The magical golden sandstone city of Jaisalmer, situated in Rajasthan's Thar desert, conjures up images of an Arabian Nights fable. Be inspired by this list of must-see attractions and places to visit!
To experience the full splendor of the city, go during the annual Jaisalmer Desert Festival, usually held in early February or late January.
01 of 11
Jaisalmer Fort and Fort Palace
Jaisalmer's ethereal sandstone Fort, which resembles a massive sandcastle rising from the desert, is the city's focal point. The Fort was built in 1156 by Rajput ruler Jaisal, who also founded the city at the same time. It's one of the largest forts in the world. However, what's really remarkable about it is that it's the largest living fort in India. Around 2,500 people reside inside its walls. It's also home to numerous hotels, guesthouses, temples, handicraft stores, restaurants, and the former rulers' palatial palace. The palace is open to visitors, for a fee, and guided audio tours are available. Jaisalmer Magic runs a daily, three hour heritage walking tour through the Fort.
Unfortunately, the condition of the Fort is rapidly deteriorating as drain water is seeping into its foundations. Hence, many people now choose to stay outside the Fort in a hotel with Fort views. Choose from these 8 top hotels in Jaisalmer with fort views.
02 of 11
One of the main attractions inside the Fort is a stunning series of seven interconnected Jain temples that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Carved out of sandstone, the detail on them rivals that of the marble Jain temple complex at Ranakpur. You'll need to remove your shoes and all leather items before entering, and there's an admission fee of 200 rupees plus camera charge for foreigners. Indians pay less. The temples are open daily from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m.
03 of 11
Jaisalmer is also known for the fairytale architecture of its magnificent historic havelis (mansions), located both inside and out of the Fort. Many can be found in the narrow lanes north of the Fort. In this area, the towering 18th century Patwa Haveli is the city's biggest and most important haveli. Built by five Jain brothers, it's most impressive from the outside, with its breathtaking intricate stonework. Two sections of it are open to the public -- one is an interesting privately operated museum that's worth a look. In the same area, the distinctively shaped Salim Singh Haveli and extraordinary Nathmal Haveli are worth visiting as well. Inside Nathmal Haveli, the beautiful gold paintings are a highlight.
04 of 11
Most tourists take a camel safari -- it's the quintessential Jaisalmer experience! A camel safari will also give you the opportunity to witness the rustic, rural desert life of India. It's possible to go on a quick one day safari or a hardcore safari as long as 30 days! However, it's important that you choose the provider carefully as the safari business is extremely competitive and you definitely get what you pay for. Find out more in this guide to camel safaris in India.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
05 of 11
Sand Dunes and Desert National Park
Hordes of people head to the famous and picturesque Sam Sand Dunes, around 50 minutes west of Jaisalmer, at sunset. Cultural performances and camel rides create a carnival atmosphere. It's possible to stay at a desert camp in the area. The majority are located close to the Sam Dunes. However, there are other options that provide unique, non-touristy experiences. Check out these top Jaisalmer desert camps for glamping. On the way to the Sam Dunes, Kuldhara Abandoned Village is a worthwhile place to visit.
If you'd prefer a more peaceful desert experience, the dunes around Khuri village in Desert National Park, an hour southwest of Jaisalmer, are an appealing alternative. Accommodations are available in traditional-style huts (Badal House is recommended for an authentic local experience) and small resorts. You can go on a camel safari there as well.
06 of 11
Peacocks at Khaba Fort
If you don't mind getting up early, it's possible to have breakfast at the ruins of an old fort in the desert while marveling over the remarkable spectacle of a huge flock of peacocks coming in to be fed by a local boy. They arrive at sunrise at Khaba Fort in an abandoned Paliwal village, about 40 minutes west of Jaisalmer (towards the Sam Sand Dunes). As well as seeing the peacocks, you'll get an evocative view over the village, and can explore the fort afterwards.
07 of 11
Vyas Chhatri Sunset Point
Vyas Chhatri, on the edge of Jaisalmer north of the Fort, is dedicated to the great Brahmin sage Vyasa who authored the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. This haunting place is used as a cremation ground for Pushkarana Brahmins and contains a number of cenotaphs (empty tombs) erected in honor of notable ones. The cenotaphs are referred to as chhatris because of their domes, which look like umbrellas (chhatris). Go there for spectacular sunsets over the city.
08 of 11Jaisalmer has another group of similar looking cenotaphs, in a large unkempt garden around five kilometers further out, erected in honor of the city's royal rulers from the 16th to 20th centuries. The last cenotaph to be built is dedicated to Maharaja Jawahar Singh, who reined after India’s Independence. However, it remains incomplete due to his death a year after Independence, which was viewed as a bad omen by the family. Most intriguing are the plaques on the cenotaphs. Plaques showing both maharaja and maharani together indicate that the queen committed sati (threw herself on her husband's funeral pyre). In contrast to the cenotaphs, modern wind turbines now populate the breezy hill as well, to generate electricity.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
09 of 11Gadsisar Lake, also called Gadisar Lake, is a huge artificial reservoir that was built by Maharawal Gadsi Singh in the 14th century. It provided the only water supply to the city until 1965. The many small temples and shrines that surround the lake make it particularly inviting. Migratory waterfowl are an added attraction in winter, along with numerous catfish in the water that love to be fed. Boats are available for hire too. The lake is located on the southeast edge of the city.
10 of 11
Bhang Shop/Lassi Shop
You may be surprised to discover that bhang (marijuana) is sold openly in Jaisalmer. The renowned Lassi Shop (previously called the Government Authorized Bhang Shop), outside the first fort gate at Gopa Chowk, has been in business since 1977. It attracts a steady flow of curious customers who are served by the aptly named Doctor Bhang. There's a tempting array of bhang lassis (marijuana milkshakes) bhang cookies, cakes, chocolates and sweets, with potencies ranging from weak to strong. The safari packs, promising a smooth camel ride, are popular with travelers.Do note: make sure you go to the original bhang shop, now called the Lassi Shop, next to Trotters Travel at the fort gate. The new "government authorized" bhang shop down the street is reportedly not as good. The owners apparently bribed the officials and took the government license.
11 of 11If you're keen to lean about the history and folklore of Jaisalmer, Thar Heritage Museum is the place. This small privately operated museum was set up by the characterful L N Khatri, owner of the nearby Desert Handicraft Emporium, and he gives informative and entertaining guided tours. The museum contains an eclectic assortment of artifacts, all collected by Mr Khatri over the course of his life. They include fossils, documents, portraits, photos, sculptures, coins, manuscripts, turbans, weapons, and kitchen equipment. There's a 40 rupees entrance fee. Puppet shows are often held there in the evenings, adding to the enchantment.