Jaisalmer – The desert jewel

Jaisalmer –
The desert jewel

Camel trains of parched merchants would stagger the dunes of the Thar Desert, before squinting into the distance and gasp at this oasis outpost Golden City.

Jaisalmer is not a mirage. It’s a dazzling city built from local sandstone, seen to glow pink at sunrise, sparkle at mid-day and burn gold in the evening. This is the most remote city in India, 286 kilometres into the desert from Jodhpur out in West Rajasthan.

A sacred oasis

Desert wilderness is Jaisalmer’s escapist charm and survival has depended on effective water supply. A 14th century man-made reservoir was once the only supply of water to the city.

Pay homage at Gadisar Lake.

Stroll Gadisar’s lakeside ghats in the early morning and it’s easy to feel the peaceful spirit of Jaisalmer.


n old woman with a ghoonghat veil tucked behind her ear feeds chapathi bread to the cows and squirrels to purify negative karma.

Another devotee stands at the edge of the ghat with eyes closed. He mumbles a mantra of prayers under his breath and blindly tosses dough into a pool of hungry catfish below.

Gadisar feels like a wildlife sanctuary. Buffalos bathe in the water below chattri pavilions, carved with peacock effigies for protection. Snoozing sandy temple dogs curl up on warm pavestones.


indu temple keepers lock chunky wooden doors carved with flowers. Flora is a recurring theme believed to celebrate a garden in bloom with water supporting life, as opposed to a barren desert.

Camp out in luxury and camel safari across the dunes.


traddle aboard the camel, Rajasthan’s most revered creature, and explore the unbounding Thar Desert. Later enjoy a ‘sundowner’ drink before an evening’s entertainment of cultural dance and live gypsy music surrounded by nightscape.

Sandstone castles of a bygone era

e sure to visit the city’s beautifully ornate havelis. Special to Jaisalmer, these palatial multi-story traditional houses were ancestral homes of wealthy merchants. The magnificently symmetrical Nathmal Ji Ki and Salim Singh Ki, with stunning arched roof are of special note.

Once a battleground, Jaisalmer Fort is now a hive of urban life.

he fort was founded in 1156 by the Rajput ruler Jaisal. It was built without cement and water, instead using the tongue and groove interlocking technique also used by Cambodian temples and the Egyptian pyramids.

Jaisalmer Fort remains home to a fortunate handful. It’s the only fort in India to be occupied by local residence, with property passed down through generations of former royal employees.

Narrow alleys of compact housing lead to neat Jain temples and the local rituals of everyday life are on display. Here you become totally absorbed by fort life.

Desert folklore and musical theatre

The art of Rajasthani puppetry, known as kathputli, originated a thousand years ago when the Bhatt communities established in Rajasthan and widely practiced the art.

Shrill strings of gypsy instruments play folk music steeped in nostalgia.

nder the Tilon-Ki-Pol sandstone archway, folk musician Hari Ram Bhopa plays blissfully and sells ravanahatha string bowed instruments. He originates from a nomadic family renowned as entertainers and storytellers.

Rajasthani entertainers carry an air of desert mystique. A sun beaten gent sits in the tea shop and plays the double flute fluently, with moustache curled, adorned in black surma eye make-up believed to ward off the evil eye.

A posse of jovial puppeteers, known as kathputliwalas, sells hand painted wooden puppets in vibrant native dress and burst into song. They rehearse for the next village fair in the courtyard shade of Kotari’s Patwa Haveli, the 18th century heritage home.

Handcrafted treasures

aisalmer houses a host of handicraft emporiums vending hand printed Rajasthani cottons and other vintage handwoven fabrics. 70 year-old dresses are re-stitched in store and revitalized as extraordinary patchwork quilts. The scene makes for excellent shopping.

Hunt for treasure in Jaisalmer’s markets.

se the Banyan tree on an alleyway corner to keep your bearings in Jaisalmer’s addictive shopping maze. Barter for enchanting holy relics, delicately painted ceramics, antique bowls, jazzy purses and paisley Nehru jackets.

Jaisalmer is also famed for silversmithing. The best silver is imported from Pakistan to be modelled into beautiful jewelry, often encrusted with emerald, ruby, pearl or topaz gemstones and primed for global export.

Good humoured shopkeepers entice you out of the sun and into jewelry shops. “Welcome to Ali Baba’s cave, but without the thieves!”

Jaisalmer is a charming time capsule entrenched in the Rajasthani desert. It may be remote, but it certainly won’t be forgotten.

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