So after getting locked in for about eight long months, road trip to the ‘Golden City’ Jaisalmer came in our lives like a blessing! Mere imagining ourselves on the highway with music on, uninterrupted snacking and fun along the way was giving us thrills! Come on, we all know how travelling started to seem like a distant dream during the lockdown. So, when it happened we were bound to go berserk. Moreover, the boy’s moving orders had come and we were to move to a new location so we didn’t want to leave without exploring the neighbourhood.
Although, we did have our apprehensions about travelling during the corona times but we worked it out and road trip was the safest bet. We were super cautious of everything around. Offline maps, sanitisers, tissues, wet wipes, water bottles, packed food and everything related was cross checked. The bags were packed, thrown in the boot and we were all set for our Jaisalmer adventure!
This western most beauty of India can be covered in three days but it’s purely a matter of choice and you may plan for a week to savour every little detail of this royal city overflowing with history, marvellous architecture, traditions, incredible hospitality and mysterious charm! We were there for four days and could have gladly stayed for a week if his office hadn’t been calling! No wonder people travel from far and wide come to experience the mystical Thar desert. So, let’s get started and see what all to keep in mind for your Jaisalmer trip.
When to visit
The best time to go to Jaisalmer is winters, October to March is ideal time to plan your trip. Do carry adequate warm clothes as it’s pretty chilly during the day. In fact the temperature at night can easily drop to 10 degrees, so pack accordingly, you wouldn’t want to fall sick and spoil your desert dreams!
How to reach
Jaisalmer’s airport is located within the Indian Air Force base. It is 17 km away from the city and has regular flights to Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur, Ahemdabad, Surat and Jodhpur. However, you must check for the latest updates as the flights get affected due to the security reasons. In that case you can fly to Jodhpur or Jaipur from Delhi and hire a taxi which would roughly take around 4-5 hours to reach Jaisalmer. You can also choose the train or bus option, the city is very well connected to major Indian cities. We drove down from Jodhpur and what a change in terrain and hues up in the sky! Road trips have always been our jam and we clearly can’t survive without them.
Where to stay
Jaisalmer has got something for everyone, whether you’re backpacking, have a mid range budget or want to get pampered to hilt, there’s no dearth of options. Depending on your budget, you can see what suits you.
1. Jaisalmer Marriott hotel & spa is right in the heart of the city, just 2.6km from the centre. It’s grandeur and beautiful property would make you fall in love with it. We stayed at Jaisalmer Marriot and absolutely loved the choice we made, the hotel followed all the additional protocols, ensured everyone’s safety, so the fear of corona wasn’t lingering on our minds. Imagine, staying at a place where you’re worried for your safety and hygiene every second of your stay! Although, I wouldn’t deny that this trip was quite different from the usual laid back travels of ours but it is what it is, courtesy pandemic.
2. You can check out the exquisite Suryagarh, it offers a luxurious stay if you’re looking for unforgettable desert experience, the property is about 15 km from the centre.
3. Want to go back in time and feel like a royalty! Well, check out Hotel Jaisalkot, you’d love it’s marvellous architecture exuding old world charm with modern day’s amenities.
Mid Range Hotels
How about feeling like a royalty, prancing in heritage palaces without burning a hole in your pocket? Check out these options below and enjoy the luxury escape for less. The Desert place, 3.5 km from the centre, Hotel Rang Mahal, 3 km from the centre and Casa De Kaku, 1.4 km from the centre. I’d recommend all three without a doubt!
If you’re a budget traveller you can check out Hotel Tokyo Palace, it has a small swimming pool, library and a kitchen for the guests, wow didn’t know you can get all of this in a budget! Hotel Helsinki House is another great option with great amenities and facilities. Then you have Hotel Shahi palace and Hotel Sky view located very close to the fort with great hospitality. Moreover, all these hotels have their own camel safari tours so you won’t have any problem looking for one.
