Jaisalmer is close to the Pakistan border and was a very important city back in the days of the Silk Route. It is dominated by the Jaisalmer Fort which is the largest, fully preserved fortified city in the world. This Fort is completely built out of sandstones which get a golden color during sunset, therefore the name Golden City.
The easiest way to get to Jaisalmer from Delhi is by train. This 800 kilometers by train takes about 18 hours and we booked 2 beds, 1 upper and 1 lower for a total of 1730 rupees per person in the 2AC cart. We were warned that booking tickets on the New Delhi train station was going to be a hassle but we had no problems at all. A lot of people get stopped before going into the railway station by touts telling them the office has moved and you need to get your tickets elsewhere. Don’t believe them, it’s a scam. Get your pokerface out and keep on walking. Just follow the Tourist Office sign, get your number from the machine and wait your turn. Do bring you passport and cash. We were in and out in about 30 minutes.
The train ride was pretty comfortable, we departed at 5.30 pm and arrived around 11.30 am the next day. You get sheets, a blanket and a pillow and the beds are pretty big actually. We brought lots of fruit and snacks but you can also buy diner (a man comes by and asks if you want to order and brings it to your bed) and lots of people walk by offering drinks and snacks. Of course you pay more than you would have paid in the normal shop. Ready to taste a bit of the desert life!
The first night we stayed at Hotel Royale Jaisalmer. They picked us up from the train station which is always nice and brought us to their hotel. The rooms have a nice Indian style and are spacious. They are situated right next to the fort and helped us out with arranging a guide for the Fort and our Camel Safari. The restaurant on the rooftop offers a nice view overlooking the fort and they make a mean pizza. We kept away from spicy Indian food for a while until we were sure our stomachs are really ok again..
** You can find them on booking.com
After the Camel Safari we had to change hotels since Royale Jaisalmer was fully booked so we booked the Dhora Rhani. This is a basic but good hostel, run by some young people who don’t really know (yet) what they are doing, but it all works out. The vibe is relaxed, the food is good, the rooftop is a nice place to hang out and they are all doing their best to make sure you are doing fine.
** You can find them on booking.com
There are two reasons for coming to Jaisalmer. The first one is to visit the Fort, which has no entrance fee. Since this is the first Fort we’ve seen in India, we were impressed. There are so many details, great decorated havelis and small streets, really beautiful to see. We did a tour with a guide for 500 rupees, which is something we normally never do. This time we wanted to hear a bit more about the history and ask some questions about living in India and how it works with the pre-arranged marriages and the cast system.
We already read, and our guide told us as well and we could see it to, that the walls of the Fort are all wet and breaking down.The people of Jaisalmer are more into earning money than preserving their heritage. What happens is that the sewage can’t cope with all the people living inside in the Fort, and especially not with all the tourists that are staying in the hotels and guesthouses inside the walls. The water has no where to go and the walls absorb it. The Indian government is offering the people money to leave the Fort but as long as they can make more money thanks to the visiting tourists, they won’t leave. So when you go to Jaisalmer, don’t buy anything inside the Fort and definitely don’t stay at a hotel or guesthouse inside the walls.
The second reason to visit Jaisalmer is the camel safari that you can do in the nearby Thar dessert. You can book it at several agencies and hotels. Hotel Royale Jaisalmer offered us a package deal: 10.000 Rupee for 2 persons and this includes 2 nights at the hotel (complimentary breakfast) and 1 night in the desert (including all meals and a camel safari). If you don’t want to book a package, you can book the camel safari seperate at the Mangalam Resort Jaisalmer.
We started our little desert safari in a jeep that picked us up around 2 pm and brought us to the small village called Khuri in the desert. This trip took about 1,5 hour and you see a whole lot of nothing. There is nothing for miles and in this nothing you see people walking. Makes you wonder where they come from and where they are heading to. We arrived early and had to wait for about an hour, so after our welcoming drink we decided to go for a short walk in the little town. People are friendly, try to talk to you but only some of them speak a little bit English. One word/question almost all of them know is ‘money?’ Returning to our resort, after having a cup of tea, the group of 14 was complete, the camels were saddled up and we could start our safari. The sitting on the camel isn’t really comfortable, and sitting on this huge animal while it’s standing up or kneeling down is even a bit scary. You have to hold on tight! But it was really cool to see a line of camels walking towards and in the desert while riding them. We bought some special clothing (long pants and shirts) and Michiel was really dressed up as Alibaba with a tulband which made it even more cool to see. The camel ride only took about 30 minutes one way, but that was long enough for us. We waited for the sunset, took some sweet shots and returned to the village. Once we arrived here there was a local gypsy family there to entertain us with some music and dancing and we had a good meal with some beers.
We could choose if we wanted to sleep in the desert, or in the village. We choose, of course, to sleep in the desert. So we put on all our warm clothes, packed some thick blankets, mattresses and pillows in the jeep and our guide took us back to the desert. We expected we had to sleep in a sleeping bag or on a mattress on the sand but they really have beds there. We were divided into 2 groups and we were only with 4 so it was nice and quiet and really peaceful. The sky was clear and the stars were amazing and it was such a cool experience to just lay there and fall asleep under the open sky dotted with stars. Waking up was a treat to. The sun was just coming up and colored the sky. We made a new friend, there was a huge goat standing next to our bed, when we woke up, which was of course something we did not expect. We did expect scorpions, snakes and other giant animals crawling into our sleeping bags. After the sunrise, we packed our stuff, returned to the village, enjoyed a nice breakfast and drove back to Jaisalmer in the jeep. A truly amazing experience we certainly would not have wanted to miss.