Once an important city along a major trading route to the modern-day tourist centre in a distant remote corner, Jaisalmer has many stories for a traveler. The fortune and fate of this city had many twists and turns. For many centuries, it acted as the India’s gateway to Persia and farther West, because of its location on a popular trade route joining South East Asia to the Western Countries. The business were flourished and the traders were rich enough to built the grand mansions and havelis.
Then, The Britishers started developing Bombay as a leading port and a commercial hub. With the rise of Bombay, the glory of Jaisalmer faded away slowly. The trade route shifted to Bombay and further via sea to the western countries. Most of the rich merchants left the city and Jaisalmer became a shadow of its glorious past.
After the partition of India in 1947, the lady luck smiled back on the city and it became an important strategic point for the armed forces in India. The government developed the road and rail networks to the city and it became a major tourist centre in the Western Rajasthan.
Jaisalmer was a part of my Solo Motorcycle Trip across the Western Rajasthan. I stayed there for 3 nights and visited many places in and around the city. Riding a motorcycle gave me the ultimate freedom to explore and experience a lot of things, that couldn’t be offered by any travel package.
Although these are the experience of a male rider, it doesn’t mean that women travellers should worry about anything. Jaisalmer is one of the safest tourist destination for the women travellers. Most of the female travellers may not ride a motorcycle in the desert, but it has plenty of other unforgettable experiences in its kitty. Hospitality is superb; people are very friendly, polite and co-operative. Being a woman shouldn’t dampen the spirit of any female traveler, while planning an ultimate trip to Jaisalmer.
Don’t expect too much, exercise some basic precaution for woman travellers and visit Jaisalmer with a positive mind. It has everything to offer; a magnificent fort, grand havelis, unique landscape, sand dunes, wildlife, desert safari, some unique sites and numerous stories describing a haunted village, a goddess miracles, an army’s valour etc. Some of the unique experiences in Jaisalmer are:
1. Accommodation Inside a Magnificent Fort: Have you ever lived inside a grand and magnificent fort? The Golden Fort (Sonar Kila) of Jaisalmer is an option to cherish this dream. Very few forts in India offer this opportunity and none of them are a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Some people also live inside Chittorgarh Fort and Kumbhalgarh Fort, but they do not offer an accommodation to the tourists). The Golden Fort of Jaisalmer is a living fort included in the list of UNESCO Heritage Sites with the other hill forts in Rajasthan. Thousands of people live inside the fort and its lanes are filled with many shops, temples, hotels and restaurants. There are plenty of budget as well as high-end accommodation options available for the tourists. Living inside the fort premises provides an excellent opportunity to glimpse the routine life of its residents.
2. Live Like a King: A grand accommodation inside the haveli or the palace is a common thing in Rajasthan. Jaisalmer also has such property to get the royal treatment during your stay in the city. Modern resort like Club Mahindra to the traditionally built palaces like Suryagarh offer some of the most luxurious stay in the city.
3.Visit to The Grand Havelis: If visiting havelis is your sole purpose, then Shekhawati Region is the right place to explore them. However, some havelis of Jaisalmer are also worth visiting. The most famous haveli is Patwon- ki- Haveli, that also houses a museum now.
To get the real taste of a haveli, and to know about its present occupants better to visit the second haveli adjacent to the famous Kothari Patwa Haveli. This abandoned haveli throws a real challenge to its visitors, when people come across thousands of the bat hanging from the ceiling inside the rooms, corridors as well as stairs. Reaching on the roof of the haveli is a big task because of these occupants, and if you are lucky to get there, you can have a panoramic view of the Golden Fort.
4. Paintings on The Front Wall of The Houses: While walking through the narrow lanes from the fort towards the Patwon-ki-Haveli, you can see a painting on the front wall of many houses.These paintings represent an important event that took place in the life of house-owner like any special prayer, marriage etc.
5. Get Familiar with Merasi Music Community: Merasi is a caste of musicians that make living by singing and performing at the temples, weddings, child-naming ceremonies and other events. Their music is a kind of Rajasthani Folk. Many years ago, they were Hindus, but when The Mughal invaded the city of Jaisalmer, they converted them to the Islam. Now, they have Muslim surnames, but because of the tradition, they sing and perform at the temples. They became a part of strange social status. The Hindus don’t consider them as Hindus, because of their surname and The Muslims don’t consider them as Muslims, because they praise Lord Krishna in their songs. Still fighting for their social status and basic rights, the Merasi community in Jaisalmer offers a good opportunity to know about the folk music of Rajasthan.