My top 10 picks to do in Jaisalmer
1. Visit Laungewala
Wow what a route, the Jaisalmer-Laungewala road is spectacularly beautiful! The stretch is about 120km, and you’d find windmills, rustic hamlets, barren landscapes, thorny shrubs, camels, deer and other animals along the way. I remember pulling up our car multiple times to soak in the views and for the gram of course! Laungewala is a border village, a battleground where the 1971 war with Pakistan was fought. There’s a war museum as well where you can see captured tanks and weapons. Don’t forget to have a cup of tea there at India’s last cafe, we couldn’t because of COVID-19.
2. Check out Tanot Mata temple
It’s about 40 km from Laungwala and you’d hardly find anyone on the road. The feeling of driving on black diamonds(shiny roads because of heat) in the Great Thar Desert is unmatchable. It’s believed that the deity (the tanot mata) protected the Indian army soldiers in the war of 1965 and 1971. It is said that more than 3,000 bombs were dropped on Indian soldiers in the vicinity of the temple, but none exploded! The stories are quite interesting and the drive is absolutely stunning.
3. Wander in and around Jaisalmer Fort
I was blown away seeing this marvellously massive fort, and was amazed to know that it’s a UNESCO heritage site, in fact, the only living fort in the world! Now, isn’t that exciting? This striking golden fort still stands tall housing not only homes of localities but shops, restaurants, temples and even hotels. Walking in the narrow alleys, castle walls all around, definitely made us step back in time. There’s a nominal entry fee to visit the fort, Rs 50 per person for Indians and Rs 250 per person for foreigners. You’ll be charged Rs 50 and Rs 100 for the camera and video camera respectively. There’re plenty of rooftop restaurants and bars, coffee shops and viewpoints within the fort so you’re going to have an amazing time.
4. Watch the sunset at Gadisar lake
You can either get up early to catch the sunrise or go at sunset. It’s man-made lake and is just 2 km from the fort. You can do boating if you wish or simply immerse yourself in the beauty and tranquility of this place. By the way this place is quite famous on Instagram and that’s how even I got to know about it.
5. Explore Bada Bagh
It literally translates into big garden, it’s a cemetery for the Royal family members, located 6km from the city. It’s a huge complex situated on a small hill with beautifully carved cenotaphs, dome type structures making it one of the most visited places in Jaisalmer. There’s an eerie silence and calmness in the air here and we loved spending good amount of time here. It’s also a great place for bird watching.
6. Visit haunted village- Kuldhara
I wasn’t aware of this village until the boy told me and it was so gripping that both of us geared up to check out this ghost town which is about 20km from Jaisalmer. After filling our stomachs with delicious buffet at the hotel we set out on our spooky adventures. People believe the ghosts of Kuldhara still haunts the place. As we reached the village and parked our car, we began walking through the dilapidated lanes, an eerie feeling crept in and a medley of emotions hit me!
It is said that 200 years ago, it was a peaceful village and everything was fine until the local ruler fell for Kuldhara village chief’s daughter and wanted the girl at any cost. Failing to fulfil his demand would mean destruction of the entire village. People say the natives simply left the place overnight to save their honour and lives. They also put a curse over the village before leaving, due to which neither there have been any settlement nor has anyone been able to stay here since then. As of date, this village is protected under the authority of the Archaeological Survey of India.
7. Patwon ki haveli
Want to see the wealthy lifestyle of the desert merchants? Well come to this haveli, it’s one of the most famous and biggest havelis in Jaisalmer and truly an architectural wonder of the bygone era. It’s a group of five havelis and amongst the five, one has been converted into a museum depicting the artwork. The entry fee is 20₹ for Indians, 100₹ for foreigners and 50₹ for the camera.
8. Experience Desert Safari/Glamping
If you come to Jaisalmer and didn’t experience desert safari then did you even come to Jaisalmer? Ask your hotel for the packages and discuss all the details beforehand. Imagine having sundowners and watching the horizon kissing the never-ending desert in the evening or spending a night in the desert stargazing, getting lost in the constellations up in the sky.
9. Go rooftop and restaurant hopping
Traipsing around the city and finding cute cafés is one of my favourite things to do whenever I travel and here in Jaisalmer there’s no dearth of quirky rooftop bars and restaurants. The 360 degrees view of the golden city these open air restaurants provide is to die for! You can sit there, work if you’re a digital nomad like me, or simply marvel at the ancient city while sipping cold coffee or chilled beer. There’re endless options to try within as well as around the fort. Check out Kuku coffee shop, Halo Jaisalmer, City view café and German bakery for freshly baked Chocolate Croissant, apple pie, lemon cake, cinnamon rolls and delish cup of coffee.
