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Jaisalmer

The golden rays of the setting sun kisses the silver sands of this city every evening making it the most picture perfect tourist destination in Rajasthan. Adding to this, the majestic Rajput kings of Rajasthan built wonderful wood and stone carved mansions and buildings that are till today great pieces of fine art.

Jaisalmer

Founded by Bhatti Rajput Rawal Jaisal in 1156, the city of Jaisalmer has a long history that records the courage and determination of its Rajputs rulers. In Medieval times, its prosperity was due to its location on the main trade route linking India to Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West. Ages have gone by and the monuments of Jaisalmer have withstood the buffeting winds of the desert all through. Today it is one of the largest cities in the country and covers a total area of about 38,401 square kms. Standing courageously in the middle of the Thar Desert, as the sentinel on the western India and sharing a border with Pakistan, this city is the dream of every tourist. The best time to visit this desert city is the winter season (November to February) when the heat becomes comparatively low. The desert festival held during the last winter months of January and February is the most opportune time for the people to visit Jaisalmer.

Some of the best tourist attractions in the historic city are as follows:

Jaisalmer Fort

This is the second oldest fort of Rajasthan after the Chittorgarh Fort. Built in 1156, by Raja Jaisal, this fort was used to protect the city of Lodurva from foreign invasions. It stands on the middle of the Thar Desert mounted atop Trikuta, the almost triangular triple-peaked hill and looks straight out of a fairy tale. Many infact take it for a mirage as it rises from the gloomy atmosphere around it with its huge 250 feet tall turrets pointing towards the sky. The 5- storied fort is surrounded by an imposing crenellated sandstone wall 30 feet high. The fort is also called ‘Sonar kila’, as it is built of yellow sandstone. The fort offers a great view at nightfall with lights highlighting its every nook and corner. You could almost feel the fort of bygone eras coming to life with its enormous paved flagstones at this time.

The fort has as many as 99 bastions, 92 of which were built between 1633 and 1647 to be used as gun platforms. The view of the 99 bastions of the yellow sandstone fort, the desert citadel of Raja Jaisal, with screen windows, delicate pavilions and beautiful balconies is indeed a spectacular sight to behold. Needless to say the Jaisalmer fort is one of the marvels of Rajasthani architecture, particularly of the stone-carver’s art.

Inside the fort, you may also visit the palaces of the Maharawals which lie in front of the Chauhata Square. They are Sarvottam Vilas, Akhai Vilas, Gaj Mahal, Rang Mahal and Moti Mahal. These Mahals boast of exquisite beauty and are a reminder of the great Rajputana architecture. The most famous of all the palaces, the Rang Mahal also has mural paintings to attract tourists. Leading up to them is a flight of marble steps topped by the Maharawal’s marble throne.

Nearby, lies the five-storied Tazia (metal) Tower, with ornate architecture and Bengali-style roofs constructed by Muslim craftsmen. The temples inside the fort are Jain temples and are dedicated to Rishabhdevji, Sambhavanathji and Ashthapadi dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries.

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A statue of Lord Mahavir dominates in each of these temples.

The outer defenses of the citadel are fortified by another high wall with a pathway running parallel to the first rampart. There are also four entrances to the fort known as Aksya Pole, Ganesha Pole, Suraj Pole and Hawa Pole (constructed during 17th century) with the first one being the most important.

In the past everyone in Jaisalmer used to stay inside the fort city protected by its massive ramparts. But, as the population of Jaisalmer expanded, people started emigrating from within the fort’s precincts from about the 17th century. However, even today the fort is a hive of activity, and you’ll witness a cross-section of the populace living within it as you travel through its winding streets and alleys. There are also havelis within the fort premises that were built by wealthy merchants of the 1800s. These havelis with richly carved interiors and exteriors complete with screen windows, delicate pavilions and beautiful balconies are sure to delight you. The walls and ceilings were also adorned with intricate carvings resulting in marvelous mansions.

Today, most of these mansions have been converted into shops with only one exception. This mansion houses the museum. A trip to this museum will give you a deep insight into the life and culture of the Rajasthani people in both past and present. Infact, the fortifications have grown exponentially over the centuries, and wells within the confines still provide a regular source of water to the fort.

An interesting feature that you would like while visiting the fort is a peculiar gadget that has been hoisted on top of its ramparts. Since Met departments were in short supply in those days, this was used to forecast the weather. Every year in April, a flag would be placed in its centre and, based on the direction in which it blew; the weather for the entire year was forecast. If it blew northwards it indicated famine, and if it went westwards the citizenry could rest assured that a fine monsoon was in the offing. The best time to visit this place is during the winters.

Manakchowk

Just outside the fort is the Manakchowk, the famous marketplace of Jaisalmer. You can have a good bargain at this place for the local products.

