A travel guide to the best things to do in Jaisalmer

Picture this – a golden-yellow majestic fort that arises amid the yellow sandstone buildings and surrounded by sand dunes. All these further enhanced by the golden rays of the Sun. It is not surprising that Jaisalmer is known as the Golden City of India. One look at the town and you will know why it is called so.┬áTruly a spectacular sight to behold.

A travel guide to Jaisalmer- the golden city of Rajasthan
A travel guide to Jaisalmer- the golden city of Rajasthan

Close to the Indo-Pak border, Jaisalmer in Rajasthan is home to a lot of legends, history and mysterious stories. Besides this, I also, found it to be an amazing cultural hub. With the endless list of best things to do in Jaisalmer, you must plan your itinerary carefully. This is where my travel guide to Jaisalmer is going to be handy. Not only am I going to share the best of Jaisalmer attractions but will also, give you details on the best way to reach Jaisalmer, where to stay in this city and more. Introducing the golden city of Rajasthan to you –

History of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Jaisalmer literally means “Hill fort of Jaisal“. The desert city came into existence when Ram Jaisal of the Bhati dynasty build his mud fort here. It was around 1156 AD when he got passed over by his half -brother for the original throne of Laudrava. He went around searching for a place where he could set up his capital and came across a rocky outcrop in the desert. Considering its strategic location, he chose it as the place to build his capital.

The Rocky outcrop where the famous Jaisalmer attractions - the Golden Fort is built
The Rocky outcrop where the famous Jaisalmer attractions – the Golden Fort is built

At this very rock, he met a sage – Eesul who gave out two predictions – originally made by Lord Krishna –

  • A descendant of the Yadu race (Lord Krishna’s lineage) would be the one to set up his capital city here
  • The capital would face two and half devastating attacks that would leave it in a bad shape.

As fate had it, Ram Jaisal did indeed, come from the Yadu dynasty and that he took as a sign to get his capital going. He just chose to ignore the later part of the prophecy.

Whether one believes it or not, Jaisalmer’s prophecy came true when it faced the first attack by Alauddin Khilji, the second by Firoz Shah Tughluq and finally an Afghan chieftain- Amir Ali. The first two resulted in ousting of the Bhati clan from their palace. The third one left the Jaisalmer fort in a bad shape but the Bhati king was able to get a victory.

Map of Jaisalmer Fort
Map of Jaisalmer Fort

One of the reasons why Jaisalmer kept bouncing back from these attacks was that it was a key city on the caravan Silk route from Central Asia to China. Of course, this was also, the reason why other rulers tried to usurp it. The fortunes continued till the route was alive. However, once the sea route became popular, the city started losing its wealth.

It came back onto the map after the Partition of India owing to its proximity to the Pakistan border. Jaisalmer played an important role in the Indo-Pak battles of 1965 and 1971. Of course, now, it is not just an important defense city but a major tourist destination owing to this very colorful history, its deep-rooted culture and the fun desert experience – something that you will see in the Best of Jaisalmer attractions below.

How to reach Jaisalmer?

  • Jaisalmer is around 560 km from Jaipur and 285 km from Jodhpur. The city has its own airport, however, there are limited flights to this airport.
  • You can reach Jaisalmer by road with the various tourist buses and cabs. However, the journey is quite long. Railways is possibly a better option. There tons of trains to Jaisalmer from various places in India and Rajasthan.

Best time to visit Jaisalmer

Guide to Jaisalmer with tips on the best time to visit the golden city
Guide to Jaisalmer with tips on the best time to visit the golden city

The best time to visit Jaisalmer is between October to February, when the weather is slightly cooler. In fact, it is highly recommended that you visit it during the annual Desert festival of Jaisalmer. This takes place in February. During this time, you can witness unusual competitions like turban tying. Colorful traditional dances like the Kalbelia dance, the ghumar dance and the fire dance are performed in the desert.

Where to stay in Jaisalmer?

My stay at Nirmal Haveli in Jaisalmer
My stay at Nirmal Haveli in Jaisalmer

Plan for two types of stays in Jaisalmer. One would be the traditional Jaisalmer hotels and the other would be the desert camps in Jaisalmer. When it comes to the traditional hotels in Jaisalmer, it is best to pick one around the Golden Fort. This will make your Jaisalmer sightseeing experience a little smoother. In fact, you will find plenty of hotels in Jaisalmer fort itself . These are available in all possible budgets.

