Despite our late start from Jaipur we arrived in Jaisalmer right on time at 11.15am. We got off the train and the platform was calm with not a tuk tuk or taxi driver in sight. The station was open air and the sky was so blue, I thought we might be able to enjoy a relaxing stay here. We exited the station and were immediately surrounded by six drivers all shouting at us to get in their tuk tuk. So much for our relaxing stay in Jaisalmer! It really was ridiculous the scene these guys were making, they were like rabid dogs attacking their next meal, and if I could I wouldn’t have chosen any of them. But it was hot, our guesthouse was 2kms away and we had to get a ride. So I just pointed at one guy and we were off.
Our ride cost us 90 rupees, which apparently was a great deal because, according to the official looking guy in the car park at the station, it costs tuk tuk drivers 50 rupees every time they enter the grounds of the fort. Of course, this turned out to be compete bullshit and is just another example of being lied to in order to get a bit more of our money into their pocket.
We got out of the tuk tuk within the walls of Jaisalmer Fort and made our way to our ridiculously cheap guesthouse that we would call home for our two nights here. Our room came to the grand total of $AU9 per night, and despite not having any AC which is a little odd in the middle of the desert, it was a pleasant enough room with everything we needed. Jeetu, the guy who owns and runs Ganesh Guesthouse, was a lovely man and helped us anything we needed without the slightest hint of wanting anything in return. As such we bought and booked everything we could through him.
Jaisalmer is exactly what you imagine an Indian town in the middle of the desert would be like, with the impressive fort dominating the skyline, rising out of the ground like a giant sandcastle. In fact, the entire fort is made from sandstone, and when the sun is setting the fort turns and incredible golden colour which makes it almost impossible to see from a distance as it blends in seamlessly with it’s surroundings.
Here are a few of the things we got up to while we were here:
Jaisalmer Fort is fully operational with shops, hotels and restaurants operational catering for the masses of tourists who come here every year. We stayed in a guesthouse that overlooked the top of Jain Temple, one of the areas top attractions. All of the narrow lane ways and paths are paved with stone, lined with the usual businesses you’d expect to see at a tourist attraction. But it’s much quieter than the hustle and bustle of life outside the fort, so you can escape the noise either exploring the narrow lanes or on one of the many rooftop restaurants.
Cars are not allowed to drive beyond the main square within the fort which keeps noise levels down, but there are still plenty of motorbikes beeping at you from all angles to remind you you’re still in India! We spent a few hours each day just wandering around, trying to discover a lane way we hadn’t visited yet, but it’s not huge so you cover them all off pretty quickly.
There are three famous Haveli’s outside of the fort within the township that we tried to find, but given no one seems to have a map, it was very difficult. Haveli is an Indian word meaning ‘mansion’ and was where rich people lived. Now most are converted into hotels, but some are still homes or have been converted into museums. The three main Haveli’s in Jaisalmer are:
- Patwa-ki-Haveli: The biggest of the three main Haveli’s, it was the first of many built in Jaisalmer and was the catalyst for the town’s initial growth. This was in fact five Haveli’s blended into one!
- Nathmal Ji Ki Haveli: It’s unusual because the Haveli was built by two brothers who started different sections at the same time, and with no instruments to ensure each section of the Haveli was being built precisely the same size, at completion it had an irregular shape. Despite this it is still considered the best Haveli in Jaisalmer.
- Salim Ji Ki Haveli: It’s architecture is unique as the roof has been constructed in the shape of a peacock.
We strolled around town trying to find them, but was only successful in finding Salim Ji Ki Haveli. If you have a map or a guidebook, we’ve been reliably informed the others are very easy to find!
A desert safari on camelback
We decided to take advantage of our stay in the desert by joining a camel safari. We were collected at 3pm, driven by jeep into the desert for two hours with a short stop at a gypsy village on the way, then boarded our camels for a one hour ride to our final destination. Upon reaching the sand dunes our guides prepared a freshly cooked Indian feast of naan bread, a potato based curry, and rice. There were also home made Indian chips on the menu, and for those brave enough some sort of chilli sauce was brewed up as well. I did not attempt that!