The Jain temples

These are a group of three temples that are located inside the Jaisalmer fort and dates back to the 12th Century AD. They are dedicated to the Jain Tirthankars-Rishabhdev,Sambhavnath and Paraswanath. These monuments are made in Dilwara style of architecture and are one of the most beautiful pilgrim destinations in the state.

Gyan Bhandar or Library

Some of the oldest manuscripts of India are found in this library established as a part of Jain temples.

Havelis

These mansions were built centuries ago but have still remained in very good condition. The intricate craftsmanship of these havelis or, mansions is beyond parallel. They are remarkable for their exclusive cutwork, yellow and red stone treatment and the bracket-shaped decoration of peacocks. Some of the remarkable havelis are:

The Patwon-ki-Haveli

This is the most elaborate and magnificent of all the famous Jaisalmer havelis. It has exquisitely carved pillars and extensive corridors and chambers. You may see beautiful murals painted on one of the apartments of this five storey high haveli.

Salim-Singh-ki-Haveli

This 300 year old haveli of Jaisalmer’s Prime Minister to Maharaja Rawal Gaj Singh-Salim Singh, has a beautiful blue cupola roof with superbly carved brackets in the form of peacocks. This extraordinary mansion in yellow stone is covered with intricate carvings and has an elaborate projecting balcony on the top storey. The mansion is one of the most notable of the array of havelis.

Nathmalji-ki-Haveli

This is a relatively modern haveli built in the late 19th century. But nonetheless, a superb example of great craftsmanship. You would just love the splendid miniature paintings that adorn the inner walls of this grand haveli.

Gadsisar Sagar Lake

This scenic rain water lake located in the southern part of the city is a famous place for outings. It has a beautiful sandstone gateway and is surrounded by numerous beautiful shrines. You can see a number of migratory birds if you visit this place during the winter season. It is said that in the past, it used to be the source of water for the entire city.

Tazia Tower

This is a pagoda like structure on the ‘Badal Mahal’ with beautiful ‘Tazias’. The tazias are actually ornately decorated bamboo, paper and tinsel replicas of a bier, carried out in procession during Moharram by the Muslims. Hence, the name Tazia Tower.

Desert Culture Center and Museum

This place would definitely give you a clear insight of Rajasthan in general and Jaisalmer in particular. The Desert Culture Centre and Museum has an astonishing variety of traditional Rajasthani artifacts on display. Of these there are old coins that were in use during the medieval ages, different kinds of textile of royal personages that have survived the ravages of time, traditional Rajasthani instruments and kitchen utensils and objects of regular use from the medieval royal households. Also on display are a wide variety of ancient and medieval fossils that were discovered under layers of Jaisalmer sands.

Established by the efforts of Dr. Nand Kishore Sharma, it is open to public during weekdays and weekends from 9 am to 8 pm.

Khuri

Located at a distance of 42 kilometers from the main Jaisalmer City, you may visit this place to have a look at its traditional mud houses adorned with colorful frescoes of animals, geometrical patterns, bird figures and other interesting patterns on their walls and thatched straw roofs. The inhabitants of this desert village accords you a warm traditional welcome and shows you all that is real and glorious about Rajasthan.

You may also shop for indigenous crafts at the bustling village bazaars and feast on traditional home-cooked Rajasthani delicacies at this quaint village.

Bada Bagh

The Bada Bagh or the big garden in Jaisalmer is located on the Ramgarh Road and was commissioned in the 16th Century by Maharaja Jait Singh. You can watch three interesting things in this place- a beautiful garden, tank and a man-made dam. Another notable feature of this garden is the cenotaphs. There are many cenotaphs the oldest one being the cenotaphs of Maharaja Jait Singh. The centotaphs represent an amalgam of the Paliwal, Mughal and Rajput styles of architecture. The beautiful mango groves and the greenery all around the garden give a much-needed relief to the sun burnt people of Jaisalmer. The Badi Bagh is infact a typical oasis in the desert.

Sam Sand Dunes

Located at the edge of the Thar Desert, this place is gaining tremendous tourist attraction these days. This sandy place is famous for watching sunsets and camel riding.

Lodurva Temples

Lodurva, located at a distance of 15kms from Jaisalmer is famous for its numerous several Jain temples like the Parswanath Temple, Rishabhnath Temple and the Sambhavnath Temple. The ruins of this place remind a visitor of its ancient glory during the days of the rulers of Jaisalmer. A must visit destination on your trip to Jaisalmer.

Desert National Park

Located at a distance of 40kms from the golden city of Jaisalmer, you would find the enticing Desert National Park & Sanctuary. This sanctuary is a perfect example of the bio-diverse ecosystem of the Thar Desert, as it has both shrubs and trees coexisting with rolling sand dunes. The Sanctuary covering a sprawling area of 3162 sq. km. is surrounded by the Vindhya and the Aravalli ranges and provides a panoramic view with waterfalls. You should make it a point to visit the sanctuary from September to March to enjoy its wildlife wealth. If you wish to get the best view of the wildlife of Desert National Park then move to the Sudashri forest post (watch tower). It is the ideal place for observing and is the most suitable for clicking the activities of the animals from behind cover.

