What to see in Jaisalmer
India | Rajasthan
Jaisalmer is an ancient city located in western Rajasthan, dating back to the 12th century. The Fort of Jaisalmer, in addition to housing a number of sumptuous palaces of significant historical and artistic value, is still inhabited and protected by massive walls and portals.
JAISALMER: THINGS TO SEE AND NOT TO BE MISSED
Jaisalmer is located in north-western India, more precisely in Rajasthan, not far from the border with Pakistan. The city is home to just over 60,000 inhabitants and is also called the yellow city, due to the color of the sandstone used for the buildings. The huge distance from Delhi, Jaipur or from any other major cities of India, requires to get to Jaisalmer in several days, which is not bad, as it gives the opportunity to visit additional beautiful cities along the way. For those arriving from Delhi (or going to), the usual stops planned in most itineraries for tourists are Mandawa and Bikaner, while for those arriving from Jaipur (or going to), stops are generally scheduled at Udaipur and Jodhpur for at least one night in each city. There is also an airport in Jaisalmer with a few daily flights onto Delhi, Mumbai and other major Indian hubs, however, if you do not travel to India by car with driver, the best way to get to Jaisalmer for better overall experience, is probably by long-distance train rather than by plane.
For its geographical position, on the edge of the Thar desert, the historical importance of Jaisalmer has been remarkable, in particular since the seventeenth century, when the golden age for the city began: Jaisalmer became in fact a very important crossroads and a real "oasis" along the trade routes between Afghanistan and Persia, however, this finished quite soon. Currently the city lives on farming (especially camel breeding), some limited agriculture (including peanuts and cotton) and growing tourism.
The main things to see in Jaisalmer are:
- Jaisalmer Fort. The Fort of Jaisalmer is surrounded by walls and ramparts extending for 5 kilometers (3 miles) along its perimeter, on top of a flat hill. More or less a quarter of Jaisalmer's population still lives within the walls of this twelfth century Fort, among winding alleys, sumptuous ancient palaces, havelis and Jain temples: a real open-air museum of an incredible historical and artistic heritage.
- The havelis. The most important havelis of Jaisalmer are located outside the walls of the old city and are ancient houses built by wealthy merchants and entrepreneurs, dating back between the 17th and 19th centuries. The facade and the internal walls are a triumph of art and decoration: the bas-reliefs carved in the sandstone are so elaborate that it is difficult to believe that they are made on stone and not on wood.
- Thar desert. Less than one hour drive from Jaisalmer, the Thar desert offers landscapes dominated by sand dunes and ancient villages. In Jaisalmer there are countless operators offering tours of a few hours in the Thar desert, including excursions on dromedaries, which is why the desert area closest to Jaisalmer is now full of hordes of tourists who have transformed the place into a circus. I therefore do not recommend to book these excursions: if you want a more authentic contact with the desert, it is better to organize a real 4x4 tour to the more remote areas, sleeping at least one night in a tent or under the stars.
- Sunset Point. From a hill opposite the old town, visitors can have a breathtaking view over the whole Jaisalmer Fort, with the new city extending below. The place, which also houses the pavilions of an old Brahaman cemetery, is open from late afternoon, to enjoy the magical sunset light.
- Amar Sagar. A few minutes drive from Jaisalmer, an artificial basin that fills up during the wet monsoon, creates a romantic navigable lake with domed pavilions, a haveli and a temple dedicated to Shiva.
- Gadi Sagar. It is an artificial lake dating back to the 14th century, which can be accessed through a beautiful yellow sandstone portal. Along the shore you can see various ghats (sacred stairways that go down to the water) and domed pavilions. There is also a small museum which houses examples of popular art.
How long to stay in Jaisalmer? To visit Jaisalmer, visitors need at least a full day, from the morning to the evening. We therefore recommend to stay in Jaisalmer a couple of nights, in one of the many hotels available both in the new city and inside the fortress. If, on the other hand, you want a more in-depth tour of the Thar desert or the nearby villages, avoiding the oases full of tourists too close to Jaisalmer, you need to stay additional nights.
What is the best season to go to Jaisalmer? The best time to visit Jaisalmer is from October to March, as for the rest of northern India.
But now let's see some photos of Jaisalmer taken during our tour in Rajasthan.
Our tour in Jaisalmer
begins with an excursion to Sunset Point
(locally known also as Vyas Chhatri
) at sunset, as the name suggests, because this is the best time of day for a visit. From here visitors can enjoy a beautiful view of the whole southern side of Jaisalmer Fort, which dominates in the distance the entire new city. The place also houses an ancient Brahamian cemetery
with its typical pavilions. Jaisalmer is commonly called the yellow city
, due to the color of the sandstone used for the buildings.
