Sited along the Western edge of Rajasthan, this enigmatic city bars its borders to guard from the outside forces of modernity. Jaisalmer traces its inception back to the 12th century, and for this reason, attracts thousands of visitors each year. The town stands on a massive expanse of desert sand – a majestic sea of yellow – earning it the name, “The Golden City.” Traverse through the ancient walls of Jaisalmer’s oldest inhabited fortress, and discover the mysteries of a bygone era in the city’s primeval temples and havelis. Outside the city limits, find the natural beauty of Gadisar Lake, and the silky Sam Sand Dunes located a bit further west.
And though Jaisalmer provides plenty of attractions for eager tourists, its main appeal is the massive sand castle rising atop the sandy expanse of the Great Thar Desert. Founded in 1156 by Rajput ruler Jaisal, Jaisalmer Fort has served as the backdrop for many battles from past centuries. Between the Rathores of Jaipur and its Mughal neighbors to the east, this desert citadel is without a doubt a historical battleground. Now home to over 3000 people, Jaisalmer Fort is considered to be one of the largest fully preserved forts in the world. Enter through one of its four entrances, and inside its sandy walls you will find a maze of narrow lanes snaking past ancient temples, handicraft shops, havelis, and residences. In the night, the sun shimmers down upon the fortress, turning its sandy walls to golden-yellow, giving it the name, “Sonar Quila,” or, “Golden Fort.”
Once your tour of Jaisalmer Fort is complete, venture onwards to the ornate sandstone havelis dotting the city. Perhaps the most famous of them all, Nathmal Ji Ki was constructed in the 19th century by two brothers. And though it is now only partly inhabited, it once served as the home to the Prime Minister himself – not surprising, considering the lavish exteriors and expensive gold-leaf decorations lining the inside. Other notable havelis include Patwon Ki and Salim Singh, the latter of which was built on the remains of an older haveli constructed in the late 17th century. It now attracts thousands of visitors each year due to its inimitable architecture – it is said that the front facet was made to resemble a ship’s stern, thus giving it the name, “Jahazmahal.”
Travel toward the outskirts of the city to experience the serenity of Gadisar Lake, a manmade reservoir dug out around 1400 AD by then maharaja of Jaisalmer. Though it once supplied water to the entire city, it now serves as refuge to a variety of migratory birds, flora, fauna, and not to mention, thousands of pilgrimages each year. For the geologists and conservationists, a trip to Rajasthan would not be complete without a visit to Wood Fossil Park. Where stood a forest 180 million years ago – in the Jurassic Era, mind you – now lays a bare hillside rich in fossilized and petrified tree trunks.
Just 45 km west of the “Golden City” you will find a silky band of dunes known as the Sam Sand Dunes. Let your imagination come to life as you lap up the mysticism of the undulating hills set amongst the desert sky. At night, bonfire lights flicker amongst a starry sky, and the rustic tradition of the ancient peoples comes alive in the earthy music and dance of Rajasthan.