A complete tour of Jaisalmer Fort

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Rajasthan | 24

The golden walls shimmered in the bright sun,
Was it a mirage?
Probably so… for with a blink of eye
It had disappeared in the sandy landscape of Thar.

For those visiting the desert city of Jaisalmer, the golden fort does appear like a mirage. As I got closer, I realized it was more than just a landmark of Jaisalmer. It was actually the soul of this city… Something that you will realize as you embark on this tour of the Jaisalmer Fort.

The topmost of Jaisalmer attractions - Golden Fort

Jaisalmer Fort is known as one of the few remaining living forts of the world. It is this unique aspect that makes it the most popular place in your list of Jaisalmer sightseeing. Through this tour of Jaisalmer Fort, you can experience not just the living world of the citadel but will also, be able to see the former glory of its past through the royal Jaisalmer Fort Palace and museum. There are tons of interesting activities that you can embark on – all of which form a part of this Jaisalmer Fort Guide. And after you have read through all that, you most likely will agree with me on why Jaisalmer Fort is the soul of this Golden City.

History of Jaisalmer Fort

Jaisalmer fort - atop the Trikuta Hill

He saw a triangular rock rising up amidst the dunes of Thar. At first he thought, it was just a giant dune but as he came closer, he discovered that it was where he had to build his new home. And thus was the beginning of Jaisalmer.

It was the year 1156 CE that Rawal Jaisal of the Bhatti clan stumbled upon Trikuta Hill and chose it as his capital. There were two major factors that led to this choice –

  • The strategic location of the hill. It towered over 250 feet, giving him a good vantage point in the barren desert
  • A prophecy by a saint about that hill. He said that it would be the descendant of Lord Krishna who would conquer the hill with his fort.

Rawal Jaisal belonged to Lord Krishna’s Yadu race. However, he conveniently chose to believe only the first part of the prophecy. The 2nd part stated that the fort would be attacked two and half times and it would lead to a lot of destruction. And so there were two and a half invasions.

The Maharwal Bhatti dynasty tree

The first one took place in the 1290s during the rule of the Bhati king – Rawal Jethsi. Alauddin Khilji retaliated in response to an attack on his caravan and caused massive destruction of the Jaisalmer fort. The attack also, led to a mass Jauhar (self-immolation) by the women in the palace. After quite a few years, the Bhati rulers returned to the Jaisalmer Fort. However, not for too long, for in 1530 AD the fort was attacked again. This time it was Amir Ali Afghan and the Bhati king was Rawal Lunkaran. What was heart-wrenching about this attack is that there was no time for the women to commit Jauhar. So Rawal Lunakaran killed them before his reinforcements arrived.

Finally, the half attack took place by the Mughal emperor – Humayun in 1541. Major devastation was averted when the ruling king married his daughter to Humayun’s son – Akbar. The Bhati dynasty continued to rule even during the time of the British as they had forged an alliance with them. The prosperity of the golden city continued until the silk route was alive. Once the British opened the ports, the merchant trade dwindled and slowly Jaisalmer lost its wealth and importance.

One of the havelis inside the living fort of Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort still lives on owing to the families who still live here. They say one-fourth of the city’s population still lives in this citadel. In 2003, the fort of Jaisalmer was finally awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status. While there is restoration still on, the fort suffers from major seepage issues, leading to certain parts like the Queen’s palace collapsing.

Despite that, it tops the list of Jaisalmer sightseeing with its gorgeous buildings. The place was featured in many movies, including a famous Bengali one called Sonar Kella ( Golden Fort) by the renowned film-maker- Satyajit Ray. As you go through this tour of Jaisalmer Fort, you will know why he chose it as his location.

The architecture of Jaisalmer Fort

A complete tour of Jaisalmer fort will take you past the three layers of walls, over the bastions and through the busy streets of the living citadel

99 bastions, 4 major gates and an area of 1500 feet x 750 feet

How can one not be impressed? The huge fort has 3 concentric walls that encloses a living city. The four gates that let you inside this fort are named – Ganesh Pol, Suraj Pol, Akshaya Pol and Hawa Pol. 60 feet tall and made with rosewood, these doors are as impressive as the fort buildings within.

Carvings on one of the gates of the Jaisalmer fort
Through Jaisalmer fort gates -the home of bats

Walking through those bat-laden gates can be a little stifling as I realized. But once past it, the sight of the carved walls and intricate buildings more than made up for that uncomfortable experience. The fort displays a mix of Mughal and Rajput architecture. As you walk through the maze of lanes, you will come across intricate Jain temples, rich Rajput havelis and finally, the royal Raj Mahal.

