Jaisalmer – Exploring the City Outside the Fort

The Golden Fort

The land of sand dunes, havelis and golden-hued landscape, Jaisalmer is an enchanting beauty with fairy tale architecture and regal charm! It was after my brother & sis-in-law visited the dreamy desert town and shared their experience, that I grew inquisitive about this place. “Jaisalmer”, the name itself was so intriguing, exotic and mysterious that in no time my imagination led me to visualize myself in this westernmost frontier of India, experiencing Sridevi’s “Morni baga Ma Bole Aadhi Raat Ma..lalala 😀 ” sequence from the movie Lamhe; rejoicing the vibrant folk music in the middle of bon-fire lit barren desert. 

A beautifully carved sandstone structure enroute, caught my attention

The city’s major attractions, the living fort, the havelis, palaces and museums, the Ornate Jain temples, gadisar lake and of course, the shopping markets formed my itinerary.

Although it was afternoon by the time we reached Jaisalmer, being winter, the air was brisk and fresh.  Our hotel was located in the vicinity of the fort, and on our way, I could easily spot the spectacular sandstone structure looming over the city, as we drove through the roads to reach our adobe. Our pad for the first day was the Shahi Palace Hotel, located near the walls of Jaisalmer’s living fort. Redolent of ancient havelis, the hotel is adorned with fine wood work furniture, windows and doorways, that give a rustic feel to this rather modern & comfortable space. We dropped off our bags and headed straight to the roof-top cafe as I’d read so much about the view from there.

Climbing the fleet of stairs to reach the rooftop, I could see the fort shining like a burnished beacon, perched atop the Trikuta hill, emerging in front of me, the sight I’d never forget.

Rest of our day was spent just chilling at the cafe, talking our hearts out, and enjoying the wondrous sight of the Sonar Quila. Behind me, was the sun setting, and in front of me, was this majestic fort camouflaged by the natural sunlight, transforming in to a honey-gold fortress lit up from within and outside, embodying vibrancy, colors, and splendor! The magical bliss of nature’s beauty consumed me with a feeling of inexplicable stillness. I witnessed the panoramic fortress in all its shades – at the dawn, at the crack of the twilight, illuminated in the evening; and each sight was a beauty to behold!

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Chilling at the Roof-top Cafe

Maneuvering the narrow city lanes later that evening, we took a pitstop at Mandir Palace, an erstwhile palace that now serves as luxury hotel; sections of which have been converted into a museum and are available to the tourists for a fee. We set out exploring the palace complex from a Giridhari temple in the compound, where a few old ladies were enjoying the simple pleasures of life, engaged in daily chores and bonding over conversations about their day. Whizzing around the museum in the palace for some more time, discovering the glorious historical trivias while marveling at the relics kept in there, we made our way towards The Thar Heritage Museum. This small but fascinating museum houses ancient artifacts, reminiscent of the evolution of Jaisalmer’s culture. Instead of the Royals, the curios here depict the tales of history and culture of local people and their daily lives in their day and age.

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Exhibits at Mandir Palace
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Posing at Mandir Palace
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Exhibits at Thar Desert Museum

Wandering around Gandhi Chowk, to catch a glimpse of the rustic lifestyle we breezed through several colossal sandcastles, old havelis and vibrant shops selling everything from Rajasthani artifacts, leather accessories, hand-looms and jewellery. The area was buzzing with vibrancy, hustle-bustle, and colors; symbolizing the festive and colorful spirit of Rajasthan. Amidst all the market chaos, the aroma of the street-food tempted our taste buds to indulge in some local savories and I relished on some mirchi bhajiyas (local savoury) with spicy and lip-smacking chutney that made up for our snack accompanied with Bhaang (a local brew).

Back in our pad, unwinding in the café over a candle light meal, under the open sky, with its borderless flow of clarity, I cherished the feeling of soft breeze inlaying the cafe with an aura of tranquility, witnessing the moon-lit sky and yellow-lit fort. The peaceful ambience made us feel so much at home, that we were there long enough for the hotel staff to assume that we were planning to spend the night there and as a gesture to delight us they gave us blankets, maybe as a signal to either pass out, or crash in our room 😀

The Day of our Desert Experience

Reveling in the early morning breeze at the roof-top café the next morning, I could feel my veins being filled with adrenaline rush, thinking of the “Night Under the Stars” Desert Safari experience that I was to live later that day. We set out at 2.00 pm in a jeep that had only the 2 of us (me and my friend) along with the driver of course. Whizzing through the desert landscape, we took a brief stop on our way to enjoy the beauty of being surrounded by the magical vibes of an Oasis, before heading to the Amar Sagar Jain Temple, a picturesque temple located right next to the famous Amar Sagar lake. Any photographer’s delight, this temple usually serves as a beautiful backdrop for those mesmerizing photographs, that you would want to share on your Instagram! And just before our Desert Safari experience, we took a tour of Kuldhara, the abandoned village in Jaisalmer. Over the years this place has earned a reputation of being haunted and as we were entering the area, a feeling of errie took over us too; the spooky vibes did make us feel the uncomfortable coldness of this place!

