Jaisalmer had been on my wish list for a very long time. Having seen beaches, backwaters, historical places, hill stations and mountains, the desert still remained to be explored. Finally the call came from the desert and one fine day we found ourselves on board the train to Jaisalmer - The Golden City of forts, havelis and the magnificent Thar. It was the cold and foggy winter evening of January 22 this year when we took the 'DLI JSM Express' from Gurgaon railway station. This is the only train that goes directly to Jaisalmer from Delhi via Gurgaon, Jaipur and Jodhpur. It is a sixteen hour journey.
All trains were running late those days given the bad weather conditions and where we had to reach at 11:30 next morning we reached just 5 hours late. But being part of a group of 9 ghumakkars including my 15 months old son, the train journey was nothing short of long drawn conversations, nonsensical jokes, repeated bouts of laughter and elaborate meals of poori-bhaji, paranthas, pickle carried by enthusiastic elders in the group. You cannot miss the yummy onion kachoris at Jodhpur station where the train stops next morning.
Finally the destination arrived. We reached Jaisalmer station at 4:30 in the evening. As soon as we landed we realized that the warm clothes we had been carrying would not be of any good use as the weather was quite pleasant here. In fact the sun was quite bright even in the evening. We had our booking in hotel Rang Mahalwhich is around 3.5 km from the railway station.
It is a heritage palace hotel, with luxury rooms and decent hospitality.
The whole day had already passed in transit so we could not do much except relaxing in the serene environment of the hotel and having a lavish buffet dinner in the garden with Rajasthani folk music and dance.
On the first day of the trip we had the following places in the agenda which we set out to explore the next morning after finishing breakfast.
Jaisalmer Fort: Also known as Sonar Quila, the 250 feet tall fort was built on the Trikuta hill by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal over 800 years ago. The city derives its name from this fort.
This splendid piece of architecture exudes sheer magic with its massive golden yellow sandstone walls and houses Raja's Mahal, Rani's Mahal, exquisite Jain temples, Laxminath temple and four massive gateways.
The fort also houses shops and stalls selling local and traditional products.
Raja's Mahal has been converted to a museum that displays an assortment of royal garbs, weapons, marble thrones and British era royal stamps.
From the terrace of the mahal one can catch an interesting view of the whole city painted golden with a web of row houses filling up the entire space wherever the eye goes.
Godi Sagar lake: Our next stop was the Godi sagar lake, a beautiful lake sorrounded by small temples and shrines. An arched gateway made of yellow sandstone leads to the lake. There is a beautiful domed shrine right in the middle of the lake which is a favourite place for shooting many films and soaps. Actually when we visited the lake, shooting for some hindi soap was in progress. The lake is also a vacation home for many migratory and rare birds.
Patwon-ki-Haveli: Now this is the place that enthralled me the most. The beauty and the architecture of the haveli was something beyond my imagination. As soon as we entered the haveli we got transported to an entirely different era in the history of Indian culture. Several centuries ago there must have been a royal family residing in the massive haveli, pampered by the luxury of the place, images of which are brought alive as we visit each room very thoughtfully and intricately decorated according to the royal tastes. There is a room for entertainment, a room for attending visitors, a kitchen and a granary, bedrooms with silver beds and satin sheets and dressing room for the queens. All bring alive the fantasies of a stylishly nobel lifestyle. Music of the sitar and tanpura echoing through the narrow winding corridors of the haveli and jharokhas through which ranis would dreamily gaze at the outside world, all sing the story of the time long gone by, memories of which have been very well preserved for admirers like us.
Historically the Patwon ki haveli is a cluster of five havelis built by members of a family and are lined up one after the other. They are specimens of the finest architecture with a touch of regal rajputana sculpture. They are delicately carved and exquisitely designed. The entrance room has walls and ceilings that are finely designed with glass pieces put together intricately. This is the place where shooting of the 'Siyaram' ad has taken place.
We spent the evening on the terrace of the main haveli, a perfect place for clicking pictures amidst pigeons flying across and the city warming up to the bright golden lights of the haveli as dusk sets in.
We also did some shopping in the emporiums set in the basement that display an array of traditional bed covers, carpets, shawls and stoles.
Nathmalji Ki Haveli: Next and last for the day was Nathmalji Ki Haveli, another beautiful and historically rich haveli that used to be the house of Mohta Nathmal, the then prime minister at the Jaisalmer royal court. The haveli boasts of a rich architecture splendor with stone carved windows and walls ornamented with stone figures of horses, elephants, flowers and birds. The entrance of the haveli is guarded by two big yellow sandstone elephants, one on each side.
Thus ended our first day of mighty exploration and eye warming glitzy experience of Rajasthan's royal history. Tired we retired dreaming about what the next day had in store for us.
The next day's agenda included a trip to the fossil park and the desert.
Akal Wood Fossil Park: Located 17 kms from Jaisalmer city, this fossil park takes us back to the prehistoric Jurassic era that dates back 180 million years ago. The forest that stood there millions of years ago was submerged into the sea and the tree trunks got preserved in the form of fossils. Although this park did not excite me much, it may be of interest to people interested in geography and archeology.
We had already checked out of the hotel in the morning and planned to spend one night close to the desert. There are several camping places that are close to the sand dunes. We did some research and finally decided to have a stopover at Choki Dhani Tents located on Sam Road nearly 45 kms away from Jaisalmer city. This place is very close to the famous Sam Sand dunes and is one of the best tented accommodation available in Jaisalmer. It provides a rustic yet comfortable stay