Nestled on the edge of the Thar Desert in a remote corner of Rajasthan, the ‘Golden City’ of Jaisalmer is spectacular. Dating back to 1156 AD, when it was founded by Maharawal Jaisal, this desert city was a flourishing trade center, strategically located on the busy caravan trade route to Central Asia. Today, Jaisalmer remains just as magnificent: a golden citadel with a towering fortress, enchanting havelis, and ornate temples. The perfect time to visit is during the Desert Festival. Taking place every February, the three-day extravaganza includes camel races, folk-dancing, turban-tying contests and colorful craft bazaars against the splendid backdrop of the Sam Sand Dunes during the full moon.
Rising from the sandy plains of the Thar Desert like a mirage from a bygone era, Jaisalmer Fort is a breath-taking sight. Carved from golden honey sandstone, hence the city’s designation as the Golden City, this is one of the very few (perhaps the only) ‘living forts’ in the world with several thousand inhabitants inside. Ninety-nine colossal bastions encircle the still-inhabited narrow streets. Inside are shops swaddled in bright embroideries, a royal palace and ancient buildings of crumbling beauty.
One of Jaisalmer’s real showpieces are the charming havelis dotted along the old city’s tiny streets beneath the ramparts. Carved from the same golden-honey sandstone as the fort, these mansions were commissioned by wealthy merchants during the 18th and 19th centuries. Known for their elaborately carved wooden ceilings, latticed balconies, and jharokha windows, some of the houses still retain their opulence. These include Patwon ki haveli the most intricately carved latticed limestone facade, which was home to famous jewellers of Jaisalmer with glorious exteriors and a small museum.
Within the fort walls is a maze-like, interconnecting treasure trove of seven beautiful yellow sandstone Jain temples, dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries and dedicated to various Jain Tirthankars (Hermits). Built in the Dilwara style, famous all over the world for its architecture, the temples are adorned with thousands of carved deities and dancing figures depicting mythological scenes. The Astapadhi Temples that are situated in the same complex are a must-visit too.
No trip to Jaisalmer is complete without a visit to the silky Sam Sand Dunes. Unless you’re staying in the desert (for example at The Serai), we recommend ending your day in Jaisalmer by heading out to the dunes for a sunset camel ride. Alternatively, the beautiful desert scenery, with its wind-carved ripples, can be enjoyed on foot or by Jeep. Either way, the evenings are particularly magical with the shifting mounds of dry white sand coming to life as vibrant cultural performances breathe color into the barren landscape.
Dating back to the early 14th century, this man-made reservoir Gadi Sagar Lake was founded in 1367 by the first ruler of the city Maharawal Jaisal. Originally built to provide a source of water to the people of Jaisalmer, the lake is framed by shrines, temples, ghats, and Chatteris. The lake also has a beautiful gateway in yellow sandstone, Telia-Pol, which was commissioned by Telia, a royal courtesan. The Jaisalmer Fort in the backdrop offers an amazing view – and a boat ride is a perfect way of soaking it all up.
This abandoned village on the outskirts of Jaisalmer was abandoned by its Paliwal Brahmin inhabitants about 200 years ago. They were heavily taxed, their property was looted and the village beauty the daughter of the Paliwals was to be kidnapped by the Mugal Emperor if she her hand was not given to him in marriage. To save her the entire community upped and left. Legend has it they buried the gold and silver they couldn’t carry in Kuldhara, which has attracted treasure hunters to the area. Some of the houses are in remarkable condition, restored for use as Bollywood film sets.
Rising majestically from the sands of the Thar Desert, just outside Jaisalmer, this colonnaded sandstone boutique hotel is an oasis of calm and luxury. Set among pretty courtyards, the 68 rooms and suites and 4 havelis are beautifully appointed and extremely spacious with all the modern touches. There are two restaurants, including Legends of Marwar which celebrates the culinary heritage of the Marwarroyal households. In addition to the huge pool, the spa is a great way to relax after a day’s adventure.
Inspired by the royal caravans of old Rajputana, SUJAN’s safari property The Serai, nestled on a 100-acre private estate in the tranquil Thar desert, offers world-class comfort in the wilderness. The 14 tented suites are incredibly spacious, with plenty of natural light, stylish interiors, and their own terrace lounge. Six of the suites have their own plunge pool. After a day exploring, cool off in the infinity swimming pool, circled by pagoda-shaded loungers. At night, dine under the starry sky on the finest desert cuisine possible.
Hidden behind a yellow sandstone façade, Sonaar Haveli is a stone’s throw from Jaisalmer’s city center. With 8 pastel-hued stylish rooms complete with marble bathrooms, this contemporary boutique hotel is stately living coupled with all the intimacy of a Rajasthani home. From the rooftop restaurant, guests can enjoy Rajasthani cuisine while soaking up the stunning views of the magnificent Jaisalmer Palace or watching the sunset over the desert landscape.
Jaisalmer is in the far west of the state and somewhat trickier to reach than other destinations, though for many guests this desert experience is one of the highlights of their Rajasthan tour. Jaisalmer is connected to both Jaipur and Delhi by a short domestic flight (1.5 hrs). Jaisalmer is also within comfortable driving distance of Jodhpur (5 hrs), Nagaur (5 hrs) and Bikaner (6 hrs).
Jaisalmer is just one of many fascinating places you can explore on a private luxury tailor-made tour with Rajasthan Tours. These ideas are just a starting point for what your trip to India could include. To start planning your luxury tailor-made holiday to India, please contact us. Each trip designed by Rajasthan Tours is created uniquely for you, working to your budget, style and interests with an absolute commitment to quality. We take the work off you to allow you to enjoy the most memorable holiday experience.
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