If the big cities of India have got you down and out, feeling like you haven’t truly experienced the desert state of Rajasthan, then the frontier town of Jaisalmer is the perfect tonic for you.
Located well out in the hinterland near the Pakistani border, this settlement of 80,000 souls will allow to experience the true charm of this corner of the subcontinent, without having enduring the alienating aspects of a true metropolis.
With forts, intricately carved homes, and undulating dunes stretching out into the horizon just outside the city limits, this town is a small, but essential stop during your tour of the vaunted state of Rajasthan.
By far, the most significant landmark within this quaint town (by India standards) is none other than Jaisalmer Fort. This defensive bulwark, also known by locals as Sonar Qila, served to protect the residents of this arid outpost from rampaging marauders, with large stones and boiling oil greeting those foolhardy enough to storm its walls. To this day, 4,000 people still keep homes within the walls of this colossus, which is best captured by photograph at sunset, when the battlements glow with a golden aura as the sun counts down its last moments of the day.
One of India’s most unique sects are the Jains, which aim to harm no living being, to the point that they take measures to avoid stepping on bugs, or breathing them in. In Jaisalmer, a Jain Temple is available for your viewing pleasure, where the sandstone sourced locally proves to be a perfect medium for carving the highly detailed reliefs that you’ll find everywhere throughout this remarkable place. After taking off your shoes and leather adornments (like belts, wallets and the like), view relics that honour the Jain god Chandraprabhu, and there is also a library on site that contains some of the rarest manuscripts in India.
Until the partition of India by the British shut down the route for good, the merchant culture in Jaisalmer thrived, as it was a major stopover in the region. This gave rise to a number of posh, amazing beautiful houses that belonged to the most successful merchants in this city … Patwon-ki-Haveli is a walk that tours five of the best houses, located in close proximity to each other. One of them has been refurbished into a museum by the government, and with all the envy-inducing features contained within, you can expect to spend half the afternoon here at least.
Even though the surrounding area is primarily desert, the region does get rainfall during a certain portion of the year, with every drop possible getting stored in Gadisar Lake, which supplies Jaisalmer with its drinking water. This body of H2O is surrounded by a ton of attractions, from temples to tombs containing the resting bodies of those considered saints by the local populations. This lake also has a large population of massive catfish. In order to provide sustenance to their greedy, needy mouths, you can buy bread to tear up and throw to the fishy mosh pit that exists below the surface of the water.
After seeing all the major sights within the city and the fort, it will be time to get out into the parched wilderness of the Rajasthani desert to soak in the essence of this distinct part of the Indian subcontinent. One way you can do this is by going on a camel safari. The best time to head off into the dune-filled horizon is near sunset, when the punishing heat of the day has begun to subside.
Not only will it be more comfortable as you ride your humped steed into the desert, photo opportunities will be infinitely better, as the dust of this environment suspended in the troposphere will make for insane sunsets, an experience made many times better by being out of the city and away from anything that could block the view of the varying shades of red, yellow and orange as the sun bids you farewell for another day.
Before hopping back on the train bound for Delhi, inject some luxury into your experience by dropping in on Suryagarh, Jaisalmer’s famous desert hotel. Stop by in time for the daily tea, taking the opportunity to admire its gardens, which also contain refreshing pools and fountains, just the kind of environment that one needs to have a Zen experience in the deserts of Rajasthan!