To the extreme west of India, there is this beautiful old town called Jaisalmer. I got attracted to this amazing town when I had not yet become a traveller on my own. That was when I watched this famous film “Sonar Kella” or the “Golden Fort” by the great Bengali film director, Satyajit Ray. And my first visit to this beautiful town was in a similar way that we see in the movie, the small metre-gauge train chugging through the vast expanses of the desert. It was truly a dream come true for me when I first visited Jaisalmer 26 years ago in 1991. I haven’t stopped going back there since.
I have been meaning to write about this town since forever. The only thing that has been keeping me is enough people, journalists, writers, filmmakers, novelists, school essay writers, Facebook travellers, armchair critics have written volumes about Jaisalmer. Yes, Jaisalmer deserves it. Despite all of that, I felt like contributing to that volume of work leaving my perspective because it is important and as I said before, Jaisalmer deserves it.
I have just concluded a four-day stay at the medieval town in November 2017, the longest that I have stayed over the years. It is true that a lot has changed over the past three decades. The metre gauge railway track has given way to a faster and more frequented broad gauge line with relatively busier connections. The narrow strip of tarmac road is now fast becoming a multiple lane toll highway albeit still not as busy as the rest of Rajasthan. 4G mobile internet connections is the norm for most operators. Folks visiting town are doing live feeds on social media. Despite all of that, Jaisalmer still remains significantly out of the way for the mainstream traveller.
That said it is a town that is well known and oft visited by seasoned travellers looking to soak in the ambience of the living fort dating back nearly a millennium!
What is so great about Jaisalmer? It is truly a unique town matched by none other in terms of character. People living inside a 1000 year old fort or in the lower part of the town, inside 300 year old havelis, create an ambience that will take you back to an era that is difficult to imagine or describe. The yellowish golden hue of the sandstone is all pervading; even in your inner senses.
Smiling small children go to school. Folks go about their chores in the usual manner. Nothing seems apparently different. But in all of those seemingly mundane activities, lies a warm, historical and cultural aspect that is subtle yet vibrant. Each façade that you see recounts an old story. The intricate carvings on each pillar speak of this culture. If you walk through the narrow yellow sandstone paved pathways of the fort, you will come to the Jain temples dating back to the 14th century. You can spend half a day admiring the sculptures inside the temples.
Walk through the lower part of town and explore the havelis. The details of the sculpted façades of these havelis are nothing short of astounding. Children go to school inside such heritage historical structures. People actually live in these places. Knowingly or unknowingly, these folks are holding on to a rich cultural and historical heritage that is not easy to fathom. (Havelis are old houses belonging to local merchants built during the middle and late colonial period. Read more about it in our article on Shekhawati.)
The way I perceive it, these people are the real promoters of their heritage and history. They carry it within their own selves. And it is this aspect that creates the special ambience that makes Jaisalmer so attractive. Truly, the clean innocence of this sleepy medieval town is infectious. Well into the 21st century, these amazing people are still not swamped by social media and the ubiquitous tactile phones. They still spend their time with real people in real interactions with tangible thoughts and feelings.
What has changed in Jaisalmer over the last three decades? Not much other than the quantum of tourist influx and some good quality hotels coming up on the outskirts. Business has grown. It is a marginal change in the scheme of things. Proportionately speaking, Jaisalmer is still where it was 30 years ago in my opinion. Folks are still loath to accept new tech. Which may be a good thing. They may reply to your mails. And while you are there, you may do a Facebook live feed. But honestly, Jaisalmer does not need it. They are a happy peace loving people, living in their own reality mostly aloof from the mainstream.
Jaisalmer Places to stay:
If you are a shoestring budget traveller, there are umpteen places to stay. However, if you would like a good quality place to stay, you have the Rang Mahal or the Gorbandh Palace. For special discounted rates (better than what you would get online) get in touch with Maavalan Travels. For luxury stays, you can book the Marriott, but then when you have come all the way to the Jaisalmer and you still want luxury, I would strongly propose the Surya Garh which has been built on the model of the Jaisalmer Fort. The Marriott does not really have anything authentically Indian about it.
How long should you stay? If you are coming this far, a minimum of two nights is required for you to discover most of you what you want to do, see, shop and also go to the sand dunes to have a camel ride through the desert. If you want to go shopping in Jaisalmer, Jaisalmer patchwork is famous. Like everything else, you need to know where to go and where to buy; you get very good quality and very poor quality.
Jaisalmer tour planning.
When you are coming to Jaisalmer and you are not flying here, it is highly probable that you would be coming either from Bikaner or from Jodhpur. You can add either of those destinations or if you have time, add both of them. That would become a week long vacation. When you are in Jaisalmer, do not forget to visit the Bada Bagh, the Royal Cenotaphs, just 5 kilometres outside the town. If you are the desert loving kinds, a came ride on the dunes for 90 minutes during sunset can be a very romantic experience. There are lots of camping sites that are set up. Most of them are quite ordinary. Only a few offer good services, palatable cuisine and an excellent dance programme. If you want to travel to Jaisalmer and enjoy a true experience of the destination and also have a touch of luxury, feel free to write to me. Overall, visiting Jaisalmer can be one of the best experiences for any traveller.
Text and photos: Krishnendu KES. To know more, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Author, Photographer, Krishnendu