Jaisalmer, one of the finest places to visit in Rajasthan is an oasis in the great Indian Thar Desert. Formerly a part of the magnificent Silk Route, Jaisalmer will bedazzle you with its magnificent Jaisalmer Fort, the enchanting sand dunes, desert camp Jaisalmer, Sonar Killa of Satyajit Ray, Patwa havelis or the palatial homes of erstwhile silk route merchants and puppet shows.These jewels of Rajasthan make Jaisalmer one of the most popular places to visit in Rajasthan. I also found 3 off beat but equally interesting places in the form of fossils from a 180 million year old forest, Memorials of Queens who jumped into funeral pyre of dead Kings and a cursed ghost town called Kuldhara, all of which make Jailsalmer a must among places to visit in Rajasthan.
Jaisalmer can be reached by train from Delhi through Train no 14659 Delhi Jaisalmer express which departs Old Delhi station at 535 pm at and reaches Jaisalmer at 1115 am on day 2. But it is rarely on time! Plan for 2-3 hours delay on a normal day. This Jaisalmer to Delhi train runs every day. There is other option for Jaisalmer to Delhi Train in the form of Ranikhet Express which leaves Old Delhi at 440 am and arrives at Jaisalmer at 11pm on the same day.
For the well healed, there is Palace on Wheels, one of the worlds greatest and costliest train journeys. The train runs from Delhi and covers Jaipur, Ranthambore, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, Agra and returns to Delhi. The 7 day journey costs only Rs 2.5 lacs per person. Visit Palace on Wheels for details.
When i got down from my train at Jaisalmer, the fabulous Palace on Wheel was parked in the adjacent platform. Here is a glimpse of it.
I had nearly missed my train as the coaches had another train's name when it arrived in the platform. I assumed this was another train till i saw the name of our train in the subsequent coaches. But the train had already started! A good samaritan had pulled the chain probably for someone else, although we too deserved it on account of the 10 heavy baggages, 4 children and 4 tired adults. The moral of the story is to ask people in the platform for the name of the train irrespective of what is written on the coach. Indian Railways joins several trains in this sector and the name of the train on the coach facing you depends on where you are standing in the platform. I learnt this lesson the hard way as i had to lug the baggages over an hour across 6 coaches through the notoriously crowded and narrow corridors.
If you are in the mood for some indulgence then a 2 century old Palace is an option for your Jaisalmer Hotel. Welcome Heritage Mandir Palace has different portions of it built by different rulers of Jaisalmer and gives you a good flavor of Jaisalmer over the times. For details contact Jaisalmer Hotels.
October to March is the best time to visit Jaisalmer. Summer months would be excruciatingly hot with the yellow sandstone radiating heat.
The best way to get around Jaisalmer is to hire a autorickshaw for places around the Fort like the Temples, Patwa Havelis, Lake and Puppet show. A Jeep is better suited for the outskirts like Kuldhara, Akal fossil park and Desert Camp. You can directly bargain the fare with auto rickshaws and Jeep or request your Hotel to arrange.
A historic place like Jaisalmer requires a good guide. Some one who can provide a perspective to the monuments and the artifacts. Brij K Gopa is a fantastic guide for Jaisalmer. He is an experienced professional and knows every nook and corner of the city and is well versed with its history. His most admirable trait is his patience! He customizes the trip based on the profile and interests of the tourists. It was a pleasure touring Jaisalmer with Mr Gopa. He can be contacted at +91 9461271442.
Jaisalmer Fort & Palace is the highlight of the city and is a key reason for Jaisalmer's popularity among places to visit in Rajasthan. Built in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal, Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest forts in the world. Majestically perched on Trikuta Hill in the great Indian Thar desert, Jaisalmer Fort looks golden due to the yellow sandstone walls. Jaisalmer reached its zenith during the medieval times when caravans on the silk route had to pass through the city. The tariff levied on the caravans was the major source of income for the city. So lucrative was the strategic position of Jaisalmer Fort, that it was often attacked by rulers of Delhi like Allauddin Khilji and Humanyun. The Jaisalmer Fort played a crucial role in trade with Persian, Egypt, Arabia and Africa.
Jaisalmer Fort is one of the few living Forts of the world. At present a quarter of the entire city's population lives inside Jaisalmer Fort. In earlier times, the entire population of Jaisalmer resided inside the Fort. Prior to the advent of modern metrological instruments, Jaisalmer followed a unique methodology to predict weather. A flag was hoisted in April on top of the Jaisalmer Fort. If the flag fluttered towards the north, famine was predicted while southward movement meant plenty of rainfall. While the methodology has undergone a sea change over the years, the predictability of weather has not changed much!
The magnificent Silver Throne of Kings of Jaisalmer
The Queen's Palace rivals the King's section to a good measure.
Wooden horses are an integral part of Indian childhood. The royal kids of Jaisalmer were no exception. Here is their royal wooden horse.