You will find lots of traditional havelis and palaces converted into hotels in Jaisalmer. These range from super luxury Suryagarh palace to mid priced havelis like Nirmal Haveli. I stayed in the latter and found it extremely comfortable. It is located very close to the Fort.

Our desert camp in Jaisalmer
Our desert camp in Jaisalmer

When it comes to desert camps in Jaisalmer, you can either book online (refer to the Booking resources below) or through the Jaisalmer hotel that you are staying in. We booked ours separately in Rajasthan Desert Safari Camp. While the camps were comfortable, I found this particular one extremely crowded and very touristy. Look for the ones that are away from the regular Sam desert locations for more authentic information.

Best things to do in Jaisalmer

This section in this guide to Jaisalmer includes not just historical sites but also, activities that you can do in the Golden city. These Jaisalmer attractions span not just the city but take you a little away from them too. Hence, keep in mind the distance when planning your itinerary. I have, of course, added travel tips for Jaisalmer within the post.

1) Visit the Jaisalmer Fort

The topmost of Jaisalmer attractions - Golden Fort
The topmost of Jaisalmer attractions – Golden Fort

The most note-worthy aspect of this fort is that it blends into the golden desert as the sun fades away. It is this camouflage ability of the fort that made it quite strategic and also, gave it the name Sonar Qila or the Golden Fort. The Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest forts in the world and is probably one of the few living forts. You will find rows of houses, restaurants and shops here. In fact, quite a few popular hotels in Jaisalmer are within the fort itself.

Bird's Eye view of Jaisalmer City
Bird’s Eye view of Jaisalmer City

The fort was an important center of commerce between India and rest of Asia and has stood up to the many attacks from rival kingdoms, including one from Allaudin Khilji. Discover more of its history when you visit the Maharaja’s Palace within its premises. And while you are here, don’t forget to climb up to the terrace to get a mind-blowing panoramic view of the golden city of Jaisalmer.

2) Havelis – the best of Jaisalmer attractions

Your Jaisalmer sightseeing will not be complete without a visit to these huge ostentatious mansions of the merchants and ministers or the Havelis. The unique architectural designs and the splendid interiors give you an insight into the life back then. Among the many, the three popular ones in Jaisalmer are  – Patwon ki Haveli, Salim Singh ki Haveli and Nathmal ki Haveli.

Patwon ki Haveli Jaisalmer - one of the must-visit places of the golden city
Patwon ki Haveli Jaisalmer – one of important places to visit in Jaisalmer

Patwon ki Haveli is my personal favorite, and I would rate a visit to this higher than even the Golden Fort. The stunning exteriors and even more stunning interiors had me captivated. I could have done with some more time here as there is just lots to see. The Haveli was owned by a merchant – Guman Chand Patwa. It isn’t one single home but a cluster of 5 huge ones – one for each of his sons. One can witness the gorgeous mirror ceilings, the intricately carved balconies, the various rooms and sections, their homewares and more. All these can be experienced through this tour of Patwon ki Haveli.

Salim Singh Ki Haveli Image Credits: Ralph Kent Via Flickr under CC- by NC-SA-2.0
Salim Singh Ki Haveli                                                                        Image Credits: Ralph Kent Via Flickr under CC- by NC-SA-2.0

Salim Singh ki Haveli was built by the minister Salim Singh. The same guy I had mentioned earlier in my article on the Ghost town of Kuldhara. No matter how villain like he was, his Haveli is just unique. The roof of the haveli is designed like a peacock and each of its 38 balconies is said to have distinct patterns carved upon them. The unusual architecture of Salim Singh’s haveli is what puts it on the list of the best places to visit in Jaisalmer.

Nathmal Ki Haveli Image Credits: Garret Ziegler via Flickr. under CC by NC-ND 2.0
Nathmal Ki Haveli                                                                          Image Credits: Garret Ziegler via Flickr. under CC by NC-ND 2.0

Nathmal ki Haveli is partially occupied but nonetheless, worth a visit. It was built by a Diwan or Prime Minister. The Haveli is famed for its huge life-sized elephants that greet its visitors at its entrance.

