Oft described as appearing out of the Great Indian Desert like a mirage, Jaisalmer was different to other cities I visited in India.
Known as India’s ‘Golden City’, thanks to the sunshine-hued stones used to construct every building, it’s slower paced (for India, at least).
It’s the kind of place that feels a world away from it all.
Once a former stop on the famous Silk Route, the old fort has become a bit touristy, but there’s charm to be found in the twisting alleyways, artisan shops, and rooftop cafes with views stretching far across the desert.
My days in Jaisalmer were incredibly chill, which I needed after pushing myself a bit too hard trying to travel while recovering from Dengue Fever.
I loved the small city vibe, it felt more spiritual than other places I visited in India, and I felt completely at ease wandering the alleyways.
In fact, I actually enjoyed walking around Jaisalmer- less harassment from men, nice dogs and lazy cows. Also, less traffic, which meant it was easier to pause and look at things without fear of being run over when I started walking again (if you’ve been to India, you know what I’m talking about).
If you’re planning a trip to India, Jaisalmer can seem a bit out of the way (because it is), but it’s absolutely worth working into your itinerary.
HOW TO GET THERE
I arrived in Jaisalmer by train (from Jodphur), which was a 6 hour journey. I booked 2AC class, and didn’t mind the trip at all. The beds in 2AC are spacious- you can easily lay down or sit all the way up.
My train arrived late night (11:30 pm), and it took a bit of haggling with multiple tuk tuk drivers for me to find someone who would take me to my hostel for the price I wanted to pay. Most were trying to 3-4x the price because of the time of day. But, I found a driver who agreed to how much I wanted to pay on the fourth try- so, a reminder that haggling will get you what you need if you’re persistent and fair.
Leaving Jaisalmer, I flew to Amritsar. The airport is about a half hour from the heart of town, and I coordinated a tuk tuk through my hotel to get me there.
If you’re arriving via air, I’d ask your hotel or hostel if they can help arrange pick-up.
It’s likely there’ll be a few drivers at the airport waiting. However, there are only a few flights a day, so pre-booking is a good way to guarantee someone will be able to take you without having to wait for more taxis to arrive. And no, ride share apps haven’t made their way to Jaisalmer- there’s not enough tourism flow.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at Moustache Jaisalmer, which was my favourite hostel of the ones I stayed in.
The private rooms were gorgeously decorated, the bed was ultra comfy, and there was surprisingly good WiFi for the middle of the desert.
The bed was so comfortable that I slept a lot while in Jaisalmer- I’ll chalk it up to overcoming Dengue and desperately needing rest.
Another thing I liked about Moustache Jaisalmer?
It’s outside of the main fort area, but only a 6-8 minute walk to the base of the fort.
Why is this something you should care about?
Tourism is taking its toll on the fort, as more and more guesthouses open and more water has to be pumped inside. The fort isn’t able to cope with the volume of water that needs to be drained away, which has led to problems of erosion, and the fort slowly ‘sinking’.
Additionally, Rajasthan is a dry, desert state, and is rapidly running out of water.
Generally speaking, it’s good practice to avoid hotels with pools, and be conservative with water use- turn taps off when brushing teeth and while shampooing, take showers instead of baths, etc.
What’s more, the water shortage is especially prevalent in Jaisalmer. With arid surroundings, water is a major issue. It’s simpered in from a canal, which is mega dirty, and means lots of people suffer from health issues. It’s treated for tourism, but any hotel in the area will tell you water is their biggest expense.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Visit Jaisalmer Fort
Dating from 1156, the fort’s shape is oft compared to an upside down sandcastle. It’s different to other forts in Rajasthan in that it’s still a living fort.
Parts of the fort’s thick walls feature detailed marble carvings, while others only consist of crumbling sandstone, which still effectively seal off the city from the outside world.
The old city is still home to a few, but most of the buildings now house visitors or serve as shopfronts.
Even though it’s a bit touristy, it’s worth visiting to marvel in the architectural details, and to just absorb the energy of the temple.
Inside the fort, you’ll also find a few Jain temples, which you can enter to see the intricate details up close (be sure to remove all leather first).
Discover soaring viewpoints of the town below
Beautiful viewpoints of the town below can be found from around the fort, but my favorite one is easy to find when you first walk up the ramp into the fort.
Once you’re at the top and inside, head to the left.
There’s only one main alleyway to wander down, follow it all the way to the fort wall.
Watch sunset from a rooftop
My favourite sunset in Jaisalmer was from a rooftop inside the fort. It was magical to see the golden glow of the sandstone walls up-close as the sun set.