The Jaisalmer Fort also houses a spectacular collection of fine sculptures. Here is a fine specimen of Lord Rama during his banishment to the forests. Note his beard owing to 14 years of exile!
Jaisalmer Fort stood its ground for more than 800 years against the elements of nature as well as raiders. However a new enemy is attacking the Jaisalmer Fort over the last few decades and has created more havoc than ever before. Water erosion is destroying the Jaisalmer Fort. Running water has been introduced into the fortified city without proper drainage and this along with monsoon rains is creating significant damage to the Jaisalmer Fort.
I hope it is not too late before proper conservation efforts are taken to restore Jaisalmer as the finest among places to visit in Rajasthan, for generations to come.
The Jaisalmer Fort is often called as Sonar Killa due to the golden hue emanating from the yellow sandstone. The legendary film maker Satyajit Ray was inspired by Jaisalmer Fort and wrote the novel Sonar Killa in 1971. Sonar Killa was later adapted to a movie in 1974 where the plot is centered around the Jaisalmer Fort.
The desert camp Jaisalmer is arguably the most popular attraction of Jaisalmer. Camel rides over the sand dunes of the Great Indian Thar Desert makes Jaisalmer unique among places to visit in Rajasthan. There is a choice if taking a jeep safari, camel ride and camel cart over the sand dunes. There is nothing to beat the experience of riding a camel over the dunes much like the silk route traders and their caravans of the middle ages.
The desert camp has a festive atmosphere around it. There is a 2.5 hour cultural program where Rajasthani artists perform traditional arts like dance and music. The fire dance is particularly enchanting. There is sumptuous food all around. The desert camp of Jaisalmer with its traditional flavor right in the middle of the Great Indian Thar Desert, under the clear star studded sky is a unique experience. Omar Khayyam could might as well have written The Arabian Nights sitting in a desert camp in Jaisalmer.
There are 2 plans available for Desert Camp in Jaisalmer. There is a option of staying overnight in Tents in the desert after the cultural show of the night. The tariff is around Rs 5000 for a tent. While there are several camps, Prince is one of them. You can contact them here.
The other option is to do a day trip. Leave your hotel after lunch and do the dune safari over camels till sun set. Then move to the desert camp where dinner is served after the cultural program. You return to your hotel after dinner. These day trips can be arranged by your hotel along with the transport.
The sand dunes of Jaisalmer provide a breathtaking view of the sunset over the Great Indian Thar Desert.
There is an interesting story behind the opulent Patwa Havelis, arguably the most lavish homes of Rajasthan. In the early part of 18th century, Patwa family was facing troubled times in business. They were advised by the priest of a Jain Temple to leave Jaisalmer for good if they want a change in their fortunes. The Patwas left and lo and behold, the prophesy came true and the Patwas become prosperous again from their flourishing trade in banking, finance, brocade, silver and opium. They were called in by the Royal family of Jaisalmer to help covering the State deficit. Ghuman Chand Patwa forgot the prophesy and came back to Jaisalmer. He built 5 magnificent havelis for his 5 sons. The splendor of the buildings rivaled the best of Rajasthani Palaces. But the prophesy came back to haunt them. Soon the Patwas lost their fortune as business took a downturn again. Once bitten, twice shy, they left Jaisalmer for good leaving the Havelis to caretakers.
Note the elevation of the entrance from the ground which served as a safety mechanism from both human and natural elements. The basement had fodder for cattle.
One of the finest puppet shows i have seen has been at the Desert Culture centre at Jaisalmer run by retired reached NK Sharma. Mr Sharma has spent his lifetime of savings into restoring the traditional arts of Rajasthan. The puppet show is fantastic with a great narrative and impeccable execution. The Puppet show by itself provides a good reason to tour Jaisalmer among places to visit in Rajasthan.
There is a museum as well with priceless artifacts from the past. I would say the best value for Rs 100 you would ever get in India!
The day i went saw unprecedented crowds at the venue of the puppet show. More tickets than the seating capacity were sold. In a heart warming and genuine gesture the elderly Mr Sharma apologized profusely calling it the saddest day in his life due to the inconvenience caused. The man is simple and honest and has dedicated his lifetime to keep this ancient art alive.
I bought a pair of gorgeous puppets the proceeds from which help in keeping the fast vanishing tribe of puppeteers alive.
The Desert Cultural centre and Puppet show venue is located next to the Tourist Reception centre and is open from 9am to 8pm every day. Puppet shows are held at 630pm and 730pm. Puppet show charges are Rs 100 per person. Be early at the venue for the puppet show during season and take the front seat for the best view.
