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Nothing else in India is remotely similar to Jaisalmer. Jodhpur certainly has one of the country’s most spectacular fortress palaces complexes, and both Chittorgarh and Kumbhalgarh far surpass Jaisalmer in fame and sheer size.
Centuries ago, Jaisalmer’s strategic position on the camel train routes between India and central Asia brought it great wealth. The merchants and townspeople built magnificent houses and mansions, all exquisitely carved wood and from golden-yellow where in Rajasthan but nowhere are they quite as exotic as in Jaisalmer. Even the humblest shops and houses display something of the Rajput love of the decorative arts in its most whimsical form. It’s likely to remain that way for a long time to come, too, since the city planners are keen to ensure that all new buildings blend in with the old. 

The old city was once completely surrounded by an extensive wall, much of which has sadly been torn down for building material in recent years. Much remains, however, including the city gates and, inside them, the massive fort which rises above the city and is the essence of Jaisalmer. The fort itself is a warren of narrow, paved streets complete with Jain temples and the old palace of the former ruler, still flying his standard.
The central market area is directly below the hill, while the banks, the new palace and several other shops and offices are near the Amar Sagar Gate to the west. 

Built in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal, the fort crowns the 80-metres-high Trikuta Hill. About a quarter of the old city’s population resides within the fort walls, which have 99 bastions around their circumference. It’s fascinating to wander around this place. Nothing has changed here for centuries and if ever an effort were made to pack as many houses, temples and palaces into the smallest possible area, this would be the result. It’s honey-combed with narrow, winding lanes, all of them paved in stone and with a remarkably efficient drainage system which keeps them free of excrement and effluent. It’s also quiet –vehicles are not allowed up here and even building materials have to be carried up by camel cart. The fort walls provide superb views over the old city and surrounding desert.
The fort is entered through a forbidding series of massive gates leading to a large courtyard. The former maharaja’s seven –storey palace fronts onto this. The square was formerly used to review troops, hear petitions and present extravagant entertainment for important visitors. Part of the palace is open to the public, but there’s little to see inside, although one room has some beautiful murals. Opening hours are 8 am to 1 pm and 3 to 5 pm.   

Jain Temples
Within the fort walls are a group of beautifully carved Jain temples built between the 12th and 15th centuries. They are dedicated to Rikhabdevji and Sambhavanthji.
The Gyan Bhandar, a library containing some extremely old manuscripts, is also in the temple complex. The temples are only open in the morning until noon and the library only opens between 10 and 11 am. There are also Siva and Ganesh temples within the fort. 

The beautiful mansions built by the wealthy merchants of Jaisalmer are known as havelis, and several of these fine sandstone buildings are still in beautiful condition.      

Patwon Ki Haveli

This most elaborate and magnificent of all the Jaisalmer havelis stands in a narrow lane. It’s divided into five apartments, two owned by the Archaeological Survey of India, two by families who operate craft shop here, and one still lived in that is closed to the public. There are murals on some of the inside walls and a fine view from the roof. 

Salim Singh ki Haveli
This haveli was built about 300 years ago and part of it is still occupied. Salim Singh was the prime minister when Jaisalmer was the capital of a princely state, and his mansion has a beautifully arched roof with superb carved brackets in the form of peacocks. The mansion is just below the hill and, it is said, once had two additional wooden storeys in an attempt to make it as high as the maharaja palace. The maharaja had the upper storeys of the prime minister’s haveli torn down! 

Nathmal ki Haveli
This later 19th –century haveli was also a prime minister’s house. The left and right wings of he building were carved by brothers and are very similar, but not identical. Yellow sandstone elephants guard of building, and even the front door is a work of art.

Gadi Sagar Tank & Museum
This tank, south of the city walls, was once the water supply of the city and there are many small temples and shrines around it. A wide variety of water birds flock here in winter.
The beautiful gateway which arches across the road down to the tank is said to have been built by a famous prostitute. When she offered to pay to have this gateway constructed, the maharaja refused permission on the grounds that he would have to pass under it on going down to the tank, and he felt that this would be unseemly. While he was away, she built the gate anyway, adding a Krishna temple on top so the king could not tear it down.
The small museum here has displays of folk art. Open daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm.

The annual Desert Festival is supposed to have camel races and dances, folk music, desert ballads and puppeteers, but it seems to have quickly become a purely commercial tourist trap. The RTDC sets up a special ‘Tourist Village’ at this time, similar to the one in Pushkar. The festival takes place between late January and mid-February.

Things to Buy
Jaisalmer is famous for embroidery, Rajasthani mirror work, rugs, blankets, old stonework and antiques. Tie-dye and other fabrics are made at the Kadi Bundar, north of the city. One traveller reports that you should watch out for silver items bought in Jaisalmer as the metal may be adulterated with bronze.