3) Experience the Eerie with ghost towns & ghost forts

A Pavilion at Kuldhara Village of Jaisalmer
A Pavilion at Kuldhara Village of Jaisalmer

If you have missed my earlier post on the Eerie town of Kuldhara, now is the time to go through it. Just on the outskirts of Jaisalmer, this town was the home to the Paliwal Brahmins. A bustling town that was abandoned overnight and left cursed that no one could inhabit later. What remains today are stories that the crumbling walls whisper, the desolate streets and the remains of what the former inhabitants left behind. Definitely, a place, to experience once and relive the tale of the cursed village.

If this is not eerie enough, then you must visit the Khaba fort that was home to the same Paliwal tribe. There is a museum that houses the various artifacts that the villagers left behind. The place has little human activities but you are sure to find a lot of peacocks and if you seek prior permission, you can even have breakfast here with them.

Both these destinations are away from the main city. Plan to visit them when heading or coming back from your desert camps in Jaisalmer.

4) Stroll around the Gadisar Lake

Gadisar Lake Image Credits: El Tonio via Flickr, under CC by SA 2.0
Gadisar Lake                                                                                                   Image Credits: El Tonio via Flickr, under CC by SA 2.0

The lifeline of Jaisalmer, the credit for building and preserving this artificial lake is given to Maharawal Gadsi Singh. Built around the 1300s, this is one of the few surviving heritage lakes of Rajasthan. Gadisisar or Gadisar lake makes a lovely outing as it gives you a different atmosphere from the rest of Jaisalmer. The beauty of this lake is enhanced by the lovely heritage buildings around its banks – the temples and the Chhatris.

If you happen to be in Jaisalmer around December to February, you are bound to spot quite a few migratory birds. You can just stroll around or go for a boat ride while you enjoy the amazing sights around this heritage lake. And yes, don’t miss its ornate entrance – Tilon ki Pol -a gate built by a court dancer when the King was away.

5) Discover Bada Bagh – a must visit Jaisalmer attractions

One of the things to do in Jaisalmer is to visit Bada Bagh
One of the best things to do in Jaisalmer is to visit Bada Bagh

Walking along the parallel rows of cenotaphs made for the Bhatti dynasty of Jaisalmer can be quite an experience – mysterious, wonderous, happy and yet sad. Bada Bagh evoked a mixed bag of emotions for me as I visited them. A part of Jaisalmer that seems to be ignored but in reality, is too beautiful to be left behind. Bada Bagh is a definite recommendation from my side and to know more about it, I urge you to go to this post of mine. The stone cenotaphs have a fascinating story of their own. If you are bitten by a shutterbug, you must definitely add this to your places to visit in Jaisalmer – especially during Sunset when you can get some gorgeous shots of this heritage landscape.

Bada Bagh can also, be visited when heading to the desert camps in Jaisalmer. You can plan to stop by and see them enroute.

6) Jaisalmer sightseeing with a temple trail

Jain Temple opposite the Palace in Jaisalmer Fort
Jain Temple opposite the Palace in Jaisalmer Fort

You do not have to be religious to try this out. Just being an art and heritage lover will do. Jaisalmer has some amazing temples – especially Jain temples. You can start this trail with the seven 15th century temples within the Jaisalmer Fort and then, go further to the gorgeous ones in Lodhruva. While you are at it, go to the border of India to see the miraculous Tanot Mata temple. This is something I really wanted to do, but missed it.

The Tanot Mata temple is indeed a “Temple of miracles” for it is the only place that remained unaffected by the bombing during the Indo Pak War. So unaffected, that even the bombs that fell around here, remained un-exploded. Don’t believe me? Head over and see it for yourself at the museum in this temple.

The temples in Jaisalmer fort can be covered when you are visiting the fort itself. However, Tanot Mata temple needs a trip away from the city and hence, should be done along with Khaba fort or the desert camps of Jaisalmer.

7) Shopping in Jaisalmer

Check out the best places to shop with this travel guide to Jaisalmer
Check out the best places to shop with this travel guide to Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer is a perfect place to empty your pockets and buy some lovely Rajasthani artifacts to take back home with you. From artifacts like lamps and clocks to beautiful bedspreads and the colorful Rajasthani puppets, you are bound to find something that will add to the charm of your home. Alternatively, you can choose something for yourself –  from charming trinkets to vibrant kurtas and ghaghras or even colorful bags.

