At the heart of the Indian state of Rajasthan lies the Golden City of Jaisalmer. Approaching the city from the Thar Desert, it appears like a mirage from the sand-covered landscapes, akin to the desert cities described in the stories of Arabian Nights. Jaisalmer is an unmissable stop to include on a tour of Northern India, and despite its remote location, there are countless cultural and historic sights to keep visitors enthralled for more than a few days!
It’s easy to fall in love with the exotic feel of this ancient city when you travel to Jaisalmer, with its labyrinthine bazaars, locals in colorful traditional dress and ornate Havelis, ornate mansions from Jaisalmer’s golden age.
Jaisalmer grew out of the desert trade routes of yesteryear when it marked an important stopping point on the Silk Route from Afghanistan to Delhi. It is also known for its Jain community, which have embellished the city with many wonderful temples over the centuries
Its nickname of the ‘Golden City’ is due to the yellow sandstone from which much of Jaisalmer is crafted. The crowning glory is the incredible Jaisalmer Fort, perched above the more modern part of the city on a rocky hill, a constant reminder of the city’s medieval past. Curiously, Jaisalmer Fort is still home to a large population of the city’s inhabitants, who reside within the maze-like streets of the old town, guarded by the fortress walls once built to keep out unwanted desert clans. If you visit Jaisalmer, expect an extreme desert climate, with hot days and cool nights. The best time to visit is during the winter months.
Of course, no trip to this desert city is complete without contemplating the glorious history of Jaisalmer Fort. Thought to be one of the few remaining ‘living forts’ on earth, almost a quarter of the city’s population live within its fortified walls. Around 800 years of history can be uncovered within this huge complex. Built in 1156, within its walls you’ll find museums, shops, residences and restaurants. Visitors can take in the views from the towers and soak up the romance of a by-gone era.
Another of the best things to see in Jaisalmer is Gadisar Lake, historically the only water source in the city. This man-made reservoir is surrounded by beautiful temples and ghats and is a peaceful place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. It was constructed by King Rawal around the same time as nearby Jaisalmer Fort. Furthermore, a collection of dome-shaped decorative chhatris provide precious shade for lakeside picnics.
The Thar Heritage Museum, located in the city’s main market, is a must-visit if you’re curious about the history of this remote region. The museum highlights interesting elements of Thar heritage such as culture, art and architecture. It’s also home to prehistoric sea fossils and fascinating ancient manuscripts.
Finally, a trip to Jaisalmer is incomplete without viewing its enchanting array of Havelis. Havelis were once the homes of Jaisalmer’s wealthy traders and merchants, who constructed these stately homes as symbols of their successes on the Silk Route. Patwaon, Nathmal and Salim Sigh are just three of the most impressive Havelis to see in Jaisalmer, whilst all of them boast intricate carvings in an array of architectural styles.