We arrived in Jaisalmer at 5am in the morning, after a trip by night train from Bikaner whereby we did not catch much sleep. Despite our tiredness and the cold morning breeze, we enjoyed the short tuktuk-ride from the station to our hotel very much! The differences between Delhi and Bikaner were huge, but the differences between Bikaner and Jaisalmer were big as well! Jaisalmer is the most western city of Rajasthan, and is even further located into the big Thar desert, only 100 km away from the Pakistan border. The streets were deserted and every shop was closed with rolling shutters. Only few people were awake, but even more dogs were roaming around. The best part was the view on Jaisalmer’s fort which was beautifully lit by night, whereby the full moon behind it gave it an even more fairy-tale like feeling!
Our hotel thankfully already had a room available for us, so we could immediately jump into bed and catch some hours sleep. Around noon we were ready to explore Jaisalmer!
Day 1 – Exploring the fort
The fort of Jaisalmer cannot be missed, as it is built on a hill and therefore stands out above the city. It is built in 1156 and has been used as a refuge and way-station for caravans and travellers along the Silk Road. You enter the fort through four massive gates, whereby the road is zigzagging upwards. It was especially designed like this so that enemies could not generate enough velocity to hit the gate while attacking! If you watch the gates from above you can still see massive stone balls lying on the walls (see the picture below), which the people from Jaisalmer would push down when enemies were attacking. Can you imagine if such a ball falls on you? We don’t think anyone has ever survived that.
Nowadays, Jaisalmer’s fort is said to be one of the largest fully preserved fortified cities in the world, and around 3000 people still live inside the walls. When you enter the fort, you will find the palace on the right side of the main square. We decided to visit it right away, so that we would have some more knowledge of the fort and its history. The palace is beautiful and the audio-guide which is included gives a lot of information. It was very nice to wander around all the different rooms and courtyards, which has a very rich history as well!
In the afternoon we wandered throughout the fort. It is a labyrinth of narrow lanes, with many shops, guesthouses, temples, (rooftop)restaurants, locals, tourists, and animals.We very much enjoyed the fort, as it felt relaxed and it has a nice atmosphere. However, the beauty of this fort also has a dangerous downside. Jaisalmer is located in the arid Thar desert, and because of the high temperatures (in summers the maximum temperature can reach towards 50 degrees) and the low amounts of rainfall (the longest dry period had a duration of 7 years), the city suffers from water scarcity. This scarcity is already present since the fort was built, but now that the city becomes more densely populated and many tourists are staying inside the walls, this water scarcity becomes a bigger problem. Furthermore, because the fort uses more water, it also needs to process this water, while there is no sufficient drainage system built for that. Therefore, water seeps into the clay soil under the fort, which causes erosion and destabilization of the fort’s foundations. It is said that because of that six people were killed several years ago due to a wall collapse, and many other structures also collapsed already. The fact that Jaisalmer sometimes experiences earth quakes doesn’t help either. Although the government and other organizations are taking actions to improve the fort much more needs to be done, otherwise this unique ‘living fort’ might not exist anymore in the future. People are very much dependent on tourists, but they don’t seem to realize that they also depend on the fort.
Day 2 – Temples and Desert Safari
The next day we headed back to the fort, as we still wanted to visit the temples. There is a group of Jain temples located next to each other, which everyone recommended to visit. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion which has five basic principles: non-violence, truthfulness, not stealing, not owning things, and chastity. The temples in Jaisalmer are besides a touristic place also a pilgrimage site, so therefore many Jain monks and nuns were present to perform their daily rituals. Jains do not worship any gods, but they offer worship to Tirthankaras, who are former saviours and spiritual teachers of Jainism. We don’t understand everything of this religion, but for what we witnessed in the temples it seemed like a very busy one. The monks and nuns performed a small ritual at every Tirthankara image – of which there were dozens to be found in each temple! We also don’t know if all the different temples had different meanings – as for us they all looked the same – but although they were not very colourful they were beautifully decorated with many images. The only thing we did not like was that in every temple the local priest was asking for money, while several signs clearly stated that they shouldn’t. Even when they briefly explained us something small about the temple they immediately pointed towards a plate with some money on it afterwards, hinting for a tip, and therefore we didn’t always feel very welcome nor comfortable walking around.
