No1 Budget backpackers guide to Jaisalmer
Tucked away in the far west of the country is one of Asia’s most extraordinary sights. Here you will find a town that looks like lots of sandcastles that have been built around one enormous sandcastle that dominates the skyline from the rock it clings so tightly to. What’s even more surreal is the intricate carvings that adorn so much of the town. Quite frankly, if this place does not impress you, I don’t know what will.
My backpackers guide to Jaisalmer is aimed at helping my readers get the most out of their time in this whimsical corner of the universe. The town features on many of our itineraries, and so it should. It is steeped in history with a unique culture unlike that you will find anywhere else in the country. If that is not enough the harsh deserts around are home to a variety of rare and unusual wildlife. With all this, it is hard to imagine what else you could be looking for in a holiday destination?
Jaisalmer fort began construction by the Hindu Rajputs in 1156 AD, and astonishingly their descendants still live in the fort today, as around 3000 people still call this place home. Walking up the steep ramparts into this ancient masterpiece will surely blow you away. The labyrinth of tiny streets branch off in every direction, and every time you turn the corner, each road is as beautiful as the last. There is a distinct feel of timelessness here as you see the local people go around there normal lives in what looks like a museum.
The fort is packed with things to draw any visitors attention. Whether it is the temples that dot the streets or the beautiful courtyards surrounding them, or maybe it is the views from the battlements that catch your eye, one thing you can bet on is something will.
As you walk up the ramparts, the path opens out into the central market place, and as you turn around and look up, you will see the crowning glory, Jaisalmer Palace. The beautifully carved everything is an incredible labour of love. I remember being quite speechless the first time I saw the enormous honeycomb-like structure that greeted me when I arrived here.
The town below is pocketed with many intricately decorated Havelis, and you can’t help but be taken in by the detail on every door and window. Jaisalmer is also is the gateway to the Thar desert, where many tourists will get ready to embark on a journey into the desert on top of a camel. Whether you are just going to watch the sunset over the dunes or a multi-day jaunt in the sand, this is where it all starts.
With all of this to keep the Intrepid backpacker busy there is so much for me to cover with my post a Budget backpackers guide to Jaisalmer. So let us not waste time and get down to it so you can get the most out of you precious time here.
Jaisalmer – The rose in the desert.
I will start by discussing the many attractions there are around town, and I think the logical place to start is in the mighty fort. First of all, the whole area barring the Maharajahs palace and the temples are entirely free to get inside, and this is because it is one of the worlds only living forts. Since it became a Unesco world heritage site in 2013, there has been mounting pressure for the people who reside there to move out.
Consequently, despite many businesses operating within its confines, most guide books do not advertise hotels and guesthouses inside. Water seepage, inadequate drainage and the general ware and tare of living in a place that’s hundreds of years old is causing substantial damage. If this carries on the whole building faces collapse.
Personally, I see it in another way, the families who have lived in the fort have done so since time immemorial, so it seems unfair to ask them all just to leave and keep it as a tourist attraction. We guests in their home after all right? I always stay in the fort and offer my money to the families who live inside. This is an ethical choice; each one of us will have to make when we visit. Whatever the case may be for you, visiting here can feel like you have travelled back in time and is not to be missed even for a day trip.
The fort palace is magnificent in every sense of the word. It is a hefty 500 rupees to get in and 100 rupees for the camera but is so worth it to walk around this ancient work of art. It is an impressive seven stories tall, and the views from the top of the surrounding countryside are breathtaking.
The fort plays host to a couple of outstanding Jain temples. The artisans in their creation were paid based on how much dust they accumulated from there artwork. As a rule, if a man’s paycheck depends on that, you can predict the end product will be incredible. These tiny temples cost 200 rupees entrance and 50 rupees still cameras. These temples can’t fail to impress, as every doorway and window is intricately carved and for useful information on Jainism and its history in Jaisalmer-checkout this thoughtful and insightful post.
