When visiting the Indian state of Rajasthan you can’t miss the golden city of Jaisalmer, one of my favourite cities in India. Enshrined in a fort, the highest part of this historically important city is fascinating and at times shrouded in mystery. Walk around the old streets to discover what are the best places to visit in Jaisalmer and spend a day or tour immersed in Hindu religion and local culture.
Best places to visit in Jaisalmer, the golden city of India’s Rajasthan
Not too far from Agra, where the most popular highlights are the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, Jaisalmer is known as the golden city and immediately stands out for its beauty. Outside or inside the fort perched on a cliff, day or night, in Jaisalmer, there is always something to do, a place to visit, a restaurant to try and is considered one of the best places in India for women to travel alone.
While I wish I had spent more time exploring the architecture of the pink city, Jaipur, and the blue city, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer was probably my favourite place of all Rajasthan and for sure one of the best places to visit in India.
From a wealth of beautifully carved temples, hectic local markets, and a desert landscape, many are the things that you can see and do in the golden city.
Gadisar Lake to see Jaisalmer’s sunset
Among the best places to visit in Jaisalmer, I absolutely recommend the beautiful Gadisar Lake, and if you manage to get up early, go there to enjoy the sunrise.
Gadisar is a 14th-century man-made lake built by Raja Rawal Jaisal with different monuments such as temples, shrines, and chattris. The lake is also full of catfish, they call them Rajasthan fishes because they have what locals call mustache, like most Rajasthan men.
There are camel caravanserais around it, mainly used for traders who traveled the Silk Road. You will also see the temples of Shiva and the gate originally built by a rich woman. The fact that a woman built the gate wasn’t really welcomed by the Maharaja at the time, and this is why he sent his soldiers to destroy it.
But the same night, she finds out about Maharaja’s plan and puts a temple of Krishna up on the gate. When the soldiers arrived the next day to destroy the gate, they saw the statue of Krishna and refused to demolish the building.
Enter Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer has a fort which can be considered its soul. In fact, although the city is full of beautiful monuments, temples, and havelis, the fort will immediately dominate the scene and capture your attention. In 2013, it was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO along with the other Hill Forts of Rajasthan: Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Sawai Madhopur, Jhalawar, and Jaipur.
As the same UNESCO put it, “six extensive and majestic hill forts together reflect the elaborate, fortified seats of power of Rajput princely states that flourished between the 8th and 18th centuries and their relative political independence.“
According to the Indian Government website, “Jaisalmer Fort was built in 1156 and is the second oldest in the state of Rajasthan. Two hundred and fifty feet tall and reinforced by an imposing crenellated sandstone wall 30 feet high, the fort has 99 bastion, 92 of which were built between 1633 and 1647”.
Almost one-quarter of the town’s population actually lives inside the fort, so it’s possible for tourists to visit the monuments and appreciate local life at the same time.
Being the Fort the heart of the city, and being closed to car traffic all day, obviously made it more silent and less messy than all the other Indian cities I had visited (I hadn’t gone to Uttarakhand, so I had yet to discover that in India too it’s possible to find quiet spots), and staying at a luxury Jaisalmer hotel inside the Fort itself can make you truly appreciate the beauty of the place.
I have visited many temples and havelis in Jaisalmer, and the first thing that will strike you is that all of them make the city “glow” thanks to the golden-yellow sandstone used to build the fort and all other buildings.
Visit Jaisalmer’s Jain Temples
In Jaisalmer, don’t miss the beautiful Jain Temples.
Located inside the Fort, the temples are a must in Jaisalmer both for their archaeological importance and cultural value. They date back between the 12th and the 15th centuries and are devoted to Rikhabdevji and Shambhavdev Ji, two Jain hermits known as Tirthankars.
Built in the Dilwara style, famous for the beautifully intricate carvings that decorate the ceilings, the entrances, the pillars and the panels inside the temples with both animal and human figures. Carved out of yellow sandstone typical from the area, these temples were a very important pilgrimage site.
Visit these beautiful temples in the morning, they are open until noon. Here there is also Gyan Bhandar library where a fascinating collection of rare manuscripts is kept.
Safari to the Thar Desert from Jaisalmer
Among the best things to do in Jaisalmer, is to visit its desert, or better join a safari, or better even to go on a proper Jaisalmer desert camp and enjoy a full day and night among the nomads to experience their lifestyle.
Jaisalmer desert is totally about experiencing the beauty of the desert. Long caravans of camels moving as if they were doing the trade through the Silk Road or moving a bride or princess from one place to another in the old days on the top of the camel with a guide holding the leash of the camel. When the long caravan of camels heads back to the tent in the evening before the sunset on the safari, it is an amazing experience. The sun seems bigger and so perfect in the desert of Jaisalmer during the sunset, that you feel it will make you forget all the Indian nights with a dodgy stomach and the crazy traffic of the cities.
You have the option to choose between tents in the desert or a hotel to stay in Jaisalmer but for sure the experience will be different. The camels, calm desert and the sunset sure make for one of those unforgettable postcard memories.
If you go on a whole-day desert safari, very likely your tour will end up in the desert tents anyway, have dinner around the fire in the open air with live Indian traditional music and dances. Make sure your camera is fully charged to photograph this amazing experience in the Thar desert.
If you are lucky, in Jaisalmer, you can also attend the Desert Festival. It’s a colorful festival held between the 8th and 10th of February every year. At the Festival you will have the chance to see cultural events, camel races, turban tying competitions. Camel parades and stunts are part of the festival. You can also attend contests to judge the man with the best mustache. The Desert Festival takes place in Sam Sand Dunes, some 40 km from Jaisalmer.