Inside Jaisalmer Fort -notice the olden styled stairs that lead to various homes

The beauty of all these buildings lie in the Golden sandstone that is used to construct them all. The yellow shades give the Jaisalmer Fort a unique advantage that camouflages in the desert at certain times of the day and yet, there are those early morning and late evenings when it makes the Jaisalmer fort shine like a gem. It is this that gives the Jaisalmer Fort its sobriquet – the Golden Fort or the Sonar Qila.

Jaisalmer Sightseeing within the Golden Fort

One of the watch towers of the Jaisalmer Fort

Unlike most Rajasthani Forts, your tour of Jaisalmer fort involves more than just the main palace. It is in fact, difficult to cover the entire fort in a day. However, as most of us are always short of time, here is a list of un-missable sites in this Jaisalmer Fort Guide. If you manage to cover this, you would have seen most of the fort.

  • Jaisalmer Fort Palace – Raj Mahal and its museum
  • Jain Temples
  • Laxminath Temple
  • Shreenath Haveli

Tour of Jaisalmer Fort Palace – Raj Mahal

Dussehra Chowk in Jaisalmer Fort

The Maharwal Marble throne in Dusshera Chowk of Jaisalmer Fort

Your tour of the Jaisalmer Fort Palace is likely to take the maximum time and it begins at the famous Dussehra Chowk. My first instinct was to hurry through the gates of the royal Raj Mahal but thanks to the long queue, I ended up waiting here. That was a blessing in disguise as I would have missed the royal marble throne kept on a pedestal in the square. This is where the Maharaja would sit and observe the festivities in the chowk during the festival. The little wait also allowed me to admire the intricate facade of the royal residence. The more I saw them, the more I realized how similar they were to the Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur.

The saffron handprints of the ladies who committed Jauhar in Jaisalmer Fort

Before you enter the palace, notice the saffron handprints by the main gate. These were made by the women who committed Jauhar (self-immolation) when the Jaisalmer fort was attacked. It was in this very Dusshera chowk that this event of mass self-immolation took place.

The layout of Maharwal Palace

The carved pillars at the start of my tour of Jaisalmer fort palace

The Royal Palace is referred to as Raj Mahal or the Maharwal Palace. There are two primary sections to this royal residence – the Raja’s palace and the Queen’s Quarters. Both the sections appear seamless with the maze of corridors. Unlike the other Rajasthani palaces like the Udaipur City Palace one or even the Jaipur City Palace, the Jaisalmer Maharwal Palace is devoid of huge courtyards. However, the open terraces, filigree windows, and ornamental balconies more than made up for the lack of open spaces. The residence has now been converted into a museum that showcases the erstwhile royal lifestyle.

The intricate windows and carvings of the Jaisalmer Fort Palace

One thing that disappointed me was the poor upkeep of the palace. Some sections appeared quite damp and unkempt while there were some which were enclosed within glass screens. It was only half-way during my tour of Jaisalmer fort palace that I realized that the place faced severe seepage issues owing to the weak absorption of water and a poor foundation on the sedimentary hillock. There are several attempts being made to seize this seepage and prevent the collapse of its various structures.

Deewan Khana

The silver throne kept in the Deewan Khana of the Raj Mahal of Jaisalmer Fort

Past the first set of corridors and up the stairs, you come across the first major section of the palace converted to a museum. The Deewan Khana is where the royal visitors were received and entertained. You can still see the silver throne of the Maharaja with lions for its side arms along with the silver and red velvet cushioned seats for its visitors.

The royal princes with the English King and Queen

Don’t forget to check the various paintings of the Royal family including the family tree of the Maharajas and an unusual one of the 4 royal princes with the British royalty.

Gaj Vilas inside Jaisalmer Fort Palace

The Royal palanquin kept in the Gaj Vilas of the Raj Mahal

Past the other sections like Tripolia, you come to the Raja’s palace. Called the Gaj Vilas, this section of the Jaisalmer Fort showcases the private chambers of the Maharaja. This is where you can see the exquisite stone filigree architecture of Jaisalmer Fort. The corbeled balconies, the etched jharokhas and the floral stonework along its walls are best seen in the close quarters of this palace.