Shopping in Jaisalmer. Fossil Stone at the right hand bottom
Shopping in Jaisalmer. Fossil Stone at the right hand bottom

One unusual thing that I found in Jaisalmer was the fossil stone – a triangular stone that helps in fermenting your milk to curd. These are available across shops in Jaisalmer. You can get a glimpse of them in the picture above (the right-hand corner has the stones)

To shop, you can head to the shops around the fort and the ones within it as well. Remember to bargain well. The other place that I would recommend is the Handicrafts shop near Patwon ki Haveli.

8) Blend into the culture of Rajasthan

Rajasthani Music on the Streets of Jaisalmer
Rajasthani Music on the Streets of Jaisalmer

You don’t have to walk too far to do this. You will find music and drama all around Jaisalmer, starting with the fort. Watch out for those street puppet shows and musicians who can completely enthrall you with their antics and melodies.

Cultural Show at the Jaisalmer Desert Camp
Cultural Show at the Jaisalmer Desert Camp

The themed hotel stays and desert safaris have a complete show organized for their guests – from dancing to singing and more. Don’t forget to photograph yourself in the traditional outfits when you get an opportunity to do so. A perfect memory for life.

9) Experience the Sunrise and Sunset over the Dunes

Experience Sunrise in the desert - one of the recommended things to do in Jaisalmer
Experience Sunrise in the desert – one of the recommended things to do in Jaisalmer

All of us have experienced magical sunsets and sunrise over the mountain and oceans. However, experiencing them amid the dunes is just something else. For this, you need to do a desert stay either at the famed Sam Dune or to the lesser known but more rustic Khuri.

Fun with Camels at Sam Dunes
Fun with Camels at Sam Dunes

The desert stay can be fun – with its cultural night, a camel safari or some dune bashing in the jeeps. You should also, try sleeping on the dunes to watch the twinkling clear night sky.  Me? I tried them all but the most blissful moment for me was the crack of dawn when the red ball arose from beyond the dunes to light up the world.

10) Become a foodie

Rajasthani Meal
Rajasthani Meal

Jaisalmer is bound to bring out the foodie on you. Go for a food trail and try out the authentic Rajasthani dishes – from the simple Bajri Roti to Dal Baati Churma. The best part is that you do not really have to look far as there are restaurants all around you to help you experience it all. We found one, right on the main road, close to the Patwon ki Haveli – called Jodhana Restaurant. The place was small but had the most amazing Bajri ki Roti and Gatte ki Sabzi. We topped that up with some mouthwatering Churma. A meal that we will never forget. When here, remember to sample the specialty sweet of Jaisalmer – Ghotua here.

What are your favorites from this list? And if you have been to Jaisalmer, have you tried all these out? Comment in and let me know, while you share this post and pin around for all those who might need a guide to Jaisalmer.

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Travel Tips

  • Jaisalmer is a desert town and hence, it gets a little warm during the day while extremely cold at night. Hence, keep some light cotton outfits for the day and some warm woolen clothes for the night. Given that there is plenty of walking to be done, flat shoes are advised.
  • When going in for a desert stay, you might want to carry comfortable shoes or slippers that can allow the sand to slide out easily.
  • You might also, want to carry some snacks when going in for a desert stay as these are quite far from the city. There are no shops close by.
  • When buying from street vendors, please bargain to half the rates and check your purchase before leaving the stores.
  • If traveling to Jaisalmer by train, remember to book and reserve your seat well in advance. These trains tend to get quite full.
  • When visiting the various attractions, remember to note their opening and closing times. Some Jaisalmer attractions like the Kuldhara Village are not open post evening hours while some like the Khaba fort open only at midday.
  • Jaisalmer is a town close to the border of India and hence, there are certain areas that have restrictions.  The area beyond the Tanot Mata temple being one such area. Beware of people who promise you access to these areas as they may not be authentic.

Booking Resources

  • You could use Booking.com for booking your Jaisalmer hotels.
  • Klook.com offers some interesting tours of the Jaisalmer fort that include a night walks and a food tour. Use the respective links to see the details and book them online.
  • GetYourGuide is another resource that has tours and cab transfers listed on their site and you can get an instant confirmation for the same.
  • Amazon is a lovely option to pick up all that you need for your home and travel. Do consider using this link to shop online.
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.
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