Jaisalmer – The Golden City

Jaisalmer had been on my wish list for a very long time. Having seeing beaches, backwaters, historical places, hill stations and mountains, the desert still remained to be explored. Finally the call came from the desert and one fine day we found ourselves on board the train to Jaisalmer – The Golden City of forts, havelis and the magnificent Thar. It was the cold and foggy winter evening of January 22 this year when we took the ‘DLI JSM Express’ from Gurgaon railway station. This is the only train that goes directly to Jaisalmer from Delhi via Gurgaon, Jaipur and Jodhpur. It is a sixteen hour journey.

All trains were running late those days given the bad weather conditions and where we had to reach at 11:30 next morning we reached just 5 hours late. But being part of a group of 9 ghumakkars including my 15 months old son, the train journey was nothing short of long drawn conversations, nonsensical jokes, repeated bouts of laughter and elaborate meals of poori-bhaji, paranthas, pickle carried by enthusiastic elders in the group. You cannot miss the yummy onion kachoris at Jodhpur station where the train stops next morning.

Finally the destination arrived. We reached Jaisalmer station at 4:30 in the evening. As soon as we landed we realised that the warm clothes we had been carrying would not be of any good use as the weather was quite pleasant here. In fact the sun was quite bright even in the evening. We had our booking in hotel Rang Mahal which is around 3.5 km from the railway station.
It is a heritage palace hotel, with luxury rooms and decent hospitality.

Hotel Rang Mahal

Folk music and dance at Rang Mahal

The whole day had already passed in transit so we could not do much except relaxing in the serene environment of the hotel and having a lavish buffet dinner in the garden with Rajasthani folk music and dance.

On the first day of the trip we had the following places in the agenda which we set out to explore the next morning after finishing breakfast.

Jaisalmer Fort: Also known as Sonar Quila, the 250 feet tall fort was built on the Trikuta hill by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal over 800 years ago. The city derives its name from this fort.

Jaisalmer Fort

This splendid piece of architecture exudes sheer magic with its massive golden yellow sandstone walls and houses Raja’s Mahal, Rani’s Mahal, exquisite Jain temples, Laxminath temple and four massive gateways.
The fort also houses shops and stalls selling local and traditional products.

Raja’s Mahal has been converted to a museum that displays an assortment of royal garbs, weapons, marble thrones and British era royal stamps.

Rani\’s Mahal

Inside the fort

Laxminath Temple

Beautiful Jain Temples

Equisite Sandstone carvings

From the terrace of the mahal one can catch an interesting view of the whole city painted golden with a web of row houses filling up the entire space wherever the eye goes.

View from a jharokha in Raja\’s Mahal

View of the golden city from terrace of Raja\’s Mahal

Shrine along the Godi sagar lake

Godi Sagar lake: Our next stop was the Godi sagar lake, a beautiful lake sorrounded by small temples and shrines. An arched gateway made of yellow sandstone leads to the lake. There is a beautiful domed shrine right in the middle of the lake which is a favourite place for shooting many films and soaps. Actually when we visited the lake, shooting for some hindi soap was in progress. The lake is also a vacation home for many migratory and rare birds.

Shooting spot in the lake

Patwon-ki-Haveli: Now this is the place that enthralled me the most. The beauty and the architecture of the haveli was something beyond my imagination. As soon as we entered the haveli we got transported to an entirely different era in the history of Indian culture. Several centuries ago there must have been a royal family residing in the massive haveli, pampered by the luxury of the place, images of which are brought alive as we visit each room very thoughtfully and intricately decorated according to the royal tastes. There is a room for entertainment, a room for attending visitors, a kitchen and a granary, bedrooms with silver beds and satin sheets and dressing room for the queens. All bring alive the fantasies of a stylishly nobel lifestyle. Music of the sitar and tanpura echoing through the narrow winding corridors of the haveli and jharokhas through which ranis would dreamily gaze at the outside world, all sing the story of the time long gone by, memories of which have been very well preserved for admirers like us.

