In the far west of Rajasthan, amid the dunes of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer rises out of the sand like a mirage in the sun. Known as the Golden City, its pale yellow sandstone architecture shimmers magnificently giving it an aura of magic.
Jaisalmer has a checkered past. It was founded by Rawal Singh in 1156 and became a major trading post along the ancient Silk Route in India. The merchants of Jaisalmer prospered throughout the rise of the caravanserai’s prominence and this is evident even today, in the city’s magnificent golden sandstone architecture. As a result, its nickname is the Golden City. The crown jewel is the magnificent fortress, which contains several palaces and gardens within its walls. The fortress thrives even today and several residents of Jaisalmer continue to reside within its ramparts. It was immortalized in Satyajit Ray’s film, Sonar Kella, and is one of the principal attractions of the city.
The Golden City is home to some exquisite architecture in the form of ancient havelis or mansions of rich merchants who made it big while trading on the Silk Route. Beautifully carved edifices, majestic doorways, delicate balustrades, overhanging balconies, and beautiful jaali work windows are to be seen all over the ancient city. Some of the more noteworthy havelis include Kothari’s Patwa ki Haveli, Nathmal ki Haveli, and Salim Singh ki Haveli.
Jaisalmer is also a prominent center of Jainism and there are seven Jain temples that are within the walls of the fort. Exquisitely carved out of sandstone, they are some of the finest examples of Jain temple architecture in India. Jaisalmer is also home to one of the oldest libraries which contains volumes on Jainism.
The city is also the gateway to the culture of the Thar Desert. Starkly beautiful, the sand dunes of Khuri and Sam stretch endlessly towards the horizon. It’s worth the drive out – or for the more adventurous, a camel ride – across the dunes. Scattered tribal settlements, migratory birds, and several species of desert flora and fauna give you a fascinating glimpse into desert culture.
A short drive from the city, the Akal Fossil park is home to some of the oldest fossils in the world! Step back in time to the Jurassic era where a forest once stood, that was submerged beneath the sea. Ancient trunks, fossilized by the elements lie scattered across 21 hectares of parkland.
For those who are interested in the ecosystem of the Thar Desert, the Desert National Park, is a must do. A bird lover’s delight, it is an absolute haven for several species of migratory birds, as well as several birds of prey such as eagles, kestrels, falcons and the Great Indian Buzzard – perhaps the greatest attraction of all. Several of the species here are heavily endangered and are now endemic to this region. It is also home to several fascinating reptiles and small mammals such as the desert fox.
Back in the center of the city, the Gadi Sagar lake is a focal point and is a serene water body in the heart of Jaisalmer. A tranquil boat ride across its waters, reveal several waterfowl.
The old town is a lively bazaar full of artisans making beautiful handicrafts out of camel leather, embroidery, handloom textiles, and lacquer. The by-lanes echo with whimsical charm as a street musician strums a plaintive tune, and the colourful bandhani tye-dye saris of the local women are ruffled in the breeze.
Come dusk, and the city takes on a mystical aura as the sun sets over the infinite horizon. Birds twitter as they settle down for the evening, and the walls of the fortress take on a softer glow. Intriguing, inspiring, Jaisalmer is a perennial favourite on our Rajasthan wish list.