Mandatory posing at the beautiful Patwa Haveli

Moving inside the fort, yet exploring outside 😀

The morning after our Desert Safari experience, we were taken back to the city in the same Jeep, this time shared by a few others. It’s not always that you stick by your itinerary and the same was the case with us. We were yet to explore a few places outside the fort this day. Out of the four days that we had our stay booked in Jaisalmer, one was right outside the fort, other was the Desert Safari, one being inside the fort in the vicinity of the Jain temples and the last one was a little further inside the fort, overlooking the city outside.

For this day, we picked Hotel Suraj, located in the close proximity of the Jain temples, by virtue of which, I would literally wake to the sight of these majestic heritage temples, standing tall whenever I peeked out of my window. These Jain temples were the first exploration I did that day and I had the privilege to meet a Jain sage who familiarized me with the history of this ancient religion and shared the significance of several idols and symbols adoring the complex.

Just out from the surreal environment in the temple complex, we made our way outside the fort. Tip-toeing our way through the lively local lanes, we reached Pansari bazaar, Jaisalmer’s oldest market and is also known as Villager’s market. The vibrant street had an array of offerings on display from Rajasthani ethnic ghagra-cholis, beaded jewelry, brightly colored dupattas, handcrafted items, to leather bags, there was something for everyone’s or let’s say a woman’s taste 😀 . It’s like being in the middle of a mosaic neighborhood filled with colors, beauty and festivity! Goes with out saying that it was an exotic escape for me.

Rooving through the narrow lanes after our retail therapy indulgence, we landed at the Main Entrance of the “Patwon ki Haveli”, one of the most popular and also the first ever haveli to be erected in the city. This cluster of five havelis, standing proudly in a narrow lane, is the largest in the city, and also houses the office of Archaeological Survey of India. The lane outside the haveli itself is a riot of colors and craft with outlets selling wooden handicrafts, toys, Rajasthani souvenirs and the colorful puppets.

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We visited the one that had an entry fees. Besides splendid archs and gateways, what caught our attention were the beautiful paintings and stunning mirror work adorning the walls of the haveli. The museum inside, showcased the lifestyle of the erstwhile business family that constructed it. From ornaments, to furniture, to utensils, to clothes, the museum preserves and displays authentically, the merchant family life in those days! Fascinated by the intricate architecture and engraves on the ceilings, Colorful frescos and murals on the walls, we lingered around the architectural marvel for a while more, to just soak in all the beauty, splendidness and history around us!

With time for the twilight to take over the sky, we set off to Gadisar lake, to experience the onset of sunset while boating in the serene calmness of this huge lake, surrounded by artistically carved temples and shrines. Gazing at the sun, sinking below the horizon, with the sky turning to a purple-tinged grey and the breeze fingering my hair, whilst experiencing every bit of tranquility of this lake was nothing but spellbinding.

Shrines at the Gadisar Lake
NK Sharma at the desert culture & folklore museum

A few rounds of photo sessions around the lake and we made our way to visit the Desert Culture & Folklore Museum, placed on the banks of the lake. Just in time for the Puppet Show & Live Folk Singing to begin, we grabbed our seats in the middle and gradually made our way to the first row to get the best view :D. The commentary by NK Sharma (the founder) the intriguing puppet show and amazingly choreographed live folk performances had us glued to our seats. It was quite amazing to witness this ancient art thanks to N.K Sharma, a retired teacher, who is striving to preserve this dying culture. We toured the museum after the show and also exchanged a dialogue with the local musician “”. The museum was indeed a treasure house with unique exhibits of souvenirs and artefacts of bygone years ranging from old to present folk art including hairstyle presentations, costumes, photographs, paintings, manuscripts, coins and rare ornaments. We closed the day on a high note, enjoying the raw Rajasthani music and countryside experiences.

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