Outside view of Patwon-ki-haveli

Historically the Patwon ki haveli is a cluster of five havelis built by members of a family and are lined up one after the other. They are specimens of the finest architecture with a touch of regal rajputana sculpture. They are delicately carved and exquisitely designed. The entrance room has walls and ceilings that are finely designed with glass pieces put together intricately. This is the place where shooting of the ‘Siyaram’ ad has taken place.

Intricate glass interiors

Another beautiful view

We spent the evening on the terrace of the main haveli, a perfect place for clicking pictures amidst pigeons flying across and the city warming up to the bright golden lights of the haveli as dusk sets in.
We also did some shopping in the emporiums set in the basement that display an array of traditional bed covers, carpets, shawls and stoles.

Terrace view

Pigeons

Golden lights

Nathmalji Ki Haveli: Next and last for the day was Nathmalji Ki Haveli, another beautiful and historically rich haveli that used to be the house of Mohta Nathmal, the then prime minister at the Jaisalmer royal court. The haveli boasts of a rich architecture splendor with stone carved windows and walls ornamented with stone figures of horses, elephants, flowers and birds. The entrance of the haveli is guarded by two big yellow sandstone elephants, one on each side.

Thus ended our first day of mighty exploration and eye warming glitzy experience of Rajasthan’s royal history. Tired we retired dreaming about what the next day had in store for us.

The next day’s agenda included a trip to the fossil park and the desert.

Booking.com

Akal Wood Fossil Park: Located 17 kms from Jaisalmer city, this fossil park takes us back to the prehistoric Jurassic era that dates back 180 million years ago. The forest that stood there millions of years ago was submerged into the sea and the tree trunks got preserved in the form of fossils. Although this park did not excite me much, it may be of interest to people interested in geography and archeology.

We had already checked out of the hotel in the morning and planned to spend one night close to the desert. There are several camping places that are close to the sand dunes. We did some research and finally decided to have a stopover at Choki Dhani Tents located on Sam Road nearly 45 kms away from Jaisalmer city. This place is very close to the famous Sam Sand dunes and is one of the best tented accommodation available in Jaisalmer. It provides a rustic yet comfortable stay with all modern amenities. It has the set up of a Rajasthani traditional village with beautiful decoration and in the evenings have entertainment in the form of puppet show, magic show, folk dances, giant wheels and ethnic food and drinks. A trip to Jaisalmer is incomplete without a stay in the tents which bring you very close to the desert.

Choki dhani tenthouse

Our tent

Inside view of the tent

We checked into the tents around 4 and around 5 in the evening, we took a camel ride that takes visitors from the tents to the sand dunes. Our camel cavalcade consisting of 2 camels and a camel cart set out taking us a step at a time close to the heart of the magnificent Thar. A bumpy yet enjoyable safari took us along the crests and troughs of the desert and deep into the undulating stretches of golden sand.

Finally in the desert

Chotu with his camel

Camel Cavalcade

The visit to the sand dunes should be made either early morning or late evening to watch the sunrise or sunset. There are several points that show a very clear view of the sunset. Our camels took us to one such spot where I spent one of the most beautiful and romantic half an hour of my life. The emotions on being in the midst of the sand dunes was comparable to the emotions I felt when I had seen the sea for the first time in my life. Extremely vast with the captivating beauty of the sun setting behind the mountains of golden sand sends ripples down the spine. Human beings seem so very very small in front of this wonder that nature created.

Sun setting behind the sand dunes

Another beautiful view of the sunset

Desert dance

After spending the most enthralling time basking in the beauty of the desert, the camels took us back to the tents where we spent an evening of fun and entertainment. Even joined the folk dancers shaking a leg or two in true Rajasthani style.

Finally the last day of the trip. Next morning we planned to visit the Khuldra village that falls on the way back to the city. These are the remains of a historic village that was once inhabited by Paliwal Brahmins. It is a deserted village today with remains of around 500 brick houses that are well built and well planned and is an architectural treat to the eyes.

Parasailing

On the way back to the city, we saw some people do parasailing. Not many know that there is a good parasailing option in Jaisalmer. As there are vast stretches of empty land lying idle and the winds are quite favorable, Jaisalmer grounds make it a good place for adventurous travelers to have some adrenalin boost by trying hands at parasailing. They use jeeps to tie the parachutes and its a pretty long trip one gets as compared to one that you generally get in places like Goa. The charge per trip is Rs. 300 which is quite reasonable.

