palace, and a spectacular rooftop.
Jaisalmer’s narrow lanes are dotted with sculpted sandstone havelis built by traders in the 18th and 19th centuries. A cluster of five smaller havelis with elegant latticed jharokhas and mirrored rooms, Patwon-ki-Haveli (Tel: 099292 99200) is the most impressive of the lot. The distinctively shaped Salim Singh-ki-Haveli and Nathmal-ki-Haveli (Tel: 085608 55319) are also worth a visit.
Bada Bagh, located 6 km north of Jaisalmer, is a large, unkempt garden with cenotaphs erected in honour of the city’s former kings. Each monument has intricately carved chatris (domes) and a marble plaque with details about the ruler.
For Religious Travellers
The seven interconnected Jain temples inside Jaisalmer Fort, built between the 12th and 15th centuries, are adorned with beautifully carved toranas (gateways) and painted ceilings. Lodhruva, the ancient capital of the Bhatti dynasty, also draws devotees by the dozen. The main temple dedicated to the 23rd Tirthankara, Parasvanath, has intricately carved gateways, pillars, and ceilings similar to the ones in temples at Ranakpur and Mount Abu.
For Leisure Seekers
Travellers keen on camel safaris and cultural programmes against the picturesque desert landscape can head 40 km west to Sam Sand Dunes. Those looking for relaxing spaces closer to Jaisalmer can try walking along the Gadsisar Lake, an artificial reservoir surrounded by temples and shrines.
What to Eat & Where
The usual Rajasthani suspects – ker sangri, dal bati churma, gate ke subji, pyaz kachori – can be enjoyed at most restaurants in and around the fort. More upscale options include Desert Boy’s Dhani (Tel: 094622 50149) and Trio (Tel: 029 9225 2733). The locals love Milan Restaurant (Tel: 094147 61614) for the meat delicacies, especially laal maas and chicken tangdi. Dhanraj Ranmal Bhatia’s (Tel: 099991 47830) ghotua ladoos are renowned across the world and can even be ordered online. But these delicious balls of gram flour and ghee are best enjoyed fresh at the tiny shop in Bhatia Market.
No trip to Jaisalmer is complete without a taste of the potent (and legal) local bhang. The government-authorised Bhang Shop outside Amar Pol (Tel: 095718 25008) sells lassi with varying quantities of cannabis and special bhang cookies.
What to Buy
The streets and bylanes of Jaisalmer Fort exhibit a thriving collection of local crafts. Handmade puppets, leather goods, juttis, wall hangings, bronze statues – you’ll find them all inside the fort walls. Shops outside the fort also stock an interesting array of mirror work and embroidered garments and bedspreads. Shops around the fort tend to inflate prices, so be ready to bargain. Alternatively, you can head to less touristy markets such as Sadar Bazaar, Manak Chowk, and Pansari Bazaar.
Jaisalmer is also famous for its intricately carved silver jewellery. Hari Om Jewellers (Tel: 094146 71025) make beautiful silver rings and delicate earpieces featuring traditional motifs and Hindu gods. Jewel Caravan in Sadar Bazaar also stocks gemstone necklaces and bracelets.