Getting There & Away
: Jagson Airlines has an office at the Tourist Bungalow and flies between Jaisalmer and Delhi via Jodhpur on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Bus: The main bus terminal is some distance from the center of town, near the railway station. Fortunately, all buses start from the traffic roundabout just outside Amar Sagar Gate, and then call at the main station. Reservations are only needed on the night buses, and these should be made at the main bus terminal.
There are eight daily STC buses on the route to Jodhpur, the deluxe one leaving at 5 pm. For Bikaner (eight hours) there are departures at 6 (deluxe) and 11am, and 8 and 9:30 pm. 

Train: At the railway station there’s an International Tourist Bureau, similar to the one at Jodhpur. It was comfortable armchairs, and a toilet and shower for use by rail patrons. The reservations office at the station is only open from 8 to 11 am, 2 to 4 pm and in the chaotic period just below departure
There’s a day and a night train in either direction between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. The 295 –km trip takes around nine hours. 

There are some fascinating places to see in the area around Jaisalmer, although it soon fades out into a barren sand –duned desert which stretches across the lonely border into Pakistan.
Due to the troubles in Punjab and alleged arms smuggling across the border with Pakistan, most of Rajasthan west of National Highway No15 is a restricted area. Special permission is required from the Collector’s office in Jaisalmer if you want to go there, and this is only issued in exceptional circumstances. The only places exempted are Amar Sagar, Bada Bagh, Lodhruva, Kuldhara, Akal, Sam, Ramkunda, Khuri and Mool Sagar. 

Bada Bagh & Cenotaphs
Only a km or so north of Jaisalmer, Bada Bagh is a fertile oasis with a huge old dam. Much of the city’s fruit and vegetables are grown here and carried into the town each day by colourfully dressed women.
Above the gardens are royal cenotaphs with beautifully carved ceilings and equestrian statues of former rulers. In the early evening, this is a popular place to watch the setting sun turn Jaisalmer a beautiful golden brown. 

Amar Sagar
North-west of Jaisalmer, this once pleasant formal garden has now fallen into ruins. The lake here dries up several months into the dry season.
A beautifully carved Jain temple is being painstakingly resorted by craftspeople brought in from Agra. Commenced in the late ‘70s, this monumental task is still continuing.

Further out beyond Amar Sagar, 15 km from Jaisalmer, are the deserted ruins of this town which was the ancient capital before the move to Jaisalmer. The Jain temples, rebuilt in the late ‘70s, are the only reminders of the city’s former magnificence. The  temples have ornate carved arches at the entrance and a Kalputra, the Divine Tree, within. In the temple is a hole from which a snake is said to emerge every evening to drink an offering of milk.
At the same time that they rebuilt the temples, Jain benefactors had the road out from Jaisalmer sealed, but it deteriorates into a desert track immediately beyond Lodhruva. 

Mool Sagar
Situated nine km directly west of Jaisalmer, this is another pleasant, small garden and tank. It belongs to the maharaja of Jaisalmer.

A desert national park has been established in the Thar Desert near Sam village. One of the most popular excursions is to the sand-dunes on the edge of the park, 42 km from Jaisalmer. This is the nearest real Sahara-like desert to Jaisalmer. It’s best to be her at sunrise or sunset, and many camel safaris spend a night at the dunes. Just before sunset jeep loads of trippers arrive from Jaisalmer to be chased across the sands by persistent camel owners offering short rides
There’s only one bus a day between Jaisalmer, and Sam so if you’re only coming for the sunset you’ll need to take a tour. It’s well worth camping out on the dunes but you‘ll need a thick sleeping bag and blankets as it gets very cold. 

Khuri is a village 40 km south- west of Jaisalmer, out in the desert, in the touchy area near the Pakistan border. It’s a delightfully peaceful place with houses of mud and straw decorated like the patterns on Persian carpets.
As it’s right on the 40-km limit from Jaisalmer, permits must be obtained from the Chief Magistrate’s office, opposite the hospital, before setting out.
There are infrequent buses between Jaisalmer and Khuri, and the trip takes 2 ½ hours.

Akal Wood Fossil Park
Three km off the road to Barmer, at a point 14 km form Jaisalmer, are the fossilized remains of a 180-million –year-old forest. To the untrained eye it’s not particularly interesting. 

At the junction of the Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner roads, 110 km from Jaisalmer, is the site of another magnificent Rajasthan fortress. The sandstone fort rises from the desert and shelters a tangle of narrow streets line by balconied houses decorated with parrots, elephants and Rajasthan’s inevitable peacocks. 

Barmer is a center for woodcarving, carpets, embroidery, block printing and other handicrafts and its products are famous throughout Rajasthan. Otherwise, this desert town, 153 km from Jaisalmer and 220 km from Jodhpur, isn’t very exciting. There’s no fortress here and the most interesting part is probably the journey to Barmer through small villages, their mud-walled houses decorated with the characteristic geometrical designs of each different village. It might be worth coming for the cattle fair, held at Tilwara nearby over a fortnight in March / April.
A couple of buses a day run between Barmer and Jaisalmer (3 ½ hours), and south to Palanpur in Gujarat. Barmer is also connected to Jodhpur by meter-gauge railway. Although the line continues on to the Pakistani border, there are no through trains to that country and, in any case, foreigners are not allowed to cross the border at this point

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