Today I’m picking favourites and I have no qualms about it. We spent a whole month travelling across India – 7 destinations in total – but the one that I’m still thinking about is Jaisalmer. This Jaisalmer travel guide will show you what makes this place so special!
Located in the Thar Desert just 30 kilometres from the border with Pakistan means that getting to Jaisalmer was quite the journey – 18 hours by train from Delhi to be precise! – but it was worth it in the end to explore the famed Golden City.
We had a total of 3 days here and I would have gladly stayed a week if the rest of Rajasthan hadn’t been calling, so here’s a little glimpse at why I enjoyed visiting Jaisalmer so much and how you can too.
Your Jaisalmer Travel Guide:
Get lost inside Jaisalmer Fort
The main attraction in this city is Jaisalmer Fort, but believe me when I tell you that this is a place you’re going to want to revisit time and time again.
I made it to Jaisalmer Fort three days in a row and I managed to see something new on each visit. The layout of the city makes the place feel like a bit of a maze, which means you can always get lost in a new direction.
Narrow, twisting alleys break away from the main road, leading you up and down crooked staircases, and then every once in a while these will spit you out along the fort’s outer walls where you can see across the city and off into the desert.
There is also no shortage of rooftop restaurants, so be willing to climb the extra three or four flights of stairs to enjoy a drink with a view, and then give your legs a break!
Shop for Rajasthani souvenirs
Oh, the shopping! There is a reason why my suitcase gained a few extra pounds in Jaisalmer. Certain sections of the fort are like a bazaar where you can find all sorts of little treasures. So what exactly did we find?
Well, Sam and I purchased a total of four wall hangings; my favourite was a white canvas with quotidian scenes embroidered in rainbow colours. We also picked up a few pillow covers with elephant designs in gold, pink, and blue. And aside from that, I came across an artist who paints bird and flower motifs on old weathered postcards with Hindi writing, so I picked up a small collection which I’d like to frame at some point.
I was also tempted by peacock doorknobs, carved statuettes and antique masks, but I had to draw the line somewhere! Suffice it to say that if you enjoy shopping, you’ll love Jaisalmer’s offerings.
Visit the Jain Temples
While wandering through Jaisalmer Fort, we also came across the Jain Temples. These structures date back to the 12th and 15th centuries and like most of the buildings you’ll find in the city, these too are made of yellow sandstone.
You may be tempted to walk past them especially if there’s a large tour group gathered outside, but trust me, it’s worth going in to see the craftsmanship. While the temples are relatively simple from the exterior, once you set foot inside you’ll enter a world of intricate stone carvings that carry your eyes from floor to ceiling.
Admission tickets can be purchased in the small square directly across from the temples. Just keep in mind that because these temples are active places of worship, they are only open to visitors from 8 in the morning until noon, so you’ll want to plan your visit accordingly.
Admire all the havelis
Haveli is the word used for old mansions found across India and Jaisalmer has a few worth seeking out!
Patwon ki Haveli: This is the most famed haveli in Jaisalmer. It is also the largest haveli in the city, but that being said, it’s a combination of 5 structures. The building was commissioned by Guman Chand Patwa, who was a wealthy jewelry trader, and because he had 5 sons he ordered the construction of 5 stories, one for each of his children.
Nathmalji ki Haveli: This haveli was built as the residence of the then Prime Minister of Jaisalmer, Diwan Mohata Nathmal. The construction was carried out by two brothers who had a bit of a competitive edge. They both started building simultaneously at opposite ends and struggled with uniformity, which meant the building ended up having a bit of an irregular shape.
Salim Singh ki Haveli: This next one is nicknamed the Peacock Haveli. This 300-year-old structure was built on top of an even older haveli, and it is still occupied today by a descendant of its original owner.
Speaking of havelis, you can’t miss the Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum & Heritage Center, which was a former royal residence. You can do an audio tour, but I was happy to just wander around and take pictures.
And since we’re on the topic of architecture, if you come with a bit more time or are feeling particularly ambitious, you can also visit Bada Bagh, which is a complex north of Jaisalmer that contains royal cenotaphs (empty tombs) that look like dome-shaped pavilions. I didn’t get to visit this place but it looks beautiful in photos.
Go camel trekking in the Thar Desert
This Jaisalmer travel guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning camel trekking, after all, the city is located in the Thar Desert! There are two popular offerings that you can find across the town. The first is a sunset tour that involves driving out to the desert, doing a camel safari, having a fire-cooked dinner, and doing a bit of stargazing. The second option includes all of the above but also involves spending the night in the desert, typically sleeping outdoors around a campfire using mats and a sleeping bag.
Longer tours can be arranged – my husband Sam did a 4-day camel safari when he visited a few years back – but if you’re not into camping, then the sunset tour can give you a taste of what that’s like.
Another alternative to the camel safari is spending the night in a desert camp. These range from simple tented camps geared at backpackers to luxury tented camps that will make you feel like you’re glamping with the royals.
Take a boat ride on Gadisar Lake
Gadisar Lake is a manmade lake that was built in the 14th century in order to deal with the population’s water needs – because when you live in the desert, water is a major concern!
Today the lake is a popular spot with visitors as you can rent paddle boats to take you out on the water. The lake’s shore is lined with temples and pavilions (some of them are even out on the water), so it’s quite scenic, especially at sunset.
Stay in a haveli-inspired hotel
If you want to feel like royalty, you need to book yourself into a haveli. We stayed at the Tokyo Palace Hotel and loved it!
I know the name is a bit of a geographic mismatch, but that aside, it’s a really cool property. The hotel was built in the haveli-style, which means you get a bit of Old World charm with all the modern conveniences.
We stayed in the Deluxe Room which runs you about $22 USD per night, and my favourite feature was the day bed, because check out that window! They also have 6-bed dorms starting out at $2 so there really is something for every budget.
Another thing that I loved about this hotel is that their rooftop allowed us to catch the sun rising over the desert and it was pure magic every morning. The sun rose with a bold and fiery intensity painting the sky deep shades of mauve and lavender, and most mornings a small group of guests would gather together to watch it quietly.
If that hotel is fully booked, you can find similar style accommodations at: Hotel Garh Jaisal Haveli, Hotel Helsinki House, or Hotel Pleasant Haveli. These are some of the top-rated haveli-style hotels in Jaisalmer.
And that’s a little taste of Jaisalmer. I hope these photos sparked your interest in the city; it’s a long way to get there, but to me, Jaisalmer is the jewel of the Thar Desert, so go!
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