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Jaisalmer, the Golden City, part 1

Lone camel and its shadow on desert sands, Jaisalmer

The Thar Desert

We arrived at Jaisalmer on a clear sunny December morning by a night train from Jodhpur.

Jaisalmer railway station

Jaisalmer Railway Station

As we came out and entered the city we gradually realized that we have arrived at a Golden City. Most of the buildings and other structures were made of golden yellow sandstone that gave a subdued honey colored golden hue to the entire city.

Sonar killa, Jaisalmer fort and the town

The Sonar Killa – Jaisalmer fort and the town

The majestic Jaisalmer fort (the Sonar Killa) stands atop a hill. The fort, the hill and the city below merge seamlessly into a uniform golden landscape. It feels almost like one has been transported several centuries back into a medieval city in a desert.

The city of Jaisalmer is located within the Thar Desert at the far northwest corner of India. Jaisalmer was founded by Maharawal Jaisal of Rajput Bhatti clan in 12th century AD. The Bhatti Rajputs are thought to be the descendants of Lord Krishna.

Jaisalmer was a flourishing trade center located strategically on the caravan trade route between central Asia and Afghanistan, the famous silk route. The Rajputs and Jain merchants became very rich by imposing huge taxes on silk, opium and spices on the caravan trade especially during 16-18th century AD. Subsequently after the advent of British occupation, the ports in Mumbai and Surat gained importance for trade purposes and Jaisalmer lost its glory. The final blow came after the wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 when the border was completely closed.

Being close to the border, today Jaisalmer has gained military importance and holds army and air force bases.

Jaisalmer became very popular with Bengali tourists after the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray made a delightful movie ‘Sonar Kella’ in 1974 based on Jaisalmer fort. In general, the magical combination of fort, desert, havelis (palaces) and winding markets with long lost vintage charm combine to attract large tourist traffic, especially foreign tourists from all parts of the globe.

Restaurant in Jaisalmer

A Restaurant in Jaisalmer; sandstone is used for construction and decoration

We had lunch in an open-air eatery that seemed like an old building repurposed into a restaurant. Such ancient structures with ornate and elaborate facades and interiors are scattered around Jaisalmer and gives the city a very special and distinctive charm.

A Jaisalmer house with open marriage invitation

A typical house in Jaisalmer with marriage invitaion

People of Jaisalmer like to share their joys with others. Entrances of many homes are adorned with open invitation to an oncoming marriage in the family under the auspicious blessings of Lord Ganesha. We noticed many such open invitations while moving in the city and the show of general friendliness made us happy.

Sand dunes with white tents in the background

Sand dunes - white tents in the background

After lunch we proceeded to a visit to the Thar desert. Desert at Sam dunes is one of the major attractions of Jaisalmer for which various kinds of tourism options are available. At one extreme, camel safari packages in the desert including night stay in a tent were for the adventure lovers. We chose a modest option of journey to the Sam dunes and an evening of traditional Rajasthani culture followed by dinner.

Tents at Sam dunes

Tents at Sam dunes

Sam dunes is about 42km from Jaisalmer connected by good road. The car dropped us at Sam dunes from where camel drivers would take us into the desert.

Compared to Sahara or Gobi, Thar desert is not as large and is interspersed with small villages and vegetation. Many resorts have cropped up within the desert with series of white tents. These resorts work in conjunction with camel safari operators.

Lone camel and its shadow on desert sands

The lone camel casts a shadow

Our camel drivers provided us two options for entering the desert – on the back of a camel or by riding a camel cart.

Entering the desert on a camel cart

Entering the desert on a camel cart

Keeping our aged bones in mind, we chose the camel cart. It was a simple cart with two wheels with inflated tyre and driven by a camel. After a short journey the cart stopped. It was time to walk on desert sands, move around and enjoy the beauty of the desert.

Visitors on camel ride at Sam dunes

Visitors on camel ride at Sam dunes

It was late afternoon. The rolling waves of sand dunes glowed brightly in the afternoon sun which cast long shadows of people and camels.

The place was full of tourists like us. The local people are quite poor here. They tried their best to attract tourist attention and earn whatever little they could by offering to sing local tunes, play musical instrument, or dance to folk songs.

Sunset in the desert

Sunset in the desert

These huge sand dunes are formed by heat of the sun and the wind forces and it was fascinating to watch how the fine sand moved under its own weight and flowed almost like water. The camels, carts and people left their tracks on the sand only to be obliterated by the wind in a short while.

Waves of sand dunes

Waves of Sand dunes

By and by, the sun set on the horizon. It was turning back time.

Visitors returning back

Visitors returning back

Returning camels one behind the other looked like a caravan lit by golden setting sun. All around, the sand dunes glowed like molten gold. 

At the end of a day

At the end of a day

In a short while we were picked up by our cart and delivered to our car.

Bhavai dance, Rajasthani folk

The Bhavai Rajasthani Folk dance with balancing pitchers

The car dropped us at a small resort nearby. Using a mud-like material and thatched roofs, the resort was designed to give the atmosphere of a local village. In the center was a round arena that was surrounded by sitting arrangements. Round shaped cottages made of earth with straw roof stood on the periphery.

With sundown it had become quite chilly. A fire was burning at the middle and the performance started.

Rajasthani folk dances have originated from different tribes. Folk songs are usually based on ballads narrating heroic deeds and love stories or devotional themes. Often these songs provide interesting peek into the past and provide material for history.

The group of musicians sat behind on an elevated platform and the dancers performed at the center around the fire. A group of dancers performed the Kalbeliya dance that originated from the community of snake charmers. Women dancers in flowing gorgeous black lehengas swirled and emulated the movements of snakes.

The final item was a Bhavai dance. The lone woman danced to the beats of a drummer balancing seven pitchers on her head. It was quite a performance.

As time passed, temperature dropped and we proceeded to the dinner hall. It was a simple Rajasthani buffet dinner with Dalbati churma and Sangdi ka sag.

Following dinner we returned to Jaisalmer for the night.

— END Part 1—

Trip time: 
December 2012
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Jaisalmer RJ
India
26° 54' 56.6964" N, 70° 54' 30.0384" E
Rajasthan IN