Remotely located in far western Rajasthan, near the border of Pakistan, Jaisalmer requires effort to reach but it's definitely worth it. Rising out of the sandy Thar Desert, this astonishing golden sandstone city will transport you to another era, back when it was a stop on the Silk Route from Central Asia to China. Dominating the landscape is Jaisalmer's evocative 12th-century fort, which was once inhabited by royal rulers and is still home to a quarter of the city's residents. It's one of the last living forts in India and the world, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Find out all you need to know in this Jaisalmer guide.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Jaisalmer has an extreme desert climate with cold winter nights, scorching summer days, and very little rain. The tourist season runs from October to March during the coolest parts of the year. In January, overnight temperatures drop to around 41 degrees F (5 degrees C), but the days are pleasant, with highs usually above 68 degrees F (20 degrees C). It's not advisable to visit Jaisalmer from April through August, unless you can deal with searing daily temperatures above 104 degrees F (40 degrees C). The September shoulder season will still be hot, but it can be ideal for avoiding the crowds.
- Language: Rajasthani, Hindi, and English.
- Currency: Indian rupee.
- Time Zone: UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) +5.5 hours, also known as Indian Standard Time. Udaipur does not have daylight saving time.
- Getting Around: Much of the city can be covered on foot, so do bring comfortable walking shoes. Bicycles (useful for accessing narrow lanes and avoiding traffic bottlenecks) and motorcycles are also available for rent. Alternatively, auto rickshaws are convenient for short trips and can be readily flagged down. If you're venturing further afield into the desert, it's best to hire a taxi for the day. Rates start from around 3,000 rupees ($40). Taxi companies also offer half-day local sightseeing excursions from around 1,500 rupees ($20). App-based cab services such as Uber don't operate in Jaisalmer as of yet.
- Travel Tip: Try to catch the fun Jaisalmer Desert Festival, held over three days in late January or February each year.
Things to Do
Jaisalmer provides an incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in a piece of living history and learn about desert culture. The city revolves around the fort and has magnificent 19th-century noble mansions, ornate Jain temples dating back to the 12th century, royal cenotaphs, and a serene 14th-century man-made lake dotted with small shrines. Sunsets over the fort are spectacular, as its structure appears to merge with the desert. You'll want to devote at least a day to exploring the surrounding desert landscape, too.
- Take a guided walking tour of the fort and surrounding vicinity. Several companies offer such tours, including this insightful Fort Heritage Walk by Jaisalmer Magic. There's a labyrinth of shops, restaurants, homes, hotels, places of worship, and a museum inside the fort. It's fascinating!
- Marvel at the architecture and intricate stone carvings of Patwaon ki Haveli, Nathmal ki Haveli, and Salim Singh ki Haveli mansions. Patwaon ki Haveli is the pick of the bunch if you're short on time or money.
- Go on a camel safari in the desert, or jeep safari if you don't have an affinity for camels.
Check out our article about the top things to do in Jaisalmer for more information.
What to Eat and Drink
Jaisalmer's distinctive regional cuisine is reflective of the ingredients available in the arid desert environment. It's typically vegetarian, and utilizes a lot of pulses and hardy grains such as millet. Ker Sangri is an unusual specialty of the region, made from pickled Indigenous berries and beans that grow wild in the Thar Desert. Try Haldi ki Sabji (turmeric yogurt curry) during winter. The city's most iconic drink is a cooling Makhania Lassi (sweet buttermilk with dry fruits). Pyaaz ki Kachori, a popular snack of deep-fried pastry discs with onion filling, is sold on streets all over the city. Local sweets include Ghotua Laddoo and Panchdhari Ladoo (balls of flour, ghee, and spices). Get them from Dhanraj Ranmal Bhatia sweet shop near the fort.
You'll no doubt encounter government-authorized bhaang shops in Jaisalmer. Bhaang is a paste made from cannabis plant leafs, and it has an ancient connection with Hinduism and Lord Shiva. It's commonly served in drinks during the Holi festival. The shops in Jaisalmer sell it in cookies, cakes, and lassi (a yogurt-based shake). Be careful to consume in moderation, though, because you won't feel the effects straight away.