6. Ride on a Deserted Road: Riding on a well-maintained road though the vast expanding desert is a dream ride for many people. No buildings, no trees, terrain dotted by stunted scrubs and yellow sands – your vehicle moves miles without a single trace of human settlement admiring the beauty of the desert. To have the best experience, plan a ride on the road from Jaisalmer to Tanot Mata Temple and return back via Longewala.
7. Enjoy the Windmills: Jaisalmer is a big centre for Wind Energy, having the India’s largest operational onshore wind farm. The landscape around the city is dotted by the hundreds of windmills spreading over the many miles. Area near the royal cenotaphs, Bada Bagh, is a perfect place to enjoy these windmills.
8. Visit a Haunted Village: Kuldhara (near Sam Sand Dunes) is the most famous village, say it a cursed, a haunted or simply an abandoned village. But, it is not the only one. As many as 84 neighbourhood villages had similar fate overnight and no one knows the true reason behind that. The stories and reasons vary from the heavy taxes levied by the ruler to the unidirectional love story of a powerful minister. The crumbling brick structures of the houses is a unique site to understand this haunted trail.
9. Visit a Small Hamlet in the Middle of Nowhere: Ever wondered about the human settlement in the Great Desert of Thar? Explore them by yourself. There are many towns and villages situated in the desert, but the small hamlets known as “Dhani” are the best places to experience the life of a common man in the desert areas. Many of these “Dhani” can be visited on the way to Tanot Mata Temple and then further to Longewala.
10. Spot the Chinkara Deer: Chinkara (Indian Gazelle) is the beautiful species of the Deer. They are shy and avoid human habitation, but if you are riding on a road through the vast desert and the stunted scrubs in Rajasthan, there are good chances to spot some Chinkara on the way. The best place to find a Chinkara is the road section between Tanot and Longewala.
11. Visit the Graveyard of Pakistani T-59 Tank: An open air museum and the graveyard of the Pakistani armoured vehicles and T-59 tanks, Longewala is the famous site of the Battle of Longewala between India and Pakistan in 1971. It played a decisive role in the Indo-Pak War, 1971. Pakistanis suffered the loss of 34 tanks destroyed or abandoned, and lost 500 additional vehicles. An abandoned T-59 tank is still on display near the post of Longewala.
12. Visit Border Pillar No. 609: The Border Pillar No. 609 is situated in the No Men’s Land near the Line of Control on the Indo-Pak Border. At BP 609, you can see the check post, the fencing of wires on the Indian side and watch tower of BSF. Only Indians are allowed to go upto BP 609, that too after a proper permission from the BSF authorities. Its very difficult to get the permission, and possible only, if you are going by your own vehicle.
13. Go for a Jeep Safari: Most of the people only go for a camel safari at The Sam Sand Dunes. But, to get the real sense of adventure, its good to opt for a jeep safari. The jeep takes you to another sand dunes away from the Sam Dunes, where you can get an adrenaline rush in the spines.
14. Enjoy a Movie shoot in the Desert: Shooting of many movies and the television serials are continuously going on at the various places in Jaisalmer. If you are lucky enough, you can get a glimpse of such shoots in Jaisalmer.
15. Drink Bhang Lassi: Bhang Lassi is very famous in Jaisalmer. You can enjoy the bhang lassi at a government authorized shop close to the entrance of the fort. Packets of Bhag-infused biscuits are also available. But remember that you can get high after consuming the bhang product. Exercise extreme caution and if possible, prefer to consume the bhang products only in the night, so that it doesn’t affect your trip much.
Apart from these, you always have all available options to visit Jaisalmer like a typical tourist. Your tourist package can include a stroll inside the palaces and temples of the Golden Fort, an evening at Bada Bagh, walking on the stairs around Gadisagar Lake, soaking in the sand dunes of Sam, night stay in the desert camps etc to get the touristy experiences of Jaisalmer. But, move a bit away from all those touristy packages and try Jaisalmer on its own. It can be a rewarding experience of lifetime.
P.S: The pictures in the post belong to the writer of this blog.