Jaisalmer is also known as the Golden city of India because its monuments and most of the houses in the city are made of yellow sand stone. It is an old city and main architect attraction is forts and Havelis. Winter months are the best time to visit Jaisalmer because in summers the temperature rises till 50 Celcius due to hot sand storms.
I have decided to visit Jaisalmer in end December, which is peak tourism season in Rajasthan. I booked everything in advance because getting tickets and a good hotel can be an issue during this time. I traveled with a dear friend of mine. We traveled by train and reached Jaisalmer around mid morning. We had 5 days and 4 nights to explore Jaisalmer, which is a decent time period to explore in and around. The Jaisalmer itself is not big but there are some interesting places around and we planned to see these during our stay. We had a basic plan; I always travel with a rough itinerary and keep on adding or skipping places depending upon interest or time. There was enough time to relax and see places at a leisure pace.
I saw some really interesting places, did some activities and I suggest below itinerary based on my personal experience. These are some Jaisalmer’s places to visit.
Day 1 in Jaisalmer
We have half a day on our first day and we decided to explore the Havelis. There are 3 most beautiful Havelis in Jaisalmer and these Havelis are in a radius of 1 km and walking tour is best to explore these Havelis.
Our first stop was at Patwon Ki Haveli; it is most important and biggest in Jaisalmer. This is a cluster of 5 small Havelis and all go by the one name. It was the first haveli in the area and is largest in the area till date. Guman Chand Patwa had constructed and commissioned this haveli in the year 1805. The full cluster of Havelis was completed in the span of 50 years. The Patwa traders were brocade merchants but according to the popular belief, they made a considerable amount of money in Opium smuggling and Money-lending.
For many years Haveli was encroached and abused by encroachers after Patwas abandoned this as they moved to bigger cities but we were still able to find a good amount of paintings and mirror-works on the wall. The gateways and arches of Haveli are beautifully crafted and constructed. I noticed there were different themes on each and every arch. The main gateway of Haveli is in brown color through the complete structure is in yellow sandstone. The intricate work of Jallis and Jharokhas are the main attraction. The restoration work is now in progress to bring it closer to its old glorious days.
Haveli stands in a narrow lane though there was some open space in front of the main gate. This haveli is under government’s supervision and they use a part of it as an office of the Archeological Survey of India and State art and craft department’s office.
The ticket was 10 Rs for Indians and 50 Rs for Foreign tourists.
Still Camera ticket was for 50 Rs.
We walked through the narrow lanes of the city and our next stop was Salim Singh ki Haveli, which is 500 meters from Patwon ki Haveli. This haveli is situated beside the Jaisalmer Fort. It was built on the remains of an older Haveli in 1815 and later on commissioned by Salim Singh. He was then the Prime Minister of the Jaisalmer’s king. Haveli has an interesting design; its roof was constructed in the form of Peacock. The front facet of the haveli resembles ship stern and thus also sometimes referred as Jahazmahal by locals. There are two big statues of tuskers guarding the gateways. These statues were made of sand stones and look close to the original animal.
This haveli consists of as many as 38 balconies and all balconies have distinct designs.
According to the popular story, Salim Singh made two additional floors in order to make it as high as the fort but the Maharaja did not take this. He ordered the extra floors to be torn down. It is a fine example of fine jali work done in Jaisalmer region.
The ticket was 10 per person for Indians and 50 Rs for Foreign tourists.
Still Camera ticket was for 50 Rs
Nath Mal ki Haveli was our third and last Haveli. It was the residence of Diwan Mohata Nathmal, he was also the Prime Minister of Jaisalmer in a different era. There is an interesting story behind the construction of this haveli. According to the story the two brothers, Hathi and Lulu, had begun constructing of Haveli from two different sides to finally make it meet in middle. The outer was made with yellow stand stone like all other prominent buildings in Jaisalmer.
The paintings on the interior of this Haveli are grand; there are depictions of cars and fans, which were painted by two brothers based on the description they got from travelers because they had never seen these things in real life.
There are two majestic lions statues on two sides of the staircase at the entrance to the haveli. These lions were intricately carved out of yellow sandstone.
There is no ticket for entry though sometimes they restrict the entry.
Imp: Do Hire a guide to tell you stories related to Havelis and show you the interesting intricate details. The Havelis top the list of Jaisalmer’s places to visit.
