The fort of Jaisalmer is a breathtaking sight: a massive sandcastle rising from the sandy plains like a mirage from a bygone era. No place better evokes exotic camel-train trade routes and desert mystery. Ninety-nine bastions encircle the fort’s still-inhabited twisting lanes. Inside are shops swaddled in bright embroideries, a royal palace and numerous businesses looking for your tourist rupee. Despite the commercialism it’s hard not to be enchanted by this desert citadel. Beneath the ramparts the narrow streets of the old city conceal magnificent havelis, all carved from the same golden-honey sandstone as the fort – hence Jaisalmer’s designation as the Golden City.
A city that has come back almost from the dead in the past half-century, Jaisalmer may be remote but it’s certainly not forgotten – indeed it’s one of Rajasthan’s biggest tourist destinations, and few people come here without climbing onto a camel in the surrounding Thar Desert. Competition to get your bum into a camel saddle can be fierce, with some operators adopting unpleasant hard-sell tactics. But by following a few basic guidelines you can fix yourself an enjoyable ride.
Jaisalmer was once completely surrounded by an extensive wall, much of which has, sadly, been torn down for building material. Some of it remains, however, including the city gates. As long ago as 1975, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi expressed her horror at how beautiful old Jaisalmer buildings were being dismantled and sold off in parts. Today Jaisalmer seems much more aware of the importance of preserving appearances, at least, for the sake of tourism. Indeed many of the new buildings going up around town boast beautifully carved sandstone in Jaisalmer’s centuries-old tradition.
This is not a big city and most accommodation is within walking distance of the fort at its heart. The main market area, Bhatia Market, straggles along winding lanes not far north of the fort.
Jaisalmer celebrates its desert culture with the action-packed Desert Festival in January or February each year.