If you’re spending the night in Jaisalmer, don’t miss watching the sunset from KuKu Coffee. The owner is super friendly, there are tons of choices on the menu, and the view is unbelievable.
I tried the fig shake (figs, ice, milk) and loved it- simple, sweet and refreshing.
Other rooftop spots in town I liked:
- Chaisalmer (for more of an expansive view of the fort and town)
- Cafe+ (for a cute space with great lassis and teas- wasn’t impressed with their food though)
I’ve also heard sunset from the Gandisar Lake, where you can observe local activities is a peaceful, beautiful way to spend an evening. Friends who have visited have told me the temples and shrines around the lake cast beautiful reflections onto it.
Go quilt shopping
You’ll see gorgeous blankets hanging for sale all over the fort walls, which appear to be stitched from Indian clothing scraps.
However, many of these inside the fort, and throughout town, are actually made in China and imported to India.
Instead of perusing these quilts, I visited Jaisalmer Art Palace in town proper.
I spent ages ogling handmade, authentic quilts. In the end, I left with an antique pillow case, made from fabrics over 100 years old. My pillow case is extra special because no one does the kind of stitching or embroidery work anymore.
I really fancied a quilt, but when I visited Jaisalmer, I was a digital nomad, uncertain when I’d have a homebase again, so it just didn’t make sense to purchase one.
The man who runs this shop is so nice, he pulled so many to show me, brought me tea, and even fixed a few small issues on my pillow (fabric lifting up) when I decided that I wanted to buy it.
The best part: He didn’t pressure me to buy, at all. It was such a refreshing change for India. Instead, he let the beauty of the product speak for itself.
Venture to the Thar Desert overnight
Most people come to Jaisalmer for a Thar Desert overnight, which I skipped, in part, because budget, but also because I wanted to stay in one place for more than 1-2 nights.
I didn’t regret my decision at all- I really enjoyed just being in town and having time to wander without feeling rushed.
But, I have heard the overnights can be a beautiful experience, and usually involve camel riding. Often, you’ll drive to the dunes, then ride a camel into the desert, before setting up camp for the night.
I have friends who’ve done tours that sleep under a tent, and others who sleep on air mattresses, straight on the dunes.
It sounds like a lovely experience, assuming the camels are treated ethically, but I desperately needed rest at this point in my trip.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Aside from the spots mentioned for rooftop sunsets (KuKu Cafe, Chaisalmer, Cafe+), I didn’t visit too many restaurants.
Plenty were recommended, but I just wanted to rest, so every night I was in Jaisalmer, I got takeaway from Fredy Foods to take back to my hostel so I could eat and call it an early night.
Another good spot for coffee and fresh juice: The Traveler’s Cup inside the fort- it’s a bookstore, cafe hybrid and the perfect spot for taking a break from fort explorations.
HOW LONG TO SPEND IN JAISALMER
I stayed for three days and nights, which felt like the perfect amount of time to truly relax, and still see the city.
You can certainly do it in less. At the minimum end, I’d recommend one night in town and one night in the desert if that’s of interest to you.
Jaisalmer is small, so there isn’t a ton ‘to do’ per se, but that’s the magic of it.
EXTRA JAISALMER TRAVEL TIPS
Cash: Always carry rupees with you, street stalls and small businesses won’t accept card payment
Getting Around: Walk, Jaisalmer is small. There are tuk tuk drivers around town, waiting to take people places but I didn’t go anywhere in Jaisalmer that was more than a 15-20 minute walk, and would have required a ride
Conscious Travel: Avoid single use plastic while in Jaisalmer, and all of India. It’s not hard to see that India has a huge plastic problem- avoid adding to it. Take your own refillable bottle, and either refill at water stations, or bring your own water purification method (such as, a LifeStraw)
When to Visit: The warm, dry winter months, from early November to February are the best time to visit. Spring/summer are unbearably hot, and early fall brings a brief, but intense monsoon season. Keep in mind winter months will be peak tourism season, and thus, prices for things will be higher than usual across fronts
Solo Female Travel Advice: Rajasthan is a relatively conservative state. It’s uncommon to see many women on the streets after dark, especially outside of the cities. I chose to mostly go out during the daytime and eat dinner at my hostel. If you want to go out, always let someone you trust know where you are going. Stick to well lit, busy areas, preferably with women or families present
Have you ever visited Jaisalmer? Is it in your list of places you’d like to visit or see in India?
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