Later on, my friend and I decided to go to the Gadisagar Lake for paddle boating and sunset. It is a man-made lake and once upon a time was the only source of water for Jaisalmer city. Raja Rawal Jaisal developed Gadisagar Lake, ghats, and temples the first ruler of Jaisalmer. The yellow sand stone structures around lake add to the beauty of it. This is one of the best places to spend a peaceful evening in Jaisalmer doing nothing.
Day 2 in Jaisalmer
Next day morning we decided to explore the Jaisalmer Fort, which is one of the largest living forts in India. The main entry gate of the fort is huge and imposing. There were shops and stall outside and inside the gate, selling different local fashion and decoration items. From the canon, we saw the bird’s eye view of the Jaisalmer city. The inner lanes have shops and houses. Only a small part of the fort is preserved as monument and local people use rest of the fort. They have houses and shops inside the fort; the lanes get narrow as we moved further inside the fort area.
The fort is getting damaged slowly due to the pressure of people living in it, there is no proper sewer system and the temporary arrangements are not enough. A part of the wastewater from houses is seeping into the fort walls and damaging its structure.
Inside the Jaisalmer Fort walls, the Palace Museum and Heritage Center is the main attraction to see. The Palace was a royal residence, which was later converted into a heritage center and museum for tourists. Now the museum houses a collection of artifacts depicting the culture and heritage of bygone era. After visiting many forts all over India, I feel that they need to maintain the collection.
Maharaja’s Palace is a small but fascinating structure with intricate details but again they have not maintained it well. The view from the rooftop of this five-storeyed structure is one of the best in Jaisalmer.
Next, we went to Chandraprabhu Temple inside the fort complex, which is one of the must see places. It was constructed around 15th and 16th century and dedicated to the eighth Tirthankara Chandraprabhuji. The temple complex is a beautiful symbol of ancient Rajputana style of architecture and constructed in red sandstone. The beautiful corridors, curved facades and intricate carvings of the temple are a sight to admire. For me, the temple complex was best-maintained structure inside the fort.
There were some groups performing a traditional folk dance in open area inside the fort. The best part was that they were inviting everyone to participate and dance with them, it was such a fun thing to do & see after a heavy dose of history and architecture.
After exploring the architect and heritage of Jaisalmer, now it was time for us to head out of the city. We hired a taxi and proceeded to Khuri, which is 50 km from Jaisalmer. It is a desert area with sand dunes though there are shrubs in dunes. There were very few people living in small villages. We have advanced booked in a small place, they have the traditional-style huts with clay-and-dung walls and thatched roof.
Most of the resorts in this area are low-key guesthouses with huts and offer an overnight package with all-inclusive. There were no market or restaurants and that’s why all-inclusive packages make sense. We decided to go for a camel safari in the cart instead of riding on camel back. It was our favorite activity, my friend and I jumped on and off the cart in sand dunes. The best part about sand dunes is that even if you fall, you don’t get hurt.
Our resort had organized a cultural program of dance and other performing arts at night. They had a bonfire in cold December night and we enjoyed the traditional Rajasthani food with this program.
Our beds in the hut were made of cotton wool, it was warm but little hard and heavy for us. Overall it was a different experience for us staying in the hut with minimal amenities. It gets too cold during the night in the desert.
Day 3 in Jaisalmer
Next day morning we got up early and decided to go to for morning walk. The sand dunes were just 5 minutes walking distance from our huts, it was very peaceful in morning and there were no footmarks on dunes. We saw the sun rise behind dunes. The whole experience was very amazing, the best part was there was no tourist crowd like the day before.
From Khuri we returned to Jaisalmer by lunchtime because there is nothing else to see in the village.
After enjoying our lunch in the city we went to Bada Bagh, which is approximately 6 km from Jaisalmer. Bada Bagh literally means big garden but it is a complex of royal cenotaphs. The first Cenotaph was made in 1743 after the death Jai Singh II and afterward, the cenotaphs of many other rulers were made in this complex. It is a popular attraction because there is so many round shape cenotaphs and it looks quite interesting. It took us approximately 2.5 hours to cover this area from Jaisalmer.
Later that evening we decided to go for the Puppet show. We came across Desert Cultural Centre & Folklore Museum, while we were exploring the Gadisagar Lake area a day before. There were two puppet shows every evening though I am too old for puppet show I decided to watch it anyway. Sometimes it’s fun to watch these shows and refresh our childhood memories. We don’t see puppet shows in big towns and sadly it is a dying art. We went for the first show at 6.30 PM, the show started after Aarti (Prayers). It was a folklore story and there was so much energy in the environment from the dancing of puppets, live singing, and music. Their puppets were male, female characters with animal puppets. The movement of puppets was in coordination with the music. There was a social message in the show. I really enjoyed watching the puppet show after ages and I hope they continue running this show forever.
