Visit Rajasthan’s second-oldest fort, go on a desert safari, visit a ghost town and lots more.
Shimmering sand dunes and brilliant turbans, lissome lasses in gauzy veils and mirror-worked skirts, caparisoned camels and a fortress in shades of burnished gold and latticed screens—Jaisalmer in the desert state of Rajasthan is truly the clichéd Arabian Nights fantasy come alive. Condé Nast Traveller picks ten things that you must do while here:
Be a king for a day Built in 1156, the golden yellow Jaisalmer Fort is the second-oldest in Rajasthan. The sandstone Fort crowns the Trikuta Hill and stands sentinel over the city. Within its walls, defended by 99 turrets, lies the old city. Walk through four gargantuan gates in to the chaotic streets of the squat Sonar Quila. The most extraordinary part of the fort is that more than 4,000 people still live within its ancient walls. Walk through the maze of tiny lanes lined with temples, havelis, and palaces as well as souvenir shops and skilled artisans. Finally, feast on panoramic views of the city from several ‘cannon points’.
Be a culture vulture Visit the Desert Cultural Centre as well as the Folklore Museum to get an insight into the rich cultural heritage of the region. Get a glimpse of paintings, post cards, old coins, ancient manuscripts, costumes, jewellery and ornate camel and horse decorations. Admire local handicrafts, wall hangings, portable altars and even clay reproductions of haveli facades. Don’t leave without watching the evening puppet show.
Hit a Spiritual High The most beautiful part of the fortress is the cluster of sandstone Jain temples with soaring spires built in the 12th and 15th centuries with scalloped arches, cornices and delicate filigree work. Don’t forget to peek into the Parsvanath Temple dedicated to the 22nd Tirthankara with its ornate ceiling which has a sculpture of a demon-like head with four bodies arranged in a circle. As you walk around, the head seems to connect to each of the bodies. Don’t leave without visiting the dimly lit Gyan Bhandar library in the basement which houses rare manuscripts.
Be a foodie! Feast on Rajasthani cuisine which is predominantly influenced by the scarcity of water and fresh green vegetables. Meat eaters should sample the non-vegetarian delicacy laal maas, a dish of lamb cooked in red hot chilli peppers. Vegetarians will love ker saangri, an unusual but delicious vegetarian dish made with desert beans and capers and the calorific dhal bhati churma and panchkoota, five desert vegetation cooked in yoghurt. Drink local lassi topped with copius amounts of cream and indulge your sweet tooth with ladoos made out of gram flour.
Experience bygone splendour The city is famous for its ornate mansions or havelis that were built from yellow sandstone by wealthy merchants in the 18th and 19th centuries. Visit the famous Patwon ki Haveli, a set of five houses wedged into a narrow street and built by five Jain brothers who traded in gold and silver brocade. Walk through airy courtyards and lavishly chiselled wooden ceilings with mirrors and sixty balconies each done in a different style. Follow it up with a visit to Salim Singh Ki Haveli with its roof lined with peacocks and tuskers, 38 balconies, spacious corridors and a façade shaped like the stern of a ship.
Time travel Take a day trip to the ancient capital of Bhattis that’s only 15km from Jaisalmer. Visit the great Jain temple built out of golden sandstone with its intricate carvings and complex jaali work and Kalpavriksha, a mythical tree that fulfils one’s wishes. Lodurva has a great number of peacocks that add colour to the barren landscape.
Lake Song The Gadisar Lake was built in the 12th century and was the gargantuan effort of a visionary king in conserving rain water and channelling it to this arid city. Until 1965, it was the city’s only water supply. Today it’s the favoured place for paddle boats, watching migratory birds and catching wondrous views of the many golden hued temples and shrines that line its shores.
Take a desert safari Jaisalmer’s location is incredible: at the very fringe of the vast Thar Desert. Most people head here to go on a camel safari which can range from half-day excursions to watching a sunset on a dune and even spending a few nights under the stars with campfires and rustic food. The closest set of dunes is the Sam dunes where dune bashing has been introduced. At Lama Heritage Village, you can take photographs in colourful Rajasthani attire, listen to ethnic music and hear folklore. If you are lucky you can even spot elusive desert animals like the chinkara and fox. Don't forget to carry a hat, sunscreen and loads of water!
Indulge in retail therapy Jaisalmer is a riot of colour and craft, just like the rest of Rajasthan. Wander through shops that offer intricately carved wooden boxes, turbans in hues of hot pink and yellow, swirling mirror-worked skirts, woven rugs and blankets, hand embroidered mojris and jootis. For something unique, head to Hari Om jewellers and have a look at painted scenes on human hair and grains of rice alongside intricately worked silver rings depicting royal scenes. Pick up chunky silver jewellery and vibrantly coloured puppets to take back with you.
A tryst with the ghosts Visit the so-called ‘ghost town’ of Kuldhara (18km from Jaisalmer). Legend has it that it was once a prosperous and bustling settlement of the Paliwal Brahmins. They were oppressed by the high taxes imposed by the rulers and when the ruler pursued the chief’s daughter, they abandoned the village overnight along with the inhabitants of 83 nearby villages. Till date, no one knows where they disappeared. It is believed that they cast a curse over the village as they departed that would bring death to anyone who tried to inhabit the land. Today, the ruins of the village consist of sandstone houses, a temple and wells standing against the eerie desert backdrop, making for a very intriguing visit indeed
WHERE TO STAY The Serai Jaisalmer Part of Relais & Chateaux, The Serai Jaisalmer is a 100-acre luxury tented resort in the middle of the desert. (www.sujanluxury.com/the-serai)
Suryagarh A stunning modern-fort, created brick-by-brick (or stone-by-stone, rather) in the style of ancient Rajasthani forts. (www.suryagarh.com)
HOW TO GET THERE Fly Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com) to Jodhpur from Mumbai or Delhi and drive to Jaisalmer, three and a half hours away.
WHEN TO GO The best weather is from October to February. For three days in late January/early February, the Jaisalmer Desert Festival takes place with camel races and Air Force displays
You may also like