There were seven in our party, plus the guides. Three were from Spain, one from Switzerland, and the Applefords from Australia. It was a great trip and one I highly recommend. Part of the reason we embarked on this adventure was to meet as many people from different parts of the world as possible, to find out about how they live their lives and learn as much as possible. Not to mention we’ve now made new contacts in Spain for when we arrive there later in 2015.
It was a wonderful experience, heading into the desert and enjoying the peace that comes with not having anyone around for kilometres and kilometres. Read all about our camel safari in full detail, along with some great images of our adventure.
Explored the town outside the fort
While exploring the inside of the fort with all its narrow alleys and impressive buildings is like stepping back in time to a bygone era, wandering the streets of the township is not that great. There are some decent sites dotted around the place such as the Havelis listed above, but for the most part it’s a dusty old town with run down buildings and dirt streets.
However it is fascinating to see people going about their daily lives in places like this – locals zipping around on their motorbikes, beeping their horns at anything that even remotely looks like it might be venturing into their path (but most often isn’t); shopkeepers looking for any opportunity to sell anything to anyone who makes eye contact for just a fraction of a second; male friends walking around hand in hand, or groups of women dressed in their traditional saris fawning all over Jack.
There’s a couple of busy market areas, but the busiest is at Gandhi Chowk. Here you can buy pretty much anything a tourist to India could ask for. Strangely there’s also a high number of mobile phone shops throughout the town.
Indulged at Kanchan Shree ice-cream shop
Jack and I went walkabout for a couple of hours while Sarah worked one morning, and we’d been told by a Belgian we’d met the night before about some of the world’s best ice-cream ever produced right here in Jaisalmer. The shop was called Kanchan Shree Ice-Cream, so we asked Jeetu from our hotel where to go and he pointed us in the right direction.
When we arrived we ordered some of the local lassi drink, which basically tastes like drinking yoghurt, and a strawberry milkshake with ice-cream. The lassi drink came with sultanas in it which was quite nice and unexpected, but it as the strawberry milk that blew our minds. The milk was delicious, as you’d expect, but the strawberry block of ice-cream was unbelievable. It was so good we order a serve of chocolate ice-cream on it’s own afterwards which was somehow even more delicious. It had little chic chips within the ice-cream, and we devoured it in no time at all. The servings aren’t huge, but it’s so cheap you’ll be able to eat plenty. Our bill came to 105 rupees (about $AU2) so we were very happy.
We were told to visit Gadsisar Lake so we ventured down there by tuk tuk on our final afternoon in town. I was picturing a place with a nice bank to have a picnic on, beautiful clear water to have a swim, and a relaxing place to escape the noise of the town. Instead what we found was a ruinous former palace and temple complex in a bad state of disrepair, laying in what is now a man made lake filled naturally with the yearly rains. We were told the water used to be crystal clear for people to swim and drink from, but in the mid-1970’s catfish were introduced to the lake which had a detrimental effect on the cleanliness of the water. Decades of rubbish being thrown in by locals hasn’t helped either!
I could appreciate the history behind the site, which our young tuk tuk driver brilliantly explained to us in great detail, but again I was saddened it had been reduced to a dirty pool of water and crumbling buildings of significance because of local neglect.
We didn’t get in to see Jain Temple during our stay, we’ve been to see many temples already and the thought of paying 200 rupees each ($AU4) to see another one didn’t really appeal to us. So we gave it a miss, but from all reports it’s very impressive and if temples are your thing you should definitely check it out.
Jaisalmer has definitely been one of the highlights of our trip to India, right up there with Udaipur as the best places we’ve been so far. They’re two very different towns, but staying inside a fort, exploring the desert on camelback and exploring the dusty old town time forgot has been fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable. I recommend making sure you get out to the western town of Jaisalmer if your planning on visiting India any time in the future.
Check out a photogallery of our stay in Jaisalmer below…