The artistic windows and jharokhas of the Jaisalmer Palace
The royal bedroom preserved in Gaj Vilas

It is amazing to see how the colorful tiled chambers contrast with the monochromatic sandstone exteriors. The bedroom of Maharaja Gajendra is preserved within this section and while you admire it, don’t miss the beautiful statues kept along the corridors.

Bird’s eye view of Jaisalmer from the fort

Bird's Eye view of Jaisalmer City

Gaj Niwas is connected to the Roop Mahal and Queen’s Chambers with an open terrace and corridor. This is a must-visit part of the palace – largely because of the panoramic view it offers of the Golden city of Jaisalmer. It is here that you truly discover why it is called the Golden city.

At one end, you can see the gorgeous Bada Bagh cenotaphs. Somewhere in between the famous Patwon ki Haveli stands regal among the surrounding sandstone buildings. Walk in the opposite direction and you will spot the living part of the fort with its terraced cafes, hotels and homes.

The little pavilion on the terrace of Jaisalmer Fort
Map of Jaisalmer Fort

A small pavilion stands out as a perfect lookout place. Interesting, this is where the map of Jaisalmer fort is etched on a surface. My guess is that the particular place served as a lookout and based on the enemy advances, the generals used the map to strategize their moves.

Roop Mahal and the Queen’s Chambers

Gangaur Mata's idol in Jaisalmer Fort

Though you will pass by this section of the fort, it is out of bounds for visitors except for one or two sections that showcase the clan Goddess Gangaur. Most of the other rooms are all locked owing to the damage caused by seepage. However, the reason I added this to my Jaisalmer fort guide was because it reminded me of the desert palaces that I had seen in UAE.

Roop Mahal of Jaisalmer Fort Palace

The same sandstone open to sky corridors that ended at staircases that led to an exit out of the palace. I guess, given the similarity in the landscape and the whole culture of shielding women from the public eye was why this section giving me a feeling of deja vu. Unlike the men’s section, this part of the palace was devoid of its traditional carved windows and etched walls.

Temples of Jaisalmer Fort – next on the list of Jaisalmer Sightseeing

Jain Temple opposite the Palace in Jaisalmer Fort

Either one is overwhelmed by the tour of the Raj Mahal or has to rush away to see the other places to see in Jaisalmer. And with that, the temples inside Jaisalmer Fort are given a miss. I hate to admit this but I am one of them. I only got a glimpse of one temple but could not spare time for the others – mostly because I had to be elsewhere. Just so that you don’t make the same mistake as me, I have included the temples as an important part of this Jaisalmer fort guide.

There are 7 Jain temples inside Jaisalmer fort. Each of them is dedicated to a different Jain Tirthankaras. These temples are exquisite in terms of its architecture and interiors. These were built as a part of the deal that the rich Jain merchants made with the founder of Jaisalmer – Rawal Jaisal. The Maharaja needed money to build his citadel and the Jains of Jaisalmer had plenty to lend – owing to the riches they accumulated from their thriving trade from being a part of the silk route. The Jain merchants agreed to give the ruler money in exchange for real estate in the fort. On this land, they built 7 temples between the 12th to 15th centuries and on some their own Havelis.

The spires of the Jain Temples - as seen from the roof of Jaisalmer Fort Palace

Of the 7 temples, the one dedicated to Lord Parshwanath is a definite visit. Not only will you be treated to artistic arches and carved pillars, but will be able to witness a rare statue of the Lord made out of crushed pearls.

Besides this temple, try visiting Lord Sambhavnath’s temple – which has over 600 idols. It is said that when the silk route dwindled, the Jain merchants decided to move out of Jaisalmer. They handed over their idols to the temple for safe-keeping.

These Jain temples are rumored to have secret passages to allow the Jains to escape when the Jaisalmer fort was under attack. In addition to these secrets, it also, houses rare Jain scripts inside their premises.

Besides the Jain temples, make sure you spare a glimpse for the Laxminath temple. This is dedicated to the Goddess of wealth Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu. It was made by the Jaisalmer ruler – Rao Lunkaran in the 1890s.

Havelis of Jaisalmer fort

One of the Havelis that is converted to a hotel in the Jaisalmer Fort

The most popular havelis of Jaisalmer are actually located outside the fort walls. While you must plan a tour of Patwon ki Haveli, Salim Singh ki Haveli and Nathmal ki Haveli, but when you are inside Jaisalmer fort, you must walk around and see its share of these affluent homes. Some of these are actually grander than the Raj Mahal itself. Keep an eye out for Shreenath Haveli near the Jain temples. The ornamental exteriors will make you want to see it from inside but well! The original owners still live within and hence you can only see it from the outside.