10. Explore the bazaars and the streets
While casually walking around the fort area, we came across endless tiny shops selling handicrafts, jewellery, colourful clothes, leather bags and a whole wide range of other knickknacks.
There’re many markets like Manak chowk, which is right outside the fort. Bhatia bazaar for silk fabrics and other textiles. Rajasthali, a government run emporium to sell handicrafts. Seema gram for Khadi, boho tie and dye pieces, it’s also run by government and sells at pretty reasonable rates. Pansari bazaar for some ethnic goods. Sonaron ka baas for some gold and silver accessories and last but not the least the very popular Sadar Bazaar for local goods, carpets, embroidered fabric and almost everything!
Where to eat
1. Kuku Coffee Shop
The owner Tony is always ready to chat and we had random conversations from pandemic to India-China relations and Jaisalmer’s food and culture to Donald Trump haha funny I know! Do try their cold coffee and hot pakoras while enjoying the breathtaking views.
2. The Palace Restaurant
This beautiful rooftop restaurant is inside the fort having both indoor and outdoor terrace eating areas. You can relax on lounge seats, order Indian or Italian food and simply get lost in the delicious food and mesmerising views.
3. Jaisal Italy Restaurant
Wanna have bruschetta, pasta, pizza, desserts with an amazing view of the fort? Well come to this place and you won’t be disappointed. You also get Indian so whatever your tastebuds want you’re sorted. It’s right at the entrance, the first gate of the Jaisalmer fort.
4. Free Tibet Restaurant
See if you’ve tried Rajasthani food enough already then you should try something different at Free Tibet Restaurant just to confuse your palette as it wouldn’t make out whether you’re in the North-East or North-West! Try their piping hot Thukpa, noodles, chicken momos with red hot chutney and thank me later!
5. Dr Bhaang Lassi Shop
Now it’s a must do thing in Jaisalmer. Those who aren’t aware, bhaang is an edible form of cannabis and it’s legal to have in this part of the country. It’s a government approved shop, the shop owner answers all the questions like an encyclopaedia hence people started calling him Dr Bhang, how interesting! You can get bhaang lassi loaded with dry fruits, try cookies and cake. But have it in moderation as overdoing and going for camel safari or sand dunes wouldn’t be a bright idea!
My Travel Tips
1. Don’t be in hurry to cram in everything, give yourself sometime to soak in this desert city. Have at least four days in hand if you actually want to enjoy.
2. Don’t forget to include a desert camp safari, if possible stay there overnight. This can be tied up with the hotel where you plan to stay, the arrangements and everything would be done by them.
3. A drive to Longewala and Tanot shouldn’t be missed. If you want to experience the real desert then this road will take you to some virgin, unexplored sand dunes. We did a little homework and checked out Ranautar, it has some great dunes. It’s a tiny village on Ramgarh to Tanot road. Sam and other places won’t let you experience the real desert, they’re too commercialised. Not that you shouldn’t check them out but you mustn’t skip this one. You can roll in for sunset, relax while having sundowners and admire the vast stretches of the golden sands! Not to mention that the arrangements here are to be done by yourself, we took our own picnic setup.
4. Slather on the sunscreen and don’t forget to carry your scarf, hat and sunglasses irrespective of summer or winter. Ditch your heels and wear comfortable shoes as a lot of walking around is involved.
5. There’s almost no phone network on Jaisalmer-Laungewala- Tanot route so do your homework properly. Download the offline maps, keep water bottles and snacks with you. Let your friends know where you’re going so that if you get stuck, you could be tracked and helped.
We got stuck badly in the desert and how we managed to get out of that dicey situation is a whole different story altogether! I’ll write about our other adventures and misadventures of this trip soon. Stay tuned.
Have you been to Jaisalmer, how was the experience and did you cover the places I’ve mentioned above? Also, let me know if I’ve missed out on anything.
Stay safe and travel responsibly.