For the afternoon we had booked another desert safari. As you could read in our blog about Bikaner we very much enjoyed our desert safari over there, but everyone told us that the desert near Jaisalmer is even more beautiful. And they were right! We first drove to the abandoned village of Kuldhara. This village has been abandoned in the early 19th century for still unknown reasons. It’s said that the community – the Paliwals – were upset with their ruler as he was treating them badly. One day the ruler suddenly announced that he wanted to marry one of the girls of the community, and that her family had one day to accept his proposal. The Paliwals – being very angry and disagreeing with the proposal – decided to leave the village overnight. Some say that they also put a curse on the village and that ghosts are wandering around there – which is the reason why nobody ever tried to live in the village again.
When we continued our trip we noticed a lot of windmills – you can find hundreds of them around Jaisalmer! The government of India implements many of these projects, and although some people are also against it, we do believe that it has many benefits in terms of green energy and job opportunities. Besides working in the windmill industry, many people live from agriculture or keeping cattle.
After a one hour drive we finally arrived at the sand dunes. Many tourists are brought to the ‘Sam sand dunes’, as it is believed that these are most beautiful, but our guides brought us to some dunes where no one else comes. And it was perfect! They have their own ‘camp’ over there, which is actually just a small hut and shelter made of plastic and branches. The toilet was free to choose – there were enough small bushes to be found 😉 It was very basic, but therefore a wonderful experience!
While our 2 guides cooked delicious food on a small fire, we enjoyed wandering around the sand dunes and the view of the sunset! It was truly amazing. You didn’t hear any sounds, except for some goats walking in the distance. The only other people we saw were two herders on their camels. When it got dark, we could not see any lights around us. It was almost full moon, and therefore we could view the sand dunes beautifully lit by the moonlight. Unfortunately, because of the bright moon we could not see any stars – but we cannot complain, right?! 😉
After dinner with plenty of very nice and freshly cooked food we headed back to Jaisalmer. We were dirty and exhausted, but it was a wonderful experience. If we could, we would do it again but then we would love to spent a night in the desert. It must be an amazing experience to sleep under the stars!
Day 3 –Bada Bagh & train to Jodhpur
On our final day in Jaisalmer we took it easy. After breakfast we visited the Art Gallery in our hotel, where we finally spent a long time searching among the beautiful rugs and products made by women from villages. After that we visited Bada Bagh, where cenotaphs for the royal family of Jaisalmer are placed. Nowadays, many of these cenotaphs unfortunately have collapsed, but the ones that remained are beautiful. We didn’t take a guide, but we think it would have been useful to get more information while walking around there. The main thing we didn’t understand was the fact that around 12 young adults were playing hide and seek on that spot – something we found very inappropriate given the fact that it’s a memorial place. But that’s probably a cultural difference – something we’re getting used to here 😉
In the afternoon we packed our bags and took the train to Jodhpur, about which you can read in our next blog!
Where to stay?
We stayed at hotel Pleasant Haveli, which as the name suggests was pleasant! It was no problem for them to pick us up from the station very early in the morning and they even gave us our room key hours before the normal check-in time, and they also let us use the room after check-out time on the day we left – all without charging us more. It has a very nice rooftop terrace and restaurant, and in the basement is a good art gallery located where you can find many beautiful souvenirs for a very reasonable price. Also, they organize very pleasant desert safari’s!
If you want to spent a night in the desert, be sure that you find a camp that is worth your money and that suits your preferences. We had the intention to spent a night in the desert, but while searching the internet beforehand we couldn’t find what we were looking for as many of these desert camps are not located on a very remote place and are more like resorts. If you want a very basic safari where you can avoid the hordes of tourists, we would recommend our hotel, but there are many similar tour operators as well.