In a remote part of Rajasthan's Thar Desert, the fabled 12th-century city of Jaisalmer ignites the imagination with its otherworldly sandstone structures. It's impossible not to wonder what lays behind their facades! Fortunately, the museums in Jaisalmer provide an extraordinary opportunity to go inside some of the most elaborate dwellings and be immersed in the lives of the people who once resided there. You'll also be able to learn all about the lives of common folk in the desert and the region's surprising geological past that produced wood and marine fossils millions of years ago.
Jaisalmer's most spectacular noble haveli (mansion) has been turned into a private museum that showcases the lifestyle of the city's Patwa family, who were wealthy Jain brocade merchants. The family built the mansion in the early 19th century, along with four others in the cluster. All up, it took more than 50 years to complete, and when you see the architecture, it's not hard to understand why. The haveli's lofty, ornate exterior is covered in the most astonishing delicate ornamental lattice carvings. Inside, gorgeous murals and glass inlay work decorate the walls. Each room has been set up with antique furniture, utensils, and accessories to recreate how the Patwa family lived. Don't miss the panoramic view of the city and fort from the rooftop. There's a textile and handicraft shop on the way out too. Allow at least an hour to explore the museum, and hire a guide for detailed insights into its history.
Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Entry tickets cost 100 rupees ($1.38) for locals and 250 rupees ($3.45) for visitors, plus a 40 rupee ($.55) camera fee. The haveli is a photographer's delight, so it's worth paying the fee.
The erstwhile royal residence inside the Jaisalmer fort is also a museum with eclectic exhibits depicting the city's heritage. Its structure is simpler than that of Jaisalmer's noble havelis. Not all of the palace is open to the public, but you'll be able to wander through the rooms where visitors were entertained and the separate quarters of the king and queen. Some rooms, such as the king's bedroom, are more lavish than others. Highlights include the king's silver throne, a gallery of 15th-century sculptures, antiques such as paintings, stamps from the former princely states in Rajasthan, and a section on Jaisalmer’s annual Gangaur festival procession. The palace overlooks Dussehra Chowk, the fort's main square, which has a white marble throne and saffron handprints of the royal women who committed sati (self-immolation) there when the fort was attacked.
Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Entry tickets cost 100 rupees ($1.38) for Indians and 500 rupees ($6.90) for foreigners, plus a 100 rupee ($1.38) camera fee. An audio guide is included.
Baa Ri Haveli Museum
Curious about everyday life in Jaisalmer fort? You can discover what it was like from the 15th century until now at this museum near the fort's Jain temple complex. The 450-year-old mansion that has become the museum premises originally belonged to Hindu priests who advised the king. Descendants recently restored and transformed the mansion and filled it with a carefully curated range of artifacts covering all aspects of fort life, from cooking to clothing. Each room has a different story to tell, and there's a beautifully preserved little temple on the property too.
Opening hours are 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Expect to pay 50 rupees ($.69) to enter.
Eminent local historian, folklorist, and author Laxmi Narayan Khatri founded this compact museum in 2006 to display his personal collection of objects dedicated to Jaisalmer's desert heritage and way of life. It includes ancient marine fossils, weapons, manuscripts documenting business transactions between local merchants and travelers from Asia, coins, paintings, utensils, instruments, costumes, information about customs such as opium consumption, and rituals to be followed during birth, marriage, and death. Khatri also owns the nearby Desert Handicraft Emporium to promote folk embroidery work.
Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Entry tickets cost 80 rupees ($1.10) for locals and 100 rupees ($1.38) for visitors.
Jaisalmer Folklore Museum & Desert Cultural Center
This is another small but interesting museum that's the culmination of one man's lifelong effort to document and preserve the region's desert culture. It was founded in 1997 by retired local history teacher Dr. Nand Kishore Sharma. The evening puppet show is the biggest attraction. However, the museum also houses the founder's collection of old Rajasthani musical instruments, turbans, textiles, photographs, and a souvenir shop where the founder's books about the social customs of local desert communities are available for purchase. Of particular intrigue is a traditional opium mixing box. Visit the museum along with Gadsisar Lake nearby.
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Puppet shows start at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Combined tickets for the museum and show cost 100 rupees ($1.38).
Jaisalmer Government Museum
Established by the Department of Archaeology and Museums in 1984, here's where you'll find information about the region's fascinating geological history with exhibits such as ancient marine and wood fossils. Plus, more than 70 rare sculptures from the 12th-century settlements of Kiradu and Lodurva in the surrounding desert. Lodurva was the capital of Rajput rulers before they established Jaisalmer.
Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Fridays. The museum is free to enter on Mondays. Otherwise, tickets cost 10 rupees ($.14) for locals and 50 rupees ($.69) for visitors.
Akal Wood Fossil Park
There are more astonishing wood fossils dating back 180 million years to the Jurassic Age at Akal Fossil Park, on 21 acres of abandoned land beside the Jaisalmer Barmer Highway about 20 minutes from Jaisalmer. The wood became petrified during the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent (Africa, South America, India, Australia, Antarctica). At the time, this part of India was covered in huge trees. It was later submerged under the sea. Unfortunately, many fossils have been removed from the park, but anyone interested in geology will still find it remarkable. Attractions include 25 petrified tree trunks, fossils of marine shells in the sand, and bones and teeth of prehistoric creatures.
Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Tickets cost 10 rupees ($.14) for locals and 20 rupees ($.28) for visitors.
Since it opened in 2015, Jaisalmer War Museum has become a must-visit place for patriotic Indians. The museum honors the achievements of the Indian Army after India's Independence from the British in 1947. Prominence is given to the 1965 India-Pakistan War and 1971 Battle of Laungewala, the details of which are narrated in a short 12-minute movie and an evening sound and light show. On display are military vehicles and equipment, aircraft, weapons, and war trophies. A massive Indian flag is hoisted outside the museum too.
The museum is situated near the Military Station on the Jaisalmer Jodhpur Highway, about 10 minutes from Jaisalmer. Opening hours are daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The entry fee is 30 rupees, plus 25 rupees for the movie. The sound and light show starts at 6:30 p.m. and costs 100 rupees. You can skip the movie if you're watching the sound and light show because the stories are the same.