Having been to the pink city Jaipur and city of lakes Udaipur last year, we still felt like returning back to Rajasthan. Because there was much more to explore including the blue city Jodhpur and the golden city Jaisalmer. The city of Jaisalmer totally won our heart. No wonder it is so popular amongst visitors. And that is why we decided to write a complete guide to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, answering all the possible questions that you might have in case you are planning to head here.
About the city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Jaisalmer is a small desert town of Rajasthan. It is located on the westernmost part of Rajasthan. Almost 120km from the city comes the border of India and Pakistan. Some 50km from the city are the beautiful sand dunes of the Thar Desert. Also, it is one of the few towns of India where there is a small population of around eighty thousand at the time of this writing. Moreover, almost half the people migrate to other towns and cities in search of work when the tourist season gets over. And businesses start shutting down for summer. The lifestyle is equally laid back and slow. The town of Jaisalmer is characterized by beautiful small houses. They are made of bricks and stones in the same color as the sand. And they shine like gold in the sun. So, it is fondly called “The Golden City”.
How to reach Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Jaisalmer is well connected with most of the other major cities of India as well as other towns and cities of Rajasthan. And that is via rail as well as road network. Best is to take a train from Jaipur or Delhi. But the train ticket booking window opens 4 months in advance in India at the time of this writing. And the seats get booked in the initial one to two days itself. The second best option is to book a sleeper bus ticket. When traveling from Jodhpur or Bikaner, you can also book a taxi or cab. The road journey is short and scenic. While rail connectivity is also there with these towns, the trains often get late by couple of hours, extending the journey duration. Also, there is an airport in Jaisalmer. Actually, it got operational not long back. However, it is catering to very little number of flights.
When to visit Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Jaisalmer witnesses the extreme desert climate. Which means mornings and nights are cold while the days are hot. During the winter months of November till February, the days are bearably hot while the evenings get pleasantly cold. Temperature drops during the night and can sometimes even drop below freezing point. This is the best time to visit Jaisalmer. Although the tourist rush is high during this time. Yet, pertaining to the climate, choose this season for your trip. It rains very scantly in this area and only in the monsoon season.
Come March and slowly the businesses start shutting down for the low season. Tourist footfall decrease drastically. Shops, hotels, tour operations that mostly thrive based on the tourist shut down in summers. Activities and tour choices are also not available during the peak summer months.
What to see in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
The city of Jaisalmer itself is nothing less than a heritage. The houses are built of bricks and stones in the same color as the sand. The golden houses over golden sand, shining in the bright daylight give the whole city a golden glow. The fort of Jaisalmer is one of the major attractions for tourists. One can as well stay in one of the hotels inside the fort itself. The fort has a king’s palace and a queen’s palace which are open for public. The fort also has 3 beautiful Jain temples and several other temples. Next, at walking distance from the fort lies Gadisar lake, which is a manmade water storage tank used in ancient times by the people of the city as a major source of water. You can do boating in the lake.
Next, there are several beautiful places around Jaisalmer to visit like Bada Bagh and Vyas Chatri which are cenotaphs of the rulers displaying amazing architecture, the Amar Sagar Jain Temple which is a beautiful Jain Temple constructed in a nicely maintained premise. Also, you can visit the Khaba Fort, an ancient fort which is now almost in ruins. As well as don’t forget to visit the haunted village of Kuldhara, abandoned and in ruins, where staying at night is not allowed. One can also visit the Indo-Pak border which is around 120km from the main city of Jaisalmer and the Tanot Mata Temple near it.
Things to do in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
One can stay overnight in one of the several desert camps located in the middle of the desert some 50km from the main city center. This is indeed a unique experience. Most of the desert camps provide packages that include evening snacks, cultural shows organized towards the late evening, bonfire, buffet dinner, stay in a camp with attached bath, morning breakfast, safari to the sand dunes either in the morning or the evening before and a lot more. Dune safaris and camel safari tours in the desert are also frequently arranged by various service providers from the town of Jaisalmer and one can do that over a day trip. One can also do parasailing in the desert.