Among the main things to see in Jaisalmer
, there is definitely the Jaisalmer Fort
, which is accessed from a large square that offers a beautiful view onto the massive walls and ramparts.
The ascent to the old town
and the entrance to the fortress
takes place along a steep cobbled street that crosses four awesome gates. Transit to cars is prohibited (and would be impossible because of the narrow alleys), so the only means of transport if visitors don't want to walk, are motorbikes and tuk tuks.
From the access road to Jaisalmer Fort
, on top of the fortification walls, there are large spherical boulders which were used for defensive purposes by throwing them over the enemies.
Looking closely at the walls
of the various structures, it is clear that the large blocks of stone are kept together without using any concrete.
Beyond last access portal to Jaisalmer fortress
, visitors will find themselves in the main square of the fort, known as Chaugan Puda
or Main Chowk
, where in the past the terrible practice of the Johar
took place (the collective suicide of women who, after a defeat, preferred to die rather than being captured by the enemies). The Main Chowk overlooks the Maharawal Palace
, home of the Jaisalmer Palace Museum
, whose facade shows an incredible skill in processing the yellow sandstone, used to decorate balconies, verandas and windows.
On the Chaugan Puda, next to the Maharawal Palace, there is also a small temple
made of yellow sandstone like the rest of the city.
The Maharawal Palace
is an intricate maze of rooms and courtyards, one inside another, as in a set of Chinese boxes. Whenever visitors have the opportunity to see the facade, everyone will definitely remain fascinated by the incredible work made with yellow sandstone, sculpted with such a level of detail, that looks like wood rather than stone.
The Maharawal Palace
houses also the Jaisalmer Palace Museum
, where visitors can see a rich collection of old items, such as ancient silver thrones or statues dating back to the fifteenth century.
Various windows and balconies of the Maharawal Palace
offer picturesque panoramic views of the Jaisalmer Fort and Jaisalmer new city which extends below. The dominant color is always yellow, because of the sandstone used both in the past until today.
Some rooms have been preserved to retain their original appearance, influenced by the typical architecture of the various historical periods. In the Sarvottam Niwas
visitors can admire beautiful Chinese blue ceramic tiles.
Meanwhile, picturesque courtyards continue to follow one after one, overlooked by sandstone balconies
carved with incredible skill. The passages are often narrow to prevent the enemies attacking in mass.
Although the rooms were so sumptuous, we cannot say the same for the bathrooms
The narrow, almost claustrophobic corridors, connecting the courtyards to each other and to the various rooms..
An original latticework window
housed in the museum, shows the great skill of the sculptors in carving the sandstone.
An ancient model
made of yellow sandstone, shows a three-dimensional map of the Jaisalmer fortress.
Outside the buildings used by the royal families, but still remaining within the walls of the fort, the life takes place normally. The Fort of Jaisalmer
is in fact still inhabited and visitors can find souvenir shops, small heritage hotels and, of course, the homes where local people live.
An attraction not to be missed when visiting Jaisalmer, are the Jain temples
built between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. The main building is the Rishabdev Temple
, as we can see in this photo.
The Rishabdev temple
houses numerous marble statues of the divinity and prophet, and is very popular among pilgrims who come here from all over India.
The temple of Rishabdev
also features exquisite bas-reliefs
which can be admired by climbing a staircase leading to the domes.
The columns are also finely carved and show intriguing details.
The adjacent temple of Sambhavnath
also has finely carved columns.
The marble statue of the divinity in the Jain temple
of Sambhavnath surrounded by incredibly detailed bas-reliefs, and the beautiful statues.
Outside the fortress walls, Jaisalmer has the appearance of a typical provincial city of India
, with cattle resting on the street.
Walking through the streets of Jaisalmer, it is not unusual to come across puppet makers
, traditional craftsmanship of the region.
One of the things to see in Jaisalmer, not to be missed, are some wonderful havelis
. There are several, but the most beautiful is probably the Patwon ki Haveli
, dating back to the early nineteenth century. This haveli
is particularly interesting because, having received only minimal restoration work, it gives a better glimpse into the original appearance of these traditional houses, home of wealthy merchants during the golden age of the city.
If the exterior facade of the Haveli impresses with its patiently carved sandstone decorations, the interiors leaves the visitors amazed with beautiful frescoes
The frescoes and the beautiful decorations, still largely original and with only few maintenance works, in the Patwon ki haveli
in Jaisalmer city.
The steep and narrow stairways leading to the various rooms of the haveli
, with finely inlaid doors. The niches in the walls were used as object holders or for lanterns. This haveli is developed over five floors.
The rooftop terrace of the Patwon ki haveli offers a breathtaking view of Jaisalmer, the yellow city
, and the Jaisalmer fort panorama
that dominates the city from top.
Outside another haveli, a stone elephant
(which should bring good luck) makes a nice show.