Jaisalmer has always been on my “to visit” lists. I’ve seen numerous photographs of its superb 12thcentury fort, and just the name Jaisalmer invokes images from a bygone era. A fort in the middle of the desert surrounded by warriors carrying long sabres on their camels. It is an enchanting and unique place and absolutely worth visiting. The only thing is you have to do is get there, as it’s the furthest point on the Rajasthani circuit.
I was expecting Jaisalmer fort to rise out of the desert, but on our route from Bikaner we drove through part of the new town before it appeared before us. It is an imposing site for sure, one the biggest forts in India. It is an enormous sandstone structure with thick walls and turrets. We had chosen a hotel in the actual fort in order to feel part of something so old and historic. The Hotel Victoria turned out not to disappoint, built into a quiet part of the walls of the fort, ticked all the boxes for us. It was comfortable and beautifully furnished. Cars are not allowed inside the fort so we were dropped outside and taken in by tuk tuk.
After our long drive we decided to go out immediately and acquaint ourselves with Jaisalmer. Since we were already in the fort where better to start than the ramparts. There were lots of photos to take of the thick walls and turrets and city views below, the beautifully intricately carved Jain temples and buildings inside the fort. We walked the narrow streets passing people’s houses and boutiques dropping in to a superb old haveli full of photos and relics of long ago. It is a magical place.
The following morning I got up early and took pictures of the huge gates and entrance to the fort. There were no tourists around, only a few locals, lots of cows and a few people setting up the stalls outside. I wondered into the old town opposite the fort and found it to be a street photographers dream. There were the milkmen on motorbikes ladling out milk to the housewives, people feeding the cows, sweeping the streets and opening the stores. Looking up, many of the buildings had finely carved windows and in some narrow streets the overhanging balconies were almost touching the ones from the other side. By the time I returned to the Fort’s entrance although still early, it was already packed with buses and cars, and crowds of tourists from all over the world were walking into the fort.
There is a lot to see in Jaisalmer, particularly if you are interested in photography as the old town lends itself well to real local life. Wandering around it’s narrow streets full of all kinds of shops, people live outside and are easy to talk to and are not camera shy. People, cows, dogs and bicycles jostle for space. It’s worth going to vist the Patwon Ji Ki Haveli and the Nathmal Ji ki Haveli. They are stupendous examples of these magnificent rich merchants homes, more like palaces than houses. Some of interiors are richly painted and furnished and it takes some time to wander around and see it all. We also visited the castle, now a 5 star hotel and museum.
No trip to Jaisalmer would be complete without a drive out to the desert and the obligatory camel ride to see the sunset. There are two places that offer a similar experience, Sam and Khuri. We chose Khuri as we were told that the dunes were more impressive. It is very touristic and hotels have sprung up all over the place. I don’t want to be a spoil sport but frankly there is no particular advantage to stay overnight in such a place. It is sufficient to go in the afternoon, wait for sunset, eat the dinner, watch the dance and go back to Jaisalmer. For the ultimate desert experience you can camp in the desert, although it is so near to civilisation I think there are better places to do this in the world such as Morocco. Now, I have to admit that every evening during our 3 night stay, at around 5.00pm the sky would cloud over and we were not once treated to that glorious golden light. Due to the disappointing afternoon and evening light we waited until our last night hoping it might improve before heading to the desert, which turned out to be no better. Perhaps had we camped out we would have been treated to a sunrise although I heard from others that it wasn’t what they were expecting.
In spite of this disappointing late afternoon and evening light, Jaisalmer was wonderful. For photographers, it offered the ultimate street photography experience, superb temples and architecture, landscapes of the fort and the nearby lake and rich textures and patterns for those seeking some artistic B/W shots.
Metropole Tourist Service took us on our round trip from Delhi
The Victoria Hotel in Jaisalmer. Trip Advisor, booking.com, Agoda.