Walking south-east of town, you come to the small Gadi Sagar. A tiny lake with some beautiful examples of Rajasthani architecture that’s fun to stroll around. As it is the only water source for miles, it attracts a lot of birds that add to its appeal, Well for me anyway. The lake is popular with domestic tourists, and there are numerous pedal boats in the shape of plastic swans that have appeared over the years? So this can make photography a little tricky. There is no cost to enter the lake, and you are free to walk around it.
There is a small temple at the back that is manned by a Baba who will charge you for entrance, but the view from this temple is probably one of the best in the whole city.
There are also several beautifully carved Havelis that you can enter and, these are well worth the meagre fees that the residence ask for to see their homes. Well, they are not that meagre. Actually, some are as much as 200 rupees but still worth it none there less to see these timeless works of art. The prices are just estimates as they are all privately owned, and that means they can pretty much just make the prise up. The Most notable are the Patwa-ki-Haveli and the Nathmal-Ki-haveli. Both are in the village below the fort and marked on the map above.
Another thing to do here and many travellers want to give it a whirl, is Bhang. To us that is Cannabis buds ground down to a paste and mixed with yoghurt generally. Its also converted into cookies that many tourists decide to invest in to take on the camel safaris. Bhang is entirely legal in the state of Rajasthan and many locals people use it to “meditate.”
If it sounds like something you want to try. The humble little shop that has a licence to sell weed to tourists is near the main gate, on Gopa chowk across from the police station ironically. It is so unusual and famous, so it would have been rude for me not to mention that.
Budget a good week here for you to take in Jaisalmer and organise a camel trek in the countryside. There is no point coming here for a couple of days as you will sell yourself short and that would be a real shame.
Getting a nights rest.
My favourite choice by far is Hotel Desert. They don’t seem to have there own website, so I am unable to offer a link, but you can use www.booking.com to secure a room if you go in the busy season.
A very friendly owner whose family owns the hotel has lived inside the fort for generations. There is a rooftop restaurant that serves tasty food, and there are rooms to suit every budget. Some even overlook the battlements of the fort, and that is immensely romantic. Most importantly, Ajit the owner knows how to organise a camel safari at a very reasonable rate. Camel safaris vary significantly on quality and what your end experience will be. I have been on many with Ajit, and they have always have had a really good.
He takes customers past the vast wind turbine farms that are an eye saw although an excellent sauce of renewable energy. If I am honest, they can ruin your desert experience. Even if you choose not to follow my suggestion, please select your tour operator carefully as that will make a world of difference.
Catching a camel.
The camel safaris themselves take you into another world and not just because you might have bought some Bhang. Culturally it is very different from elsewhere in India, and you will venture into villages that are slowly beginning to mix with Pakistan. Most are Hindu and have had to learn to cope with very harsh conditions. So don’t get too offended when the children in these communities ask for chocolate or one pen. Oddly it is very rich in wildlife, and I have seen Blackbucks, hyenas, Lamagyas, desert foxes, gerbils, vultures, owlets and the soft scaled viper to name a few.
Most trips into the desert go to Kuri or Sam Sand dunes, and these are overcrowded places to take you and will also ruin your desert experience. Ajit takes you far away and often even in the busy season you are the only ones on these enchanting roads. To get off the beaten path, you have to go for multiple days. Try three days two nights to start, as the harsh conditions despite the guides best attempts are also harsh on you. Not washing, sand getting everywhere, the glaring sun, and always having to poo in the great outdoors can become taxing.
But there is nothing better than sleeping on the dunes next to a campfire while looking up at the stars. Going into the Thar desert is an experience, unlike any other, you will have in India, and it would be a shame to miss out.
I will say that riding a camel for days on end can be super hard on your hamstrings and can quickly become painful. With the camel saddle and all of your supplies, you can find your legs spread much more extensively than you will be on the average horse. After hours at a time of this, it can bring tears to your eyes.
If you are struggling, get off and walk. Take your camel for a stroll, and I would imagine you would both appreciate the benefits of that. I usually spend more time walking with my trusty stead than actually riding it. There is no other way to make your way to these parts with-out employing the help of camels, and that always makes me think just how far outside my natural element I actually am.
