The westernmost tourist hot-spot in India, is the Golden City of Jaisalmer. A majestic city with its citadel- the Golden Fort standing in the middle of the city, with each house crafted with yellow sandstone is nothing short of an oasis in the desert. The views of the mighty desert, the architecture of the marvelous Havelis, the vibrancy of the colorful markets and the culture of the historical city ensures an exalted experience for every visitor.
This city realizes a certain fantasy as if you have landed in the city of Qarth from the famous Television Series Game of Thrones. This Golden City offers a lot of unique things to do, that you won’t get anywhere else in India.
Best Things to do in Jaisalmer
1. Explore the Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer fort is the only living fort in India and one of the few living forts in the world. One fourth of the Jaisalmer’s population still resides in the fort. This makes the Jaisalmer fort extremely unique, among the many forts in the state of Rajasthan and even in entire India. The golden color of the fort gives it a magical look; and a sun setting over the fort just enhances the beauty manifold.
Unlike most of the forts In India, the entry the fort is free without any timing restrictions. However as you enter inside, at most of the photogenic places you will have to buy a ticket for your camera to click pictures or record videos.
One of the main attractions inside the fort is the Royal Palace. This Palace is unique in the sense that it lacks the grandeur that you get to see at other royal palaces in India but still, it is extremely beautiful. Do hire a guide to learn about the valorous history, royal tales and local traditions.
2. Visit the Jain Temple
Jain temple is located within the premises of the Jaisalmer fort. What makes the temple beautiful is the intricate carvings and the distinct architecture. The attention to detail on the carvings is unbelievable, giving an exquisite look to the structure. The temple is made from yellow sandstone; contributing to the golden color of the golden city.
Entry to the temple is free. Although, you will have to buy a ticket to click pictures inside the temple. The ticket is to be bought per gadget. It was Rs.50/- for a smartphone and Rs.100/- for a camera/ DSLR.
3. Try out Camel Safari in the Sand Dunes
Camel Safari in Sam Sand Dunes is the most popular thing to do in Jaisalmer. Sam Sand Dunes is a region in the Thar Desert located on the outskirts of Jaisalmer. This place is extremely touristy where people flock up for the camel Safari and camping in the desert.
4. Hang in there! Camp in the Desert
Camping is another popular thing to do in Sam Sand Dunes. To camp in the middle of a desert, watch the local Rajasthani folk performances as you enjoy the bonfire is an incredible experience.
Camel Safari, camping along with transfers and meals is commonly sold as one tour package and is quite popular. We got this package for about Rs.1,700 or US $25 per person. One of the perks of travelling in a group is that, you can always negotiate the price and get a really sweet deal. Price varies a lot with type of tent and quality of services. Ours was a luxury tent on a twin sharing basis with a decently good service.
If you want more adventure, there are 3-D 2-N tours also available in which you can get further into the desert away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy area. However, it could get extremely hot during the day in the barren desert and only highly adventurous people should try this. I couldn’t try it and this is one of the disadvantages of travelling in a group.
5. Find Peace in Bada Bagh
Bada Bagh which literally translates to ‘big garden’, consists of cenotaphs which serves as a memorial for important figures from the Bhatti dynasty. A cenotaph is a small temple or tribute statue for a deceased relative. Bada Bagh is quite an isolated place, although located only at a 15 minutes drive from the city center.
I found this place really peaceful and beautiful, especially during the time of the sunset. The entrance fee was Rs.50 for Indians and Rs.100 for foreigners and the opening timings were 9 AM to 6 PM.
6. Watch the Sunrise at Gadi Sagar Lake
Gadi Sagar is a beautiful man-made lake constructed under the very first ruler of Jaisalmer, Raja Rawal Jaisal. The temples and chattris made of yellow sandstone on the banks of the lake augments the scenic beauty of the place. Some chattris are even standing inside the lake. Among other structures, I loved the entrance to the lake; ‘Tilon ki Pol’ gate is intricately carved with some real admirable work.
The lake offers breathtaking views at sunrise. We were not able to reach there around sunrise but you should if you can.
7. Explore the Jaisalmer Havelis
Havelis are mansions that were built by the ministers and rich merchants in the older times. Havelis in Jaisalmer have unique architecture with elegant interiors and carved exteriors. The most famous havelis are Patwon ki Haveli, Salim Singh ki Haveli and Nathmal ki Haveli.
Entry to some of these havelis is chargeable.We only went to Patwon ki Haveli as it looked the best of all. Entry ticket was Rs.20 for Indians and Rs.100 for foreigners; additionally photography charge was Rs.50 and videography charge was Rs.100.
8. Experience the Ghost Towns of Kulhadra
Kulhadara is an abandoned village some 19 Kms from Jaisalmer, but why was it abandoned? The mystery behind this question is what makes this place worth visiting in otherwise barren ruins. The story relates to a community of Paliwal Bhramins who left the village overnight. The most accepted version of the story says that one of the ministers at the royal court Salim Singh liked the daughter of village chieftain but was not liked back either by the girl or the family. Salim singh gave an ultimatum to the chieftain to hand over the girl to him or the whole village will suffer. So, the entire village fled overnight cursing the village so that no one can inhabit the village. Isn’t the story intriguing?
9. Visit the Tanot Mata Temple
Tanot Mata Temple is located close to the Indo-Pak Border, 153 kms from Jaisalmer. The site is maintained by the Indian BSF (Border Security Force). This temple gained popularity after the 1965 Indo-Pak war from the fact that out of more than 1000 bombs fired from the Pakistani side around this area none of the bomb diffused in the temple’s vicinity.
There is a museum next to the temple exhibiting the arms and ammunition used during the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971. You can reach there by a shared cab or a private cab.
10. Go Shopping
Jaisalmer has a wide variety of unique Rajasthani style articles including gems, handicrafts, textiles – sheets, rugs, kurtas, ghagras,etc and a whole lot of other items that can be perfect for souvenirs. Prices everywhere are generally inflated; but even, they expect you to haggle so do not shy away from haggling.