There’s no dearth of legends that talk about the lost cities of gold. Sure, they are all myths, but what if we tell you that there’s a place in this world that gives you the exact feel of a city of gold? Well, that, and much more. Known for its distinguished landmark, the Sonar Quila, or Golden Fort, the Indian city of Jaisalmer also goes by the name Golden City. An ancient charm, as if stuck in time, the Golden City houses this majestic sandstone fort atop a hill surrounded by sun-kissed towns beneath it, taking up the golden-yellow color of the sand, and hence, the name. The city is located in the heart of Thar Desert and near to the Indo-Pakistan border and is as far in the west as you can go in the desert state of Rajasthan.
The pages of history say that the city was built in the year 1156 by the Rajput king Rawal Jaisal who had set out to find a new location for his capital, built a mud a fort, and named it Jaisalmer after himself. Packed with history and imbued with culture, the city has a lot to offer to any explorer.
How to reach Jaisalmer?
Jaisalmer is well-connected to the rest of Rajasthan by buses run by the Rajasthan state government and other private operators. A five-hour-long bus journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer will cost you around 400 – 500 in Indian rupee. You can also reach Jaisalmer by taking a train or an over-night bus from Jaipur. The Jaisalmer airport is located some 17 km away from the city; thus, you can reach the place from the international airports of Delhi or Mumbai as well.
Places to tour in Jaisalmer
Hop around the Jaisalmer Fort
Start your day by touring around the Jaisalmer Fort and get lost in its ancient charm and architectural magnificence. Like, literally, you can get lost in its labyrinth of twisting alleys lined with colorful shops and occasional flights of stairs that take you to the top of the fort. Yes, this isn’t just ‘yet another fort’ in India. While, like most other Rajput forts, it displays the grandeur of the local craftsmanship, what makes it stand out is that people still live inside the fort. It is more like a community with the regular hustle-bustle of a town than a touristy fort. Oh, and free entry too!
There’s so much to see and do that you may want to come back the next day and explore a little more. The fort also houses numerous rooftop restaurants from where you can get an epic view of the whole town as the mystic golden rays of the sun shrouds it at sunset, disappearing in the faraway desert dunes.
A tiny piece of side-information for the movie buffs out there: This fort plays a primary role in the plot of the film Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress) by one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, Satyajit Ray from his Feluda series. You may stay inside the fort; however, it is commonly deemed unethical with its overcrowding and deteriorating sewage systems.
Explore the Havelis and Jain temples
Inside the fort, you will find several Jain temples dedicated to the famous Jain Tirthankars (wise teachers) Rikhabdevji and Shambhavdevji. Dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries, the architecture is fashioned in the beautiful Dilwara style.
There’s Patwon Ki Haveli, Nathmal Ki Haveli, and Salim Singh Ki Haveli that are the most impressive and elaborately constructed among the Havelis in and around the fort. Havelis are mansions that were built by rich people in ancient India. After you’re done gazing at the wonderous carvings on the outside, you can go inside the haveli and get an essence of how royal luxurious Rajasthani life was back in the day.
Camel Safari in the Thar Desert
Your tour to Jaisalmer remains incomplete without a camel safari. It may feel a little touristy, but it’s worth the hype! If you’re running short of time, you can take a half-day camel trek, but for a wholesome experience that also lets you spend your nights under the starry desert sky, go for a three-day tour option, or maybe more!
Take a boat ride on Gadisar Lake
After the hustle of the day, now is your time to chill in the quiet of the Gadisar Lake. Many temples and shrines surround the lake, so it is also a pilgrimage spot.
Shopping in Jaisalmer
Get ready to carry an extra bag (or a suitcase maybe!) as Jaisalmer’s markets are a treasure trove. From Rajasthani embroidery and shoes to antiques and souvenirs, there’s so much that choosing one and leaving another may become a hard feat for you. Colors? There’s no shortfall of it. Camel leather is quite popular here. You will also find perfume sellers at some corner, so grab a vial or two as well.
So, when you are in Rajasthan, India, don’t miss out on its golden city. Whether you’re on a backing budget or you’d prefer to spend a little more lavishly, Jaisalmer won’t disappoint. You’ll get good hostels to stay at for as low as $2. You can also stay at one of the many haveli-inspired hotels. The best time to visit Jaisalmer is around February when it witnesses the vibrant annual Desert Festival in the Sam Dunes, some 40 km away from the main city of Jaisalmer. From folk dances to camel races, traditional desert tunes to Rajasthani art, get a true taste of the indigenous desert culture during this three-day-long extravaganza. Before leaving, pay a visit to Hamira or Barna villages around Jaisalmer to carry with you the insights and tunes of the local Manganarian music tradition.