Rajasthan has been calling out to the traveler within me all this year. After a beautiful Jaipur holiday which I took in July (read more about that here), I got a wonderful opportunity to re-live the royal Rajasthani experience yet again during a short getaway to Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer symbolizes everything the state of Rajasthan is famous for – the desert, the camels, the folk music and dance, the forts, and the food! A visit to Jaisalmer may be the best way to experience Rajasthani culture at its best, something that makes that five-hour, back-breaking drive from Jodhpur totally worth it! There is so much to see, and so much to do, but here are my top five recommendations for that perfect Jaisalmer holiday.
1. Visit the unique Jaisalmer Fort
Why unique you’d ask? Well, because unlike any other historic fort in the country, this one is inhabited and thriving with a population of about 3000 people living within its walls. The Jaisalmer Fort may be the only inhabited, living fort in the world! It’s a beautiful amalgamation of history and modernity – old, crumbling structures contrasted with domesticated life. Here you can walk around the fort’s many lanes, admiring the strength of the structures that have stood the test of time, as well as admiring the many families that live here through generations. By evening as the sun sets, the yellow sandstone exterior turns a golden shade, thereby giving the fort it’s name – Sonar Quila or Golden Fort.
Apart from admiring the fort’s structure and the resident’s way of life, the Jain Temple within the fort’s premises is a must see! Here you’ll find intricate Dilwara style carvings on the temple walls, idols that date back to the 12th century, and a sense of tranquil that envelops you as you walk through the sandstone temple. Also keep your eyes open for the community wedding invites – a painted Ganesha along with wedding details – outside the doors of most homes in the fort.
Travel Tip: Don’t forget to try the Ghotua laddoos found in the stalls around the fort. This sweetmeat made with besan, ghee, elaichi, mawa, kesar and love can be found only in Jaisalmer.
2. Get spooked at Kuldhara village
The drive to Kuldhara village seems pretty spooky by itself – barely any presence of life, and the occasional abandoned hut here or there. The legend of Kuldhara village dates back to roughly 200 years back, when the entire village was abandoned by its residents – the Paliwal Brahims – overnight. The most commonly accepted story is that the evilzamindaar had his eye on the village chief’s daughter, and the entire village decided to run away to protect the girl’s modesty.
Since then the entire village lays uninhabited and barren, with dilapidated huts lined up in neat rows, the village temple sitting without its idol, the walls witness to the history that had unfurled here in the past. The only residents here are the bats that seem to infest the dark rooms, with an ocassional dog for company. The Indian Paranormal Society claims to have encountered moving shadows, hushed voices and other paranormal activity by night. The locals believe that before leaving the village, the Brahmins imposed a curse that no one would be able to re-occupy the village again. Not that anyone’s trying to.
Travel Tip: Set off for Kuldhara towards the first half of the day, so that you have ample time to explore. And so that you can make it safely back before sunset.
3. Cherish the perfect family holiday at Club Mahindra, Jaisalmer
The Club Mahindra chain of resorts has become synonymous with ‘the perfect family vacation’. Their sprawling, heritage property in Jaisalmer is no exception – an ancient haveli, converted into a hotel with the best of amenities and spacious rooms. There couldn’t have been a better way for us to immerse ourselves into Rajasthani culture than with the local Kalbeliya song and dance that the resort organizes for their guests. Just like each Club Mahindra property, this one too has an interesting activity room and play area for children so that parents can enjoy their holiday without stressing about how to entertain their kids. The resort also organizes activities that the parents and children can indulge in together – bicycle rides, badminton, carrom, painting, and game night!
For me, the star of my stay here was the local Rajasthani fare that was doled out from their in-house restaurant Jeeman. On my first night here I indulged in a Rajasthani thali filled with all the staples, and it has got to be one of the best thalis I’ve eaten ever (and trust me, I’ve eaten a lot of those)! My favorites were the succulent Laal Maas, delicious pillowy Gatte Ki Sabzi, the seasonal Ker Saangri, and the indulgent Daal Baati Churma. You can find out more about Club Mahindra Membership here and read Club Mahindra reviews here.
Travel Tip: Watch out for the theme nights that the hotel conducts ranging from traditional Rajasthani, to Punjabi to Halloween. A fun evening, guaranteed!
4. Experience the desert life at the Thar desert
You can’t travel to Rajasthan and not immerse your feet in the desert sand, can you? The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is an absolute must-see when you travel to Jaisalmer. Glistening, gold sand stretch out for miles in front of you, everywhere you look. Immediately as the sun sets, the desert transforms from being scorching and brutal to becoming chilly and sober.
Thanks to the bustling tourism in this area, there are a lot of activities that one can indulge in here. Pick from the more traditional camel safari ride to the adrenaline-pumping jeep safari. (The latter was a bit risky, if you ask me.) There are also some beautiful luxury tents to camp out in, and enjoy some local music by evening.
Travel Tip: Comfortable walking shoes, and weather appropriate clothing is a must to surviving in the desert. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours.
5. Get a glimpse of luxurious living at Patwon Ki Haveli
Sitting in the shadow of the Jaisalmer Fort, lies the Patwon Ki Haveli – a cluster of five havelis or homes that belonged to a wealthy merchant named Guman Chand Patwa. This was the first haveli to have been erected in Jaisalmer in 1805, and a part of it is open to tourists today. The intricate carvings on the outside facade, and the beautiful jharokhas (or balconies) draw your eyes instantly even before you enter.
The lavish lifestyle of the ex-residents is clearly evident as you take a walk around. The walls are painted intricately, encrusted with detailed mirror work, sometimes opening up to reveal a hidden safe. (Good thing demonetization didn’t occur back then.) You can admire their furniture, traditional clothing, and items of daily use which are on display. The kitchen tools are what intrigued me the most – looking more like weapons of war.
Travel Tip: Don’t forget to climb upto the roof of the haveli. Not only do you get to see a beautiful view of the surrounding city and the fort, you also get to see where Sanjay Leela Bhansali shot a portion of the song Albela Sajan.
Thank you Club Mahindra #DreamTrails for making this magical trip to Jaisalmer possible. And for making one of my travel dreams come to life.