Most of the havelis inside Jaisalmer fort are still occupied or have been converted into heritage hotels.

Shopping in Jaisalmer Fort

Shopping in Jaisalmer Fort

The oldest living fort is a great place to shop in Jaisalmer. Right from the time you enter the gates to the Dusshera chowk , you will find tons of shops enticing you to empty your wallets. The delicate trinkets and the jhoomkis are some things that I could not resist. As keepsakes, I had to buy those Rajasthani puppets and brass artifacts. One of the unique things to keep an eye out for is the Jaisalmer curd stone. This is a triangular stone that is used to make curd out of milk.

Rajasthani puppets for sale in Jaisalmer Fort

Not only do these colorful shops make the atmosphere vibrant but the local musicians at various corners add to the fiesta. It is not unusual to find them entertaining you with Rajasthani folk music that is sometimes even accompanied by puppet shows.

Jaisalmer Fort Guide to Food

The rooftop cafes of Jaisalmer Fort

The living fort of Jaisalmer has tons of cafes and restaurants that treat you to not just the local fare, but also continental food and Western dishes. What is more is that the roof top cafes are perfect vantage points for that lovely sunset over Jaisalmer. There are several local food tours take you to the most popular places to eat in and around Jaisalmer fort.

Where to stay in Jaisalmer Fort?

While I did not stay in Jaisalmer fort, you can always opt for a hotel within the living citadel. There are hotels and lodges to suit every possible budget. You will also, find loads of backpacker hostels within the premises. A few highly rated ones (as per Tripadvisor) include –

In case you are looking at other options to stay, do check out my detailed guide on Jaisalmer. This gives you options for the best stays in not just the city but also, the famed desert camps.

How to reach Jaisalmer Fort?

The living fort of Jaisalmer forms the heart of the Golden City
  • There are three ways to reach Jaisalmer – by air, road or rail. Jaisalmer airport is a defense airbase and has limited flights. Hence, remember to book the same in advance.
  • You will find regular train services between Jaisalmer and the key cities of Rajasthan. Keep in mind that most of these journeys are an overnight travel as Jaisalmer is at the far end of the state.
  • Road journeys can be planned from all the major cities of Rajasthan. The closest city by road would be either Jodhpur (280 km ) or Bikaner (330 km). Check the booking resources for any taxis or transfers that you might require.
  • Jaisalmer fort is in the heart of the city. Best way to reach it from the airport or the railway station is to hire a local auto or cab. They are easily available near these places.

Best time to visit Jaisalmer Fort

Refer to my mega Jaisalmer Guide for general tips on the best time to visit Jaisalmer city. As for Jaisalmer fort, it is open throughout the year. It is highly recommended that you stay within the premises to enjoy the fort. However, if that is not possible, do spend a day here and make sure you experience the sunset from one of the rooftop restaurants.

Jaisalmer Fort Palace has specific timings. It is open from 8 am to 6 pm during Summer and 9 am to 6 pm during winters.

Travel Tips

  • Jaisalmer fort does not have any entry fees . However, to visit the Jaisalmer museum and Raj Mahal, you will have to shell out INR 100 if you are an Indian and INR 250 if you are a foreign national. Cameras are charged extra
  • Audio guides as well as in-person guides are available at the fort palace. . Audio guides are free but you need to pay a refundable deposit at the entrance.
  • Being a desert city, expect extreme temperatures during the day and night. Keep a small shawl or sweater for the evening, especially if you are here in winters.
  • Wear flat shoes when taking a tour of Jaisalmer fort. There is tons of walking to be done.

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Booking Resources

  • Tripadvisor is a good resource to find your hotel in Jaisalmer. You can click through this link for booking the same. The site also, has a listing of tours that you can avail in Jaisalmer
  • Another useful site to do your hotel bookings in Jaisalmer is Booking.com. Do click through the given link to check them out.
  • Klook.com is a useful website for booking local tours and inter-city transfers. You can book your local food walking tour through this link. They even have one Jaisalmer temple tour that takes you around Jaisalmer fort.
  • For any of your photography or travel requirements, I recommend online shopping through Amazon. Do consider clicking through the link and browsing through the website for your home needs.
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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