Jaisalmer; The golden city situated right in the heart of the Thar Desert, lies in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. Jaisalmer gets the golden city tag from the magnificent sand dunes of the desert that go as far as one’s eyes can see. The dunes give the effect of glittering gold under the sun and has a magical radiance under the moonlight. The other unmissable reason because of which the city gets the title is the yellow sandstone architecture that’s so prominent throughout this place. Although, the highlight of the city is the spell bounding Jaisalmer Fort or Sonar Qila, which rests atop a hill in the center of the city.
History And Culture Of Jaisalmer
The Fort was built in 1156 AD by Rawal Jaisal, who also founded the city and named it after himself (Jaisalmer-Hill Fort of Jaisal). Your first thought upon seeing this yellow sandstone fort would definitely be that it looks like a life size sand castle! And that is not just the only fascinating thing about the fort. The most interesting fact is that it is the only living Fort in the world, which means that the fort is home to 4000 people who’ve lived in the fort and that is the only life they have ever known. A lot of people not only reside but also have their business within the Fort. So when you visit the Fort, you can find local shops, restaurants, hotels, houses, children playing around; even the ornate Maharaja Palace and intricately sculpted Jain temples stand behind the massive walls of the Fort. Get onto rooftops of the houses/cafes here for a birds eye view of Jaisalmer and amazing sunrise and sunset views.
Jaisalmer is an extremely rich place in terms of culture, the crown jewel in the fabled history of the Rajput kings. One thing that you will instantly realize is that the people in Jaisalmer are extremely polite and courteous. Hospitality is second nature to locals and that is what makes Jaisalmer really special.
The people of Jaisalmer have always had a keen affinity towards poetry and music. A lot of songs and poems are inspired from legendary Rajput kings and queens. They are actually depictions of the stories of their reign or glorious victories. Jaisalmer hosts two of the coolest festivals in the country. The Ragasthan is a glamping (luxury or glorious camping) music festival in February. The Desert Festival that takes place every winter is the more traditional festival which pays homage to the humble Camel. An animal that locals who live in the desert depend on for most things. It’s a great way to get a perspective on how colorful Rajasthan’s culture truly is. The Thar Desert National park has exhibits of their flora and fauna that date back to millions of years. Fossils of Dinosaurs have also been excavated from the Thar.
Jaisalmer has some really great food options. The cuisine isn’t particularly very different from Rajasthan. But just like any other city, Jaisalmer has a few mouthwatering dishes you must try. The Laal Maas (the royal Mutton dish cooked in yogurt, red chillies and garlic) and the Mutton Saag (Mutton is spinach puree) are primary non veg dishes. Gatte ki Sabzi a curry made from gram flour, while the Jaisalmer ke Channe is a curry made from chickpeas, flour and curd. Then of course, there’s the staple ‘Dal Baati Choorma’. A lentil gravy served with ‘Wheat Balls’, soaked in ghee, served with Lehsoon (garlic) chutney, onions and buttermilk.
Don’t forget to have the Makhaniya lassi when you’re in Jaisalmer. It’s a lassi topped with a variety of dry fruits that’s absolutely amazing. Also, Psst, Bhang is legal in Jaisalmer as well. You can have Makhaniya lassi in its regular form or the special kind (laced with Bhang variant) at the ‘Government authorised Bhang store’, right outside the fort.
How To Get To Jaisalmer
By Air – Jaisalmer has a commercial airport, albeit a very small one. It’s a part of the Jaisalmer military base. The airport opened for commercial use only a few years ago. Flying into Jaisalmer from Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Delhi is quite straightforward as there are quite a few direct flight options.
By Rail – Jaisalmer has a decent train connectivity with the rest of Rajasthan. You can take a 5 hour long day train from Jodhpur. Taking trains from other places like Jaipur, Delhi or Mumbai, takes from 12 to 22 hours.
By Road – Jaisalmer is quite far to the west, so driving there isn’t as straightforward as some other cities. And there are some long distances one must cover. However, if it’s a short drive you crave, we recommend driving from Jodhpur or Bikaner. You can also take an overnight bus from Jaipur and Ajmer or a day bus from Jodhpur.
Best Time To Travel To Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is slightly hot in the beginning of October. However, it gets amazing from late October onward. The weather stays this way till the end of March. The winters in Jaisalmer are quite cold but that’s more owing to the cold winds that originate from the west. Also due to the terrain being that of the desert, the land does not trap any heat, which means post sunset it only gets colder. A lot of sunlight and yet pleasant temperature makes Jaisalmer one of our favorite places in the winter.
Like for most of Rajasthan, we strongly recommend you avoid the months from April to October, as the summer in Jaisalmer is extremely hot. There’s even a risk of sunstroke. Rajasthan has a monsoon during which Jaisalmer gets some respite from the extreme heat, but it’s not the best time to go to the desert, as there’s a bevy of insects due to the rains and it distorts your experience. Also, irregularity in rains means it is hot and sticky if it rains sparingly.
Getting Around Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer is really small. Like the city is a 4-5 kilometre radius, that’s it. We recommend walking around the fort, which is pretty much the old city. There’s the option of an auto rickshaw within the fort and outside, if your legs give way, but they are too far and few in between. Ola and Uber do not have a strong presence in Jaisalmer. You can, however, book a prepaid cab from the airport and ask the hotel to organize a cab for you. Since it’s a small city, the costs of hiring a cab are very reasonable.
“Jaisalmer is just the sand dunes and the desert”.
While the sand dunes definitely add to Jaisalmer’s charm and beauty, the city and its surroundings also have a lot to offer, and you should definitely make the most of it. Explore the only living fort in the world, and the cafe’s and temples that are in it. Head to Gadisar Lake, the best place in Jaisalmer to catch a sunset from. A walk around the mazy lanes of the old city can be uplifting in its unique way. And check out some of the prettiest houses of the people who call this city home.
Go Check Out
Jain Temple in Jaisalmer Fort – While the fort has a lot to see, the Jain temple in Jaisalmer is one of the prettiest temples you will come across. It’s carved out of beautiful yellowstone and influenced by the Dilwara temples of Mount Abu. You should definitely check these out.
Sunrise/Sunset at Jaisalmer Fort – There’s something in Jaisalmer you shouldn’t do. Like, don’t miss the sunset from the fort. The sun setting over ‘The Golden City’ is an extremely pretty sight to behold.
Sunset at Gadisar Lake – The sunset at Gadisar Lake offers a different setting than that of from the fort. The sun sets over the lake and makes for a great opportunity to take that perfect sunset picture.
Spend a night at Sam/Khuri Sand Dunes – Spend a night in the sand dunes of The Thar Desert, gazing at the stars under the open sky, your only source of light. Here, as far as the eyes can see, you only see a sea of sand dunes (no pun intended). A great place to unwind and an experience you mustn’t miss.