Day 4 in Jaisalmer
It was our second last day and we decided to do some shopping. We went to local market around the fort area for souvenir shopping. Jaisalmer is popular for mirror-work embroidered garments, stoles, clay oil lamps, decoration items made with sand stone, colorful fabrics with different designs of tie and dye, wooden items, silver jewelry, camel leather bags and book binders, Puppets for decoration and jootis (Footwear). These items are available at a reasonable price in the local market but need good bargaining skills to get a good price. My friend is good and bargaining so, we got some good deals.
We were not done with the sand dunes and hired a jeep to go to Sam Sand Dunes, which is 42 km from Jaisalmer. We have booked Swiss tents in RTDC’s Sam resort. This time we decided to do camel safari and booked it in advance through a person in Rajasthan Tourism’s hotel. He asked if we want to do a long safari or short safari, interestingly he quoted the same price for both safaris. We got greedy and decided to do the long camel safari. We got down 5 km before sand dunes and climbed on camels. Initially, it was fun because we were excited riding and camel were walking slowly but later on to cover the distance faster they made camels run in between, it became very bumping and some what scary for us. Riding a camel for 30 minutes is a thrilling experience. Finally, we reached sand dunes and did some sliding on sand slopes… Ha ha…. We watched the sunset behind sand dunes before going to our campsite.
There are SUV, Jeep and similar vehicle available for dune safari.
Later that evening we watched the beautiful performances of Kalbelia dancers in our resort. They danced on the floor, on nails, picked blades with eyelashes, danced on broken glass, danced with 9 pots on the head and many other acrobatic dance performances. The singers sang local folk songs and created energy with their performance. It was one of the best live performances I saw until today; they served us a delicious Rajasthani meal during the break in the program.
Day 5 in Jaisalmer
The early morning sun in Sam sand dunes looked more golden and the air was crisp, there was no crowd like the evening before. We had attached bathrooms but there was only cold running water but they provided us hot water buckets for bathing. Water is in short supply in these desert areas and we should use it with care.
After breakfast, we checked out from our camp and drove to Kuldhara (The Abandoned Village). It is slightly detoured on the way to Jaisalmer. It is an old abandoned village and once belonged to Paliwal Brahmins. These Brahmins were not into their usual occupation of performing prayers, they were traders and farmers. The Kuldhara settlement had approximately 84 villages during heydays. Their residents abandoned these villages almost overnight. There are many stories behind this sudden abandonment, some say it was because of the scarcity of water, some say due to the sudden increase of taxes by then prime minister Salim Singh and some say it was due to the earthquake. But till date, it is a mystery why the village abandoned overnight. It is also considered as one of the most haunted places in India.
After exploring Kuldhara we came back to Jaisalmer and boarded our evening train to New Delhi.
How to reach-
The nearest airport of Jodhpur is 290 km.
There is a train station in Jaisalmer and it connected with all major cities.
It is well connected by bus with most cities in Rajasthan and from other main cities like Delhi. Rajasthan state transport has good service and they give a discount to female travelers.
How to travel in and around-
Autorickshaw is a good mode for traveling with in city.
For Khuri, Sam Sand Dunes, Kuldhara – Hire a taxi for a complete trip.
Two wheelers are available on rent and are a most economical way to travel.
Best time to visit is from November to February.
Where to stay –
If you are looking for luxury then stay in Jaisalmer Marriott Resort & Spa or Suryagarh.
For mid range hotel stays in RTDC Moomal or Mystic Jaisalmer Hotel, there are too many mid range hotels in the city.
Zostal is one of the best hostels in Jaisalmer, they are a chain of hostels.
Places to eat –
Desert Boy Dhani: Serves local vegetarian food, centrally located and nice sitting arrangments.
Cafe the Kuku: Serves nonvegetarian food and alcoholic drinks. It has the best view of the fort.
Free Tibet Restaurant: Serves steamed Momos (dumplings), Chicken Thupka and few other items.
Milan Restaurant: The Laal maas is there favorite Lamb dish, also serve tandoori items.
There are many small shops around the fort and Havelis, some have no description or name but they serve freshly made snacks and finger food.
Lassi in the lanes of Jaisalmer is very popular.
There is a special lassi also available; in this they add some bhang (It’s an edible preparation of cannabis).