Cultural and Food experience inside city
While in the main city of Jaisalmer, don’t forget to dine in one of the roof top restaurants inside the Jaisalmer fort. The views of the fort, as well as those of the city from the fort at night are just amazing. And the restaurants just set the right mood by amazing lighting, traditional seating, authentic food and some folk music and songs. Also, you need to indulge in the real gastronomical experience when in Jaisalmer. There is so much to try. Right from the street food to the authentic recipes like dal-bati-choorma, gate ki sabji, papad ki sabji and at some places even roti ki sabji!! Some restaurants and guest houses also offer cooking classes. So, while you are there and interested, just walk in and enroll yourself. And take some lessons on the local cooking styles.
Shopping in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Next, if you are into shopping, you can shop in Jaisalmer till you drop. The major items to shop for are camel leather bags and footwear, particularly the traditional Mojris, hand block print fabrics, Katha work bed linen and quilts, oxidized silver and silver jewelry, colorful bags, fine wool shawls. And the list goes on. The prices are mostly reasonable even in the main tourist areas. Last but not the least, don’t forget to try some “heena” art on your hands. You will find heena artists both inside the fort in the main tourist area as well as on the streets of Jaisalmer.
Where to stay in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Some luxury brands like Marriott and Suryagarh which are located on the highway that leads to the deserts, near to the town but at convenient distance from other places like Kuldhara, Khaba fort, Jain Temple and the sand dunes that one will mostly like to visit from Jaisalmer. Inside the fort area itself, there are many economy hotels and guest houses.
I would personally suggest you stay inside the fort at least for a night. There are certain advantages to it. One being the “unofficial” magic hours that you can access early in the morning just like Disneyland Paris. Which means, you can explore the fort as early as 8:00am in the morning while the real crowd from outside the fort starts pouring in by 10:00am. And there after it becomes really crowded. But to your advantage, your exploration will be almost complete by the time the crowd sets in.
Similarly, if you want to explore the shops inside the fort, then you can do so after 5:00pm in the evening when the tourists leave and the fort area becomes vacant. Another reason I strongly recommend staying in the fort area is the beautiful views of sunset, and the city of Jaisalmer in the night that you get from the fort area. As well as the early morning sunrise views from one of the rooftop cafes. We stayed at Hotel Raj Mandir in Jaisalmer and totally enjoyed our stay here.
Another stay option that we highly recommend is in a desert camp in the Thar Desert, just 50km off the main town of Jaisalmer, at least for a night. The experience that you get there is that of a lifetime and you will highly cherish it. It is both enthralling and exciting to live in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a desert. And it is equally overwhelming to see how the camps make sure their guests get all the facilities that they would require in the middle of the desert.
Where to eat in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Rajasthan has a lot of traditional cuisines spanning from starters to main course to desserts to street food. And every city, every region of the state has its own specialization. But what really amazed me about Jaisalmer is that almost all the food outlets big and small, seem to specialize in multi-cuisine. Almost everywhere you will find the traditional food of Rajasthan, the “thalis” (unlimited platters at a fixed price) loaded with local dishes.
And along with that you will find food from rest of India like Lassii, sarso ki roti, makke da saag from Pujab, South Indian delicacies like dosa, idli, sambhar etc. And add to that Chinese, Italian, continental and other cuisines. I really didn’t expect such skillset in such a small town. And was humbled to see how the locals have developed skills to satisfy all the tourists. So, basically the place is a paradise for those who want to try the local authentic dishes. And, for those who want a taste from their own home from across the world, well, it is still a heaven :).
Our tryst with food in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
We stayed in the fort of Jaisalmer. And we enjoyed all kind of cuisines in the restaurants, cafes and street side shops that we visited. We had our dinner and lunch at Hotel Surya right besides Hotel Raj Mandir where we stayed. And a couple of time at Jaisal Italia, a fine dine restaurant near the entrance to the fort. Also, another one named “Quila corner” right in front of the main gate of the fort. We also had some sweets and chats from a sweet shop right across the street in front of the main gate of the fort. And then we had “jahl-murhi” and “Chana jor garam” from a road side stall. Along with food, we had a lot of liquid all the time due to the dry and hot weather. Lassi (a drink preparation from curd) was a delight where ever we went. And so was lemon juice. There is a fine dine restaurant 1st Gate Home Fusion near the parking area outside the fort. Although we didn’t get a chance to eat here, there are really good reviews of the place on internet.
So, now that you have all the information required to plan a trip to Jaisalmer, go ahead and start planning your own trip. We will be waiting to hear about your experience in the Golden City.