These two towns in western Rajasthan give you the opportunity to experience the desert state in all its vibrant shades, with palaces and sprawling forts contrasting vividly with bumpy camel rides and vast sand dunes. Spend some time sampling life inside a fort and then head to a desert camp for one surreal night. Here are some of the places you just cannot skip while holidaying here.
Jaisalmer Fort: The only place in the world where you can actually live in a fort: welcome to Jaisalmer – a town where shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels and homes are all found at one place – incredibly enough, inside the Jaisalmer Fort.
The world’s largest fort is best explored at leisure. The impressive yellow sandstone fort, built between the 12th and 18th century by 17 kings, is better known as the Golden Fort. The guided tour starts from the Fort Palace at Dussehra Chowk.
The palace has two sections: Raja ka Mahal and Rani ka Mahal. Once you reach the highest section of the palace, you witness the entire city sprawled out before you. It is truly a breathtaking sight.
There are a few Jain temples as well. If you don’t feel like taking an audio tour or a local guide you can explore the fort on your own – going through narrow by lanes, browsing shops, catching a meal at a rooftop restaurant, or sipping a drink looking out at the city.
Havelis and Gadsisar Lake: You can combine a visit to the havelis and the lake. The intricately carved Patwon ki Haveli is a must-see just to admire the architecture and the honeycomb and brocade-like intricate carvings. It’s actually a cluster of five havelis that belonged to a rich merchant family and are the oldest in Jaisalmer. All of them are in a narrow lane in the old city. There is a museum in the haveli as well but if you have limited time, admiring them from outside is also good enough. After this make your way to Gadsisar Lake, a peaceful spot where you can relax and just take it easy. It’s best to go here during sunset. The lake is surrounded by beautiful resting places and small temples.
Camel safari and sunset on Sam Sand Dunes: About 40km away are the Sam Sand Dunes of the Thar desert that give you a chance to spend a night on the brown sands, go on a camel safari and watch the sun melt into the dunes. You’ll have to check into a desert camp and stay overnight in a tent. Around 5pm the camp organisers take you on a camel safari which lasts for a mere 15 minutes.
The dunes are a perfect place to watch the sun go home and vanish into the earth as they cast their golden glow on the sand. It is a truly surreal experience. But getting on and off a camel is not as easy as it looks so it is better to be careful and hold on tight. It’s best to check with the guide how to balance yourself while the camel is sitting and getting up. When you’re back in the camp, spend time watching a traditional Rajasthani performance and get a peek into their culture.
Mehrangarh Fort: This magnificent and huge fort towers over the city and looks glorious when lit up. A tip – see the fort at night first and then go back the next day for the guided tour. Absolutely nothing can prepare you for the way it looks when it is illuminated.
A traditional Rajasthani thali dinner at Chokelao Mahal Terrace inside the fort is a must. Not only is the food delicious, but the ambience will leave you awestruck – with soft Rajasthani music setting the mood and the lit up fort in the backdrop carrying you back into another age.
This fort was the former seat of power of the Rathore Dynasty. For a detailed tour its best to take the audio guide which is interesting, compact and informative. A steep path within the fort takes you through the different areas and relates tales of king who ruled here. There is a lift for those who can’t walk up the steep pathway.
Jodhpur is known as the Blue City and you realise why when you reach the canon point and see rows upon rows of blue houses spread out in front of you – quite an eye catching sight. Apparently in the olden days Brahmins used to paint their homes blue to make them distinct from those of other castes, but later on everyone started doing this giving part of the town a lovely blue hangover.
Jaswant Thada: Better known as Taj Mahal of Rajasthan, this marble structure is close to the fort and is best combined with that visit. It is a royal memorial of the former rulers of Jodhpur. It was built by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his father.
Umaid Bhawan Palace: The grand Umaid Bhawan Palace is a must-see, just to catch a glimpse of how the royal family lived in their heyday. Built between 1929 and 1944, it is one of the largest royal residences in the globe. It sits atop Chittar Hill, which is the highest point in Jodhpur. For car enthusiasts, there is a vintage car display as well, while a museum has displays on the Marwar dynasty. A part of the palace is now a luxury hotel for those who can afford this experience.
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