I recently took a trip to the golden city of Jaisalmer – distinctive for its yellow sandstone and timeless desert dunes. I was fortunate to be there for the wedding of a close friend, but with such an abundance of incredible architecture and cultural heritage, against the stunning backdrop of the Thar desert, this enchanting city left me yearning to return. If you find yourself heading to Jaisalmer this spring, then here are my top tips for exploring this mirage-like city. By Shalini Passi
1. Jaisalmer Fort
Originally built in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal, the fort is the main focal point in the city. Rising from the desert city in looming grandeur, it is now one of the few forts in the world that is still home to thousands of residents, as well as temples, heritage craft shops, hotels, and restaurants.
2. Jain Temples
When travelling, I always make time to visit and explore the local temples, and inside the ethereal Jaisalmer Fort, there is a series of seven interconnected Jain temples that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Carved out of sandstone, the detail is delicate and ephemeral, representing the best of Rajasthani handicraft tradition. Remember that to be respectful, you should remove your shoes and all leather items before entering the temple.
3. Historic Havelis
Rajasthan is well-known for its magnificent and historic Havelis, and Jaisalmer is no exception. While these can be found both inside and out of the fort, much of the most iconic architecture can be found in the winding lanes just north of the fort. Here, the 19th century Patwa Haveli can be found, which is notable not only for its size (it’s actually a cluster of five mansions) but for its intricate collection of art and stonework. I also highly recommend a visit to the exceptional Nathmal Haveli for its phenomenal gold paintings, and the distinctively shaped Salim Singh Haveli.
4. Desert Cultural Centre & Museum
One of the lesser-known treasures of Jaisalmer is the small but perfectly curated Desert Cultural Centre and Museum, whose exhibits narrate the history of Rajasthan’s princely states and of traditional Rajasthani culture. I particularly love the textiles on display here, such as kavad (a brightly painted storytelling box), which tell local stories and folk-tales while recalling the classical Mughal miniature tradition.
5. Sam Sand Dunes
No trip to the desert would be complete without travelling by camel – it’s the quintessential Jaisalmer experience. If you can, make time for a safari opportunity to witness the rustic, rural desert life of India — which, far from being barren and arid, sustain an abundance of life and growth in stunning ecological harmony.
6. SUJAN – The Serai
Also, outside of the hustle-bustle of the main city is the luxurious SUJAN property, The Serai, which offers an oasis of calm within a 100-acre private estate of the indigenous desert. The Serai not only re-imagines the classical Rathasthani experience down to the smallest detail but provides welcome relief for footsore and weary travellers who need some self-care in between cultural excursions.
One of the most exciting ways to experience Jaisalmer is to take a drive through history. With Suryagarh’s Silk Route Exploration, culture buffs can re-live the Silk Route journey, which featured Jaisalmer as a way station on the favoured southern route through India and Pakistan. Offered by the luxurious Suryagarh Hotel, you can travel in style through eras and epochs while experiencing the magic and mystery of this desert paradise.