Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Top 12 Things to do in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

On my recent backpacking trip to Rajasthan, I spent a lot of time exploring the city of Jaisalmer, its suburbs, the Thar desert and its remote villages, the remote temples, the ancient irrigation villages and much more in the desert. You get a feeling that the desert remembers and there is a lot of magic during the monsoons in the desert. If you are planning a holiday to this desert region of Rajasthan, these top things to do in and around Jaisalmer might come in handy for you. And all these tips are based on my recent experience.

Courtesy: These are signature experiences of Suryagarh, a boutique luxury hotel that allows you the explore the unexplored. If you wish to experience these signature experiences while indulging in some royal Suryagarh luxury and true Rajasthani hospitality, you can directly reach out to them at for bookings and more details.

See the City View from Jaisalmer Fort

Sonar Qila and Jaisalmer city view
The Sonar Qila or Golden Fort is the largest living fort in India. Made out of yellow sandstone, it towers over the desert city of Jaisalmer. It is struggling with sanitary and drainage problems, but amidst all these problems, it has managed to maintain a lot of its historical beauty. The museum, the palace and the tower are completely worth the 60 to 75 minute audio guide tour. The icing on the cake is the stunning 360 degree view from the top tower. You can see the entire city, the jain temples, the Pakistan border and the desert.

Gadisar Lake in the Evening

Evening at Gadisar Lake, Jaisalmer
If you feel like enjoying the evening breeze, go for a boat ride or listen to some bhajans being sung at local temples, then Gadisar Lake is the place. This lifeline of this desert city has the same yellow sandstone architecture as the rest of the city. The place is a big hit with the locals who come here in huge numbers every evening and especially during the weekends.
Marwari Thali and Halwayi Breakfast

Marwari Thali
The Marwari thali and Halwayi breakfast is an integral part of the desert culture of Rajasthan. Bajra roti and Missi roti with Gatta Masala and Kher Sangri tastes delicious for lunch and dinner. And for breakfast and an evening snack, mirchi vada, kachori, samosa, ladoos, lassi and other sweets make for a lip smacking experience.

Breakfast with the Peacocks at Khaba Fort

Breakfast at Khaba Fort
Every morning, about 50 to 100 peacocks fly in from all over the ruins of a Paliwal village at the call of a local boy who has been following a long family tradition of feeding bajra seeds to these peacocks. This happens very morning around sunrise and makes for a great sight as you not only get to see these peacocks, but you get to see the sun rising over the ruins of the abandoned Paliwal village. And once you are done with your breakfast, you can explore this small, yet important historical fort and its 2 temples.

Richness of Patwon Ki Haveli

Living Room in Patwon ki Haveli
There were a lot of successful merchants in the hey days of Jaisalmer and through their success, they made a lot of money, which they used to build extremely luxurious houses for themselves.  These uber rich houses are called havelis and many of them still exist to this day. They are located within the city area and very close to the fort and the main bazaar. The richest and the most well maintained haveli is the Patwon ki Haveli where you can see a museum that holds artefacts of their rich past. This haveli also offer stunning views of the Jaisalmer fort.

Dinner by an Oasis

Oasis in the Thar
This is one of the true luxuries of the desert life. Spending an evening under the star lit desert sky, listening to some folks music, swaying to the cool desert breeze and eating local dinner is quite an experience.

Camel Safari at Sam or Khuri Dunes

Camel safari on the sand dunes of Rajasthan
When anyone speaks of the mighty Thar, the image of the rolling sand dunes immediately come to our mind. We have seen a lot of such images from our movies, but it is even more surreal to see and feel it in real life. Going on a camel safari at around sunset and watching the sand dunes dancing in the golden hues of the sun is quite a sight. It is here at the sand dunes that we can indulge in dune surfing or dune boarding and then there are these nomadic villages close to Sam and Khuri that are worth visiting. And then who can miss either the dinner on the sand dunes under the star lit sky or staying overnight next to these sand dunes in desert tents or traditional mud houses.

Kuldhara Chudail Trail

Camels near a village in the Thar
If you are up to chasing ghosts in an abandoned Paliwal village by night, then you have to go on this trail. Surrounded by cemeteries, cenotaphs and ruins, this trail is believed to be occupied by female ghosts (chudail) who have been spotted by many male travelers with each of them having their own epic stories. Even though I did not spot any chudails, the eerie level on the trail was pretty high and the entire group stayed together for comfort.

Paliwal Villages and the Silk Route

Paliwal Village as seen from Khaba Fort
The Paliwals were successful citizens of the Thar desert from the 11th to the 16th century. They were part merchants and part cultivators. They designed indigenous irrigation systems like the Agor, Khadeen and Dhora that allowed them to harness water in the desert. Due to this smart invention, the people of the desert still get to cultivate bajra, chana and vegetables in the desert. They were also good traders and did successful business with China and the Middle East across the famous Silk Route. Then, one fine day, due to poisioning of their drinking water supply, they abandoned all their villages and left this part of the desert for good. If you wish to know more about their history, see the irrigation systems in place, feel their stories through their abandoned villages, cemeteries, cenotaphs and sati sites, then this is one of the top off beat things to do in the Thar desert.
Exquisite Jain Temple at Ludrava

Torana of Ludrava Jain Temple
This temple blew me away from the moment I walked into it. The attention to detail, the sheer intricate work, its beautiful jharokas and its  unbelievable torana (entrance gate) are exemplary. This temple is Jain dedicated to the 24th tirthankara is a beautiful fusion of Jain beliefs and folklore that they heard from their Chinese trader friends. This entire town, Ludrava was the capital of erstwhile desert kingdom before it moved to Jaisalmer.

Jain Temples inside Jaisalmer Fort

Sculptures in the Jain temple of Jaisalmer
While the Ludrava temple is outstanding, the other Jain temples in the Jaisalmer fort are not far behind. They are equally beautiful and  sport the same yellow sandstone construction with intricate architecture. These temples are extremely popular with Jains and also many Hindus.  If you have time, make sure you get to understand the meaning of each of the carvings on the inside temple walls. There are a lot of stories and beliefs portrayed here.
Shopping for local embroidery work at  the Jaisalmer market

Shopping for embroidery work at Jaisalmer 
The markets of Jaisalmer are colorful with bright textiles, spices, carpets and much more. If you feel like taking home a souvenir, you can try picking up a hand embroidered wall hanging, cushion cover, bedsheets and much more. You can also buy the famous Halwayi items like laddoos and other sweets.  In simple terms, it is a colorful shopping extravaganza.

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