Rajasthan may be a harsh place to live, but it is brimming with life and a cultural wonderland. For all those who take the time to visit, you are unlikely to leave it without memories that will surely last a lifetime. The best place to get a feel for this by far is deep in the desert. Oddly even in today’s world, many of those villages are still only accessible by camel as there are no roads. Whatever you choose if you come all the way out here, it would be a real shame to miss out on getting on a camel and coming to see even a little bit of it yourself, because this is a genuine wonderland.
Getting a bite to eat.
Ok, this section is going to be short! I have been to Jaisalmer at least a dozen times, and I cannot find anywhere I could say well that is excellent food. I have read many peoples blogs that mention the Italian restaurants here are amazing and I would say the same. Still, I always want to be completely honest with my readers, and I don’t want to recommend somewhere just because otherwise this section would be empty. If you’re honest with yourself, how good would you imagine Italian food in the middle of the Indian desert actually is?
The whole town is powered on tourism, so that is who they cater for. You can get pizza and pasta just about anywhere, and that is what to expect. You are not here for the excellent food so just enjoy the rest of this incredible place. Although dinning in the evening under the stars, while looking up at the whimsical looking palace and surrounded by candlelit lanterns is quite magical. It is really more about the setting, though.
In the event, you do find something in Jaisalmer please feel free to leave your review in the comments section below.
Getting there and away.
First things first let me address the hustle that is sure to greet you and probably before you even arrive here. As I said, this town is powered on tourism, and it is a competitive market. As sad as it is to tell if a complete stranger starts talking to you on the train or bus as you approach Jaisalmer, it is probably a lengthy sales pitch. I find just saying you have a booking is enough, but sometimes it can take a very long time to get to the point. So you might want to drop that in early in the conversation if you are not interested. On arrival, it can be overwhelming, especially from the train station.
If you want to look around before you commit just request you are taken to the fort entrance, and there is accommodation in every direction. However, the price for your Auto can increase dramatically if there is no sale. Another option is if you arrive by government bus simply walk into town as it is not far at all. If you arrive by train, you are out of luck on that one. Another option is to phone your hotel, and someone will probably meet you, and this can save a massive headache. If you decide to stay in the hotel desert you can be confident someone will be there to meet you.
There are connections from the RSRTC bus stand throughout the day to many big cities in Rajasthan such as Jodhpur via Osian. There are plenty of private bus companies dotted around town if you are looking for something a little more comfortable. I have found the problem with private busses is that they tend to drop you on the outskirts of your chosen destination and that puts you on a losing foot when negotiating the cost of a taxi because probably you won’t have the slightest idea where you are.
There are several trains of use from the tiny train station, and there is also a ticket booth that is dedicated to tourists, and that means access to the tourist quota. To find out what that means for you to check out my post about getting around the subcontinent. I will say right now though if you plan on using the train to leave again book your ticket before you leave the station otherwise, you will have to pay for a taxi there and back when you do decide you want to go.
Some of the more useful trains are the 14660 to Delhi, and that leaves at 6.45 AM. There is also a later train to Dehli at 5 PM, and that is train number 14660. Don’t use this one if you are heading to Jaipur as it will turn up in the middle of the night, and that is no use to you. There is also train number 12467 to Bikaner, and that leaves at 11.55 PM. The problem with this train is you will have to pay for a nights stay in Jaisalmer on top of the cost of the ticket unless you want to sit around for hours with your bags somewhere.
In summary of my post No1 Budget backpackers Guide to Jaisalmer.
If it is desert you want, then this town has it all and more, a flamboyant culture, breathtaking scenery, exotic wildlife and stunning architecture. I think it is not hard to see why I had to write such a long post for this and well done for getting to the end. I think I have covered most things tourists would be interested in knowing and if I missed anything and you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to ask. This wraps up my article on this magnificent town. So until the next time my fellow Intrepid travellers, happy trails.
If you come before the impending monsoon, you will face the chance of sandstorms. While that is fine in the city, but I wouldn’t want to be in the desert trying to sleep when one strikes.Follow me on social media 🙂