When you catch your first glance of the imposing medieval fort dramatically perched high on a hill overlooking the sandstone city of Jaisalmer, one could easily be forgiven for thinking they’d suddenly been transported to the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Tomb Raider.
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Known as India’s “Golden City” thanks to the sunshine-hued stones used to construct every single building, this spot feels a world away from it all, the kind of place where time has stood still and a grand adventure could break out at any minute. Home to one of the world’s only living forts with nearly 4,000 people residing within its fortified walls, the former trading centre once served as a key stop on the famous Silk Route, and to this day merchants continue to peddle their wares along the windswept streets.
The chaos of packed plazas juxtapose with the peaceful respite found in the centuries-old shrines, temples and cenotaphs found throughout the city, and it’s not uncommon to turn a corner and find an aimless cow blocking the pathway.
While its location on the edge of the expansive Thar Desert near the Pakistan border means a Jaisalmer trip can be a bit of a logistical nightmare (unless you’re travelling on one of the luxury trains in India), the novelty factor of exploring this far-flung spot makes it well worth a stop on every Rajasthan itinerary.
From epic vantage points to once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list adventures, here’s the ultimate Jaisalmer sightseeing guide for the city’s top attractions.
Best places to visit in Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer Fort, Maharaja’s Palace and Jain Temples
No surprise here- when it comes to the best Jaisalmer attractions, the imposing fort comes out tops. The city’s crown jewel is the second oldest fort in all of Rajasthan, dating back to 1156 when it was commissioned by an Indian king to provide protection from intruders and respite from the hot desert sun.
Parts of the thick walls feature detailed marble carvings while others only consist of crumbling sandstone, still effectively sealing off the city from the outside world.
Today, the fort is a lively hub of activity from the street vendors hawking their wares, to the tourists dodging traffic as they gaze in wonder at the towering havelis known for their intricate facades and rooftop terraces with panoramic views.
An eclectic mix of riads, backpackers hotels, shops and cafes are clustered together, just steps from the ornate Maharaja’s Palace and Jain temples which date back to the 12th century and were built in the built in the Dilwara style. While the latter landmarks are well worth exploring, Jaisalmer Fort is the kind of place one goes with no agenda, and simply enjoys getting lost in the maze of passageways.
Top tip: Be sure to tour Jaisalmer Fort in the evening hours, as it’s particularly enchanting at night when lit up and swathed in a golden glow.
Cannon Point is one of the best places to visit in Jaisalmer to soak in sweeping city views, as it’s one of the fort’s highest points. Visitors scamper up a series of narrow steps to the sun-soaked terrace which is marked by a historic cannon, and enjoy a birds-eye view of the bastions, a sea of sandstone houses, and landmarks including the Bada Bagh Cenotaphs.
Well away from the hustle and bustle of the fort, Gadisar Lake is a serene spot that’s Instagram heaven thanks to the magnificent temples and shrines that cast beautiful reflections into the water and breathtaking views of Jaisalmer Fort in the distance. The lake actually started as a manmade reservoir which once served as the city’s only water source, and today it’s a favourite spot of artists seeking inspiration, young couples whispering sweet nothings on the banks, and photographers enamoured with the curves of the sandstone archway Tilon-Ki-Pol.
Best adventure activities in Jaisalmer
Besides being known as the Golden City, Jaisalmer’s other claim to fame is its proximity to the sweeping Thar Desert, which is only a one hour drive away. Also known as the Great Indian Desert, this magical spot stretches all the way into eastern Pakistan, and is known for the towering Sam Dunes that look like a scene straight out of Arabian Nights.
There are plenty of thrilling ways to explore them including full-throttle buggy rides on a 4×4, ripping around on quad bikes and dune bashing, which makes this one of the best places to visit near Jaisalmer.
One of the most popular ways to see the Sam Sand dunes is by booking a Jaisalmer Desert Safari, which typically starts off with the ultimate photo-op: a camel ride through the arid landscape during the golden hour.
Admittedly this activity is more about the selfies than actual adventure, since in typical camel fashion the animals move quite slowly, and there are usually dozens of groups out at a time which makes it seem more like a Disney theme park than some exotic experience.
Still, it’s worth sticking around for the rest of the evening which includes watching the ethereal sunset over the dunes, an authentic Marwari dinner, and a Rajasthani dance performance at a desert camp.
Best shopping in Jaisalmer
With its long trading history, it’s no surprise that shopping continues to be an important part of daily life in Jaisalmer. Street markets and emporiums line the skinny laneways that wind through Jaisalmer Fort, where brightly-coloured scarves, flowing sarees, housewares, soft leather goods and intricate Rajasthani jewelry are on display.
The Pansari Bazaar, Manak Chowk and Sonaron Ka Baas are great places to browse for souvenirs, and eager shopkeepers are always ready to bargain.
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Best Jaisalmer hotels
There are Jaisalmer accommodation options to suit every whim and budget, from opulent, five-star hotels favoured by celebrities like Mick Jagger to glamping tents in the desert. Some of the top-rated picks include:
- Suryagarh– Suryagarh is a true masterpiece, with luxe interiors that seamlessly blend modern comforts with Rajasthani touches like sandstone walls, rounded pillars and impressive archways. Tranquil infinity pools, fine linens, perfectly-manicured gardens and butler suites are among the lavish touches guests will enjoy at this property near the Thar Desert, making it one of the top Jaisalmer resorts. Click here to book
- Hotel Lalgarh Fort And Palace– This heritage hotel is beloved for its sweeping views and great location within walking distance of the fort, as well as large rooms and accommodating staff always happy to help with any request. Click here to book
- Jaisalmer Marriott Resort & Spa: This just might be one of the most unique Marriott-branded properties in the hotel chain’s portfolio, since Jaisalmer’s strict building codes dictated that it had to be built to resemble the city’s historic sandstone structures. The result is an impressive, sprawling resort near the Sam Dunes which boasts views of the fort, amenities like a fitness centre, spa and outdoor pool, and lavish suites, all in desert oasis setting. Click here to book
- Jaisalmer Desert Camp: A novel way to experience Jaisalmer is to stay in one of its desert camps which run from October through March, where white canvas tents complete with raised beds, teak furniture and private bathrooms make for some serious glamping goals. Jaisalmer Desert Camp is one of the highest-rated operators in the area thanks to inclusions like air conditioning, internet and breakfast, and other options include Damodra Desert Camp and Rajputana Desert Camp whose nightly rate includes a camel ride and jeep safari. Click here to book
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