Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert, visiting a golden oasis: the jewel of Rajasthan
After visiting Bikaner we went to Jaisalmer and the Thar desert. The city of Jaisalmer is located to the west of the province of Rajasthan, relatively close to the border with Pakistan. At the foot of the Thar desert, this city has earned the nickname “The Golden City” thanks to the mixture of the color of its buildings made of sandstone with the color of the desert.
Before dawn we arrive to Jaisalmer, around 6 am. After breakfast in a dark square where we met some Indians who drank chai (tea with milk), we went in search of our hotel.
Where to stay in Jaisalmer?
We found in Booking a hotel that was very well punctuated and at a very cheap price: the Hotel Pol Haveli. It is in the center of the city, close to the market and not far from the old town and the fort.
The place looks like a humble chill out palace. The rooms are simple, but beautiful and clean. It has a magnificent rooftop overlooking the Jaisalmer fort and the owners are very nice. It was by far the best hotel we stayed at throughout our stay in India.
As usual, the three of us stayed together in a room with a double bed and a small extra bed lying on the floor. More than enough for us. It cost us 12 euros (1000 rupees) a night.
What to see in Jaisalmer?
The Fort of Jaisalmer imposes itself on a small hill and dominates the whole city. Built in 1156, it is perfectly preserved. It is characterized by its enormous stone walls, by its 99 bastions and because a quarter of the city’s population still lives inside it.
We also can find the Maharaja Mahal (the royal palace), the Laxminath temple (a Hindu temple) and a few Jain temples. In some of these temples one can go to lunch or dinner for free and fall in love with Indian charity.
Entrance to the Fort is free and one can perfectly entertain oneself for a couple of hours strolling through its narrow streets and visiting its temples. In the evening, it is advisable to have a drink in one of the many terraces to enjoy the panoramic view of the entire city.
What to do around Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert?
Thar Desert Safari
At the hotel we took a two day camel tour that included spending a night in the desert. We left early in the morning and were taken by Jeep to the outskirts of Jaisalmer. We arrived at a small unpaved village, with mud houses and thatched roofs where camels and villagers seemed to have managed to stop time.
When we were ready, we left the small village for a walk with our camel. It was just the three of us, our guide, Assif, who was characterised by his thinness, his black sunburned skin and a calm and relaxed personality. A stray dog joined us in search of some food and water in exchange for his good company.
She had never ridden a camel before so it was quite an experience. The difference between a camel and a dromedary, apart from the humps (camels have two and dromedaries one), is that the dromedary has short hair, better withstand the heat, is much higher and has worse milk.
If you try to caress them they will move away and take out your feelings so that you leave them in peace. They don’t like to be disturbed. With the walk they give you is enough.
In the dunes of the Thar desert
We walked for a while in a very dry area. It looked more like the Almeria deserts of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western movies than anything else. When we found a small spot with trees to cover us from the sun we stopped to ate rice that our guide cooked right there. Then, we took a small nap.
Just when the rest was about to become boring we rode our respective camels and followed our route. After an hour, we finally reached the dunes.
Although they were not spectacular, after half a day travelling on dry land I was happy to see some sand. We spend the night there at a lower elevation among dunes sheltered from the wind. Another group of tourists joined us and we had dinner together with the guides who prepared a most appetizing vegetarian dinner for us.
There, half hidden in the bushes, were individual beds of rather rudimentary wires. We put them all together and they gave us some blankets. With nothing more to do than observe the stars, right after dinner, we went to sleep.
Before returning to Jaisalmer we asked our driver to take us to a gypsy village as Rajasthan is famous for its gypsy culture. Just arriving at the village, about 10 children threw themselves on top of our car, begging us for alms or anything we could give them. We were so overwhelmed and so sad that we left without getting out of the car.
Music Festival in the Thar Desert
We were lucky enough to coincide with a three-day music festival in the desert. The daily ticket cost 2000 rupees (25 euros). Entrance to the festival was quite expensive. Especially if we compared it with the two-day camel tour that had cost us 1000 rupees per person.
However, bearing in mind that unique experiences are priceless and, in addition, that if something is hard to find in India is party, we do not hesitate for a second to change our plans to attend at least one day of the festival.
In the middle of the desert they had set up a few giant Monegros tents. Yes, in miniature and chill out. There were three areas where you could listen to music and an area where you could eat something.
Of all the groups we saw, the one we liked the most was the Barmer Boys. They animated the festival like nobody else. With a style between folklore music, Indian music and gypsy music, they managed to give you goose bumps.
After 4 nights in Jaisalmer and the Thar desert we said goodbye to the city with the conviction that it had been the place where we would keep our best memories of India.
With little time left, we took the bus to Jodhpur. The famous blue city awaited us. Unfortunately it was going to be our last stop in Rajasthan before returning to New Delhi.
Destination doesn’t make house calls.