Legend says Salim Singh, a minister of Jaisalmer 1500 years ago, fell in love with as 14 year old girl at Kuldhara village. Now it turned out that the girl's father was the Sarpanch or leader of the village. He was against giving the hand of his daughter to Salim Singh who was an old man and a tyrant. The villagers around Jaisalmer were harassed by Salim Singh and his men for collecting unfair taxes. The girl's father asked for 3 days time to prepare for the wedding. When Salim Singh returned to the village 3 days after, there was not a soul left in the Village. The Sarpanch took all the villagers as well as people from the surrounding 84 villages overnight. However, their whereabouts couldn't be traced. What is even more interesting is that he cursed the village before leaving. Death will approach anyone who tries to inhabit Kuldhara village. Fascinatingly strange activity has been observed ever since.
In recent times, the Paranormal Society of Delhi sent an expedition to investigate this phenomenon. A team of 30 people spent a night at Kuldhara. They detected sudden rise and drop in temperature, strange noises, shadows, hand imprints on their vehicles however no person was visible.
The Sarpanch must have been really powerful to leave a curse that works even after 1500 years.
I visited the cursed town in the comfort of daylight and the ruins looked innocuous. The temptation was strong to make a nocturnal visit when things could have tuned more interesting. However better sense prevailed and i left Kuldhara an unsolved mystery.
Jaisalmer is a treasure trove of Jain temples. There are 7 Jain Temples in Jaisalmer dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries. They are dedicated to Parasvanath and Sambhavnath the Tirthankaras if Jain Sect. The temple architecture follow Dilwara style, based on the famous Dilwara temples of Mount Abu. The interesting aspect of Chandraprabhu temple is that no mortar has been used. Iron staples hold the blocks together. The Parasvanath temple is the most magnificent among the lot. The temples also house a priceless collection of ancient manuscripts. The Jain heritage adds significantly to the attraction of Jaisalmer among places to visit in Rajasthan.
The temples close at noon and hence it is better to visit the Jain temples in the morning between breakfast and lunch. Chandraprabhu temple opens at 7 am while the others open at 11am.
Entrance fee is Rs 30 and 150 for Indians and Foreginers respectively. Camera charges are Rs 50.
Gadsisar Lake is a beautiful rainwater lake excavated way back in 1367. It is surrounded by temples and shrines of Amar Sagar. Boating is the main attraction at the Gadsisar lake. The Lake attracts tourists in the evenings who usually come here for a leisurely boating after a hectic day of walking through the Fort, Palace and Temples in Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer Folklore Museum is located adjacent to the Lake at Mehr Bagh garden. It is a good place if you like to have a look at Rajasthani traditional knickknacks like paintings, camel jewelry and fabrics. It is open 8am-6pm every day with an entrance fee of Rs 20 per person. Contact number for the Museum is +912992252406.
Bada Bagh is located 6 km from Jaisalmer and has a collection of royal cenotaphs or Chhatris of Jaisalmer Kings from Jai Singh II onwards. Jai Singh II had built a dam and brought water to the parched lands. After his death in 1743, his son built a graden and a cenotaph for him. The tradition continues till date where Princes build a cenotaph at Bada Bagh once the King dies. The cenotaphs are great pieces of work and add to the attraction of Jaisalmer among places to visit in Rajasthan.
The set of structures perched on top of the mounds at Bada Bagh were a little disturbing. These were the memorials for the Queens who committed Sati by jumping into the funeral pyre of the dead King as was the tradition in the medieval times in Rajasthan.
Bada Bagh is open 8am-6pm every day and charges an entrance fee of Rs 20 and 50 for Indians and Foreigners respectively. Camera charges are Rs 20.
Located 17 Kms from Jailsalmer on Barmer road, lies a very different Park. The Wood Fossils of Akal is a park like no other you will find among places to visit in Rajasthan. The park has fossils from a forest that existed here 180 million years ago in the Jurassic age! There were no flowering plants during that age and hence the fossils are of gymnosperms (biology refresher!) or non flowering plants like Chir, Deodar and Red Woods. It is fascinating to remember that a lush forest used to be there where the great Indian Thar desert stands today. You can see fossilized wood logs all over the Park. The best preserved specimen is 13 metres long!
There is a small museum as well which shows marine animal fossils collected from surrounding areas. There are also specimens of teeth of animals that used to inhabit the vanished Sea.
This remarkable discovery meant there was a giant water body covering a large part of what is today the Thar Desert. It is believed that 250 million years ago a new ocean had formed between Gondwana and Laurasia, the 2 giant continents that existed at that time. This Ocean or Sea was called Tethys. The marine fossils found in those parts of Rajasthan are expected to be remnants from the Tethys Ocean. Many of you would have heard of the very first bird called Archaeopteryx, which was intact a missing link between Reptiles and Birds. The fossil of this ancient "first" bird was discovered in a coastal lagoon mud from the same Tethys Ocean in Bavaria!
The Akal wood fossil park is open on all days from 8am to 1pm and 2pm - 5pm. The entrance fee is Rs 5 and 40 for Indians and Foreigners respectively.
I had the pleasure of a young man of 11 traveling with me during this trip. He is a budding travel writer. Visit Ruthvik's travelogue for his perspective on this trip.
For more of my travelogues on Heritage destinations, visit Great Heritage Holiday.