You can get to see thousands of sparrows, imperial sand grouse, bustards, falcons, partridges, Demoiselle crane and eagles that migrate to this place during the winters. Other birds you can find at the sanctuary are bee-eaters, larks. The birds of prey seen here are tawny and steppe eagles, long legged and honey buzzards, falcons and kestrels. But the most outstanding of the avifauna is the great Indian bustard. This tall, heavy bird is an epitome of confidence and grace. Special mention needs to be made of the houbara, the lesser bustard which was almost hunted to extinction, and which has now been allowed to breed, and of the desert courser which, it has now been established, breeds in the Thar on its migratory journey through the desert. So, for those avid birdwatchers traveling to Jaisalmer, you know where your hobby would take you to.

The most distinguished animal found in this sanctuary is the blackbuck, a common antelope of this region but otherwise an endangered species. Its other notable inhabitants are the chinkara, the predatory desert fox, Bengal fox, wolf, the desert cat, spiney tail, uromastix and sandfish that 'swim' under the sand. Incepted in 1980, the Desert National Sanctuary is also rich in reptile species. You may get to see the highly poisonous Spiny Tail Lizard, Monitor Lizard that look like miniature replicas of dragons, and the Saw Scaled Viper, Russel's viper, Sind krait, and toad agama which are found in abundance at Desert National Park. The three major lakes - Rajbaugh, Milak talao and Padam talao serve as watering holes for the various wild species of the park.

Apart for the fauna found in the park, the rich vegetation of the park consists of dhok, ronj, salai, bear and palm trees. Covering approximately twenty percent area of the park are the sand dunes. Craggy rocks and compact salt lake bottoms, inter medial areas and fixed dunes form the unique features of the landscape of the Desert National Park.

A good way to view the wildlife is camping out in the desert, but you must ensure that no infringement of the park is caused. You need to pay an entry fee of Rs. 100 per person and for jeep, car fee is Rs.100 and coach fee is Rs. 200.

You may also try camel safari at the Desert Park. Bird watching on camel back is very rewarding as birds allow camels to get at close quarters, giving you unprecedented access. You can spot endemics like Indian & Houbara Bustards and witness the spectacle of flocks of Demoiselle Cranes being fed by the villagers of Khichan. At Gajner, mornings and evenings are excellent to sight the Imperial Sandgrouse

The Akal Wood Fossil Park: This Park is located just 17 kms from Jaisalmer on the way to Barmer. It has the fossilized wood of 180 millions years old forest. These are beautiful forest vistas consisting of red and yellow fossilized (stone) trees. The entry fee for the park is Rs.10/- . This is an ideal tourist spot for geological and Archeological enthusiasts.

Fairs/Festivals in Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer, the colorful city of Rajasthan is famous for its Desert festival. Also known as Camel Fair, the festivals major attractions are Camel dances, camel races, folk dance, and music. If you are traveling Jaisalmer in the winters, then you should be a part of the annual festival.

Shopping there

You would get a unique shopping experience at Jaisalmer. The narrow bazaar lanes are lined up with shops on both sides, offering a wide range of items including irresistibly beautiful handicraft items.

Jaisalmer is popular for its mirror work embroidered garments and carpets, blankets and shawls, woolen pattu, carpets made from camel hair, tapestry, oil lamps, finely cut antiques, old stonework, silver jewellery and silk and cotton textiles. The good quality wooden items like wooden boxes, trinkets, souvenirs and curios are also worth buying in Jaisalmer.

The main shopping areas in Jaisalmer are Sadar Bazaar, Sonaron Ka Bas, Manak Chowk, Pansari Bazaar, Gandhi Darshan, Zila Khadi Gramodan Parishad, Khadi Gramyodyog Bhawan (Seema Gram) and Rajasthali - the Govt. shop, selling handicrafts.

Reaching there

By Air: The nearest city is Jodhpur. To visit this place by air, one has to take the flight operated by Indian Airlines between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.

By Rail: The nearest railhead is the Jaisalmer Junction.

By Road: Jaisalmer is well connected to the nearby towns and cities. The city has a very good transportation network with National Highway No. 15 passing through the city.

Staying there

The city has a large number of hotels to cater to the accommodation and dining needs of the tourists. The hotels in the city range from Luxury Heritage Hotels to Budget and Economy Hotels from which the tourists can choose depending upon his taste and budget. Some of the most wonderful hotels in the city include the Mandir Palace, Narayan Niwas Palace, Mahadev Palce, Hotel Haveli and the Hotel Rawal Palace.