Our last stopover was the Amar Sagar lake. Although the lake was dry with children playing cricket where the lake was supposed to be. The Amar Sagar has 3 Jain temples, the most famous of which is the Adeshwar Nath Jain temple with beautiful carving and ornate designs.

Interesting hoarding outside Amar sagar lake

After this lunch followed by the train journey back home. Definitely Jaisalmer is any traveller’s dream destination that promises a taste of both nature and history and a mix of both adventure and luxurious relaxation.

11 Comments

  • Ram says:

    What can one say about this superbly narrated tale of your visit to Jaisalmer- hard to find adequate words of adulation. The supporting pictures are simply awesome. The pictures of the Jain temples, sunset in the desert and the intricate glass work are simply outstanding.

    Do people live inside the fort !!

    God bless you Mini for taking us to the virtual tour of Jaisalmer.

    Would look forward to your forthcoming write ups.

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Dear Mini,

    A very informative write-up , supported with beautiful pictures, specially sunset picture & Choki Dhani pictures are awesome.

    Last pic of hoarding outside Amar sagar Lake is also good :-)

    Planning to visit Jaisalmer in winters, your write-up will be a great help.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Mini Sarin says:

    Thanks Ram and Mahesh for appreciating the post and taking interest!

    Ram, that’s right, nearly a quarter of the city’s population still lives inside the fort.

  • nayan says:

    hey……i was there too on 25-26 jan…..seems you have missed out Tanot and Longewala……Tanot is famous for Tanot Mata temple managed by BSF….during heavy bombings from pak, they say none of the bombs exploded near the temple and it remained unscratched…..and Longewala is famous for 1971 indo-pak war…..where the paki tanks are still there which they had left behind because of indian air force attack….and above all unparallel sand dunes….sam is nothing in front of that…..and tanot is just 10 km from pak border….and if you r lucky to have permission…which can be obtained from jaisalmer DC…then BSF jawan can take to the barbed wire fencing…and you can also visit the army bunkers….we cudn’t manage that because it was 26th jan.

  • nayan says:

    i took my car from delhi…it took us almost 14 hrs to reach……

  • Mini Sarin says:

    Yes Nayan, we did hear about the temple near Pak border, but it was quite far and we could not manage to visit. Good that you could pay a visit to the temple. Wow, driving down must have been fun!

  • Mini,

    Its nice to go through this post on Jaisalmer along with beautiful pictures. Every experience and even comments enrich us. We too had a wonderful time at Jaisalmer, but I was not aware of Longewala and parasailing thing – Good reasons to plan another trip :-)

    The bed sheets of Barmeri prints that are easily available in Jaisalmer are something one must think of bringing back.

    BTW the locals call the lake Gadisar. Is it something that is derived from Ghodi Sagar or its a mistake?

  • Nandan says:

    Beautiful account Mini. Reads like a charm.

    We visited Jaisalmer during Christmas break of 2007, drove down, good fun. I did not know about longewala, I thought thats its not that close. Our experience at Sam Dunes Tent was not great, it was very cold in the evening and my daughter was 2.5 years old, and probably we didn’t pick the right place.

    I would want to go there again, esp the drive beyond Bikaner is brilliant. I wrote a quick account of the road part here – http://www.ghumakkar.com/2007/12/27/delhi-jaiselmer-road-review

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post and breathtaking pics.

  • Mini Sarin says:

    Thank you Manish and Nandan for your encouraging comments.

    Manish – The lake is known as both Gadisar and Godisagar.

    Nandan – You’re right it must have been very cold during December. January end weather was much better, although at night it was cold inside the tent. Thankfully I had asked for extra blankets. Well, among the many tenthouses we checked out on the way, we found Choki Dhani the best. It has recently opened and has good amenities.

  • nayan says:

    nandan….you have to take ramgarh road, which leads to tanot, and then an off-route to Longewala which again meets back at ramgarh….you get to see biggest posts of ONGC….the total journey is around 250 km…but the road condition is very good and you hardly see any traffic except army trucks…it can be covered easily in a day( 5-6 hours).

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