Jaisalmer isn't known for its nightlife or extensive range of alcohol, so your best bet for a memorable evening is to head to a rooftop restaurant or bar with fort views at sundown. Cafe the Kaku at near Sunset Point and Helsinki House hotel near Gadi Sagar are both outstanding. The Dunes Bar at the Marriott Resort and Spa is more upmarket with cocktails and fine wines.
Where to Stay
Visitors to Jaisalmer are often keen to stay within the fort, which is understandable as it certainly is alluring. However, it's important to be aware of the environmental challenges the fort is facing, particularly damage from drainage and water seepage. In addition, keep in mind that accessibility can be an issue, as cars aren't permitted inside the fort and auto rickshaws can only go up to certain points. As an alternative, there are many atmospheric accommodations for all budgets in the area below the fort, and they provide a panoramic vista of the fort from their rooftops. Tourists often spend a night or two in the desert near Jaisalmer as well. The majority of desert camps are situated around the Sam Sand Dunes. This area is very commercial, though; if noise is a concern, choose a camp that's further out from the tourist hub there, or stay in the Khuri Sand Dunes.
Jaisalmer's small airport operates out of an Indian Air Force base. It receives limited direct flights from nearby major cities such as Delhi, Ahmedabad, and Mumbai. By road, Jaisalmer is about five hours from Jodhpur and Bikaner. Expect to pay 4,000 to 5,000 rupees ($55 to $65) for a cab from Jodhpur (we recommend stopping at Pokhran Fort along the way). Regular, inexpensive buses also run from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer; tickets cost around 500 rupees.
Indian Railways train is another option. There are trains from major cities such as Delhi, Jaipur, and Jodhpur. Two of the most prominent ones are the 14659 Runicha Express from Delhi (via Jaipur and Jodhpur), and the overnight 14810 Jodhpur Jaisalmer Express. You'll need to book well in advance.
Culture and Customs
Competition for tourist business is fierce in Jaisalmer, giving rise to the prevalence of touts and scams. You'll most likely be approached by someone wanting to provide their services or sell something outside the fort entrance, at the train and bus stations, and at the sand dunes. Touts can even be aboard buses from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. Fortunately, locals have launched an anti-tout campaign to curb the harassment, but you should still be prepared to be firm in dealing with such people. Don't be swayed by their cheap prices for camel safaris and hotels, and don't believe it if they tell you your hotel has closed or burnt down. Touts and camel safari operators are also known to offer free accommodations on the Couchsurfing platform as a way of luring travelers in.
Conservative dress is most appropriate in Jaisalmer. It's respectful to keep your shoulders and legs covered. A shawl is handy to throw over a sleeveless top or dress.
Tipping isn't compulsory in India, although it's expected if you're happy with the service. A 10 to 15 percent tip is sufficient at a restaurant, or simply round the bill up on smaller amounts. Flag down the waiter to get your bill. Hotels will commonly have a tip box where you can leave gratuities for the staff.
Money Saving Tips
- The fort is free to enter and never closes. Gadisar Lake is another free attraction.
- You'll get hefty discounts from April to September if you can bear the heat.
- Research thoroughly and bargain hard to avoid being ripped off, especially when doing touristy activities such as desert safaris.
- Stay at a backpacker hostel such as Zostel.
- Hire a scooter or motorbike for the day to reduce transportation costs. Backpacker hostels provide this service at a reasonable price.
- Grab an unlimited Rajasthani thali (platter) for lunch. You'll be able to eat as much as you can for only a few dollars.
Forbes India, Jaisalmer and the Silk Route: An intimate acquaintance in the desert, March 28, 2015.
Indian Government, Know India Portal, Jaisalmer Fort.
Scroll.in, A short history of bhang in India, March 6, 2015.
Deccan Herald, Jaisalmer's "living" fort crumbling, November 19, 2018.