Best things to do in Jaisalmer
Find out more about those top places in Jaisalmer
Rising out of the relentlessly arid Thar Desert like a mirage, the town of Jaisalmer is one of India’s most magical destinations. Tucked away in a remote corner of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer’s imposing citadel has scarcely changed since the medieval period when the city was a key stop on the Silk Road. Today, the narrow alleyways and twisting lanes of the citadel remain remarkably intact while the streets of the old city are lined with ornate havelis – traditional ornately decorated ‘tenement’ housing. What is more, the interior of the fort contains a spectacular profusion of Jain temples dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Beyond Jaisalmer itself, the vast Sam Sand Dunes are located nearby offering a dreamlike experience straight from the pages of Arabian Knights.
Founded in 1156 by Jaisal of Rajput, Jaisalmer Fortress is one of India’s most remarkable attractions. Today, it is less a defensive position and more a living and breathing extension of the city with over 3000 people living, working and praying in its maze of narrow haveli lined alleyways and temples. For the best experience, enter the area on a walking tour through the imposing Eastern Gate and make your way to the fort’s main square, Dashera Chowk.
The most impressive of Jaisalmer’s traditional havelis is the ornate Patwa-ki-Haveli, which is covered in intricate stonework that would have been the envy of Europe’s sculptors. Built in the first half of the 1800s as a private residence for a rich family of Jain brothers, the towering tenement-like structure today houses an excellent museum that vividly evokes life in the 19th century city.
The best day tour from Jaisalmer is undoubtedly to the towering Sam Sand Dunes, which rise like gigantic waves 40 kilometers west of the city. For the best experience, organize a camel safari of the dunes that will let you explore their full length. Some tours also include overnight camping, which is one of northern India’s most romantic activities.
Within the imposing walls of Jaisalmer Fortress are seven of India’s most breathtaking Jain temples. Built in gorgeous yellow sandstone during the 15th and 16th century, the temples are littered with intricate stone work and impressive sculptures. For the best experience, take a walking tour around the various temples as local guides will be able to explain their rich symbolism and historic significance.
If you want to learn more about Rajasthan’s unique culture then there is no better place to go than the Desert Cultural Center and Museum. Filled with exhibits detailing the history of the region’s former princely states and its position in the British Raj, the museum is one of Jaisalmer’s most rewarding. To get the most out of your visit, arrive in the evening so you can catch one of the nightly puppet shows, which is a rich Rajasthani folk tradition.
Just north of Jaisalmer is the tranquil oasis complex of Bada Bagh, which is the site of the ornate graves of more than 100 members of the Rajasthani royal family. The pavilion-like graves, known as chhatris, sit at the crest of a desert hill and look more akin to a small city than a cemetery from the distance. Visitors can explore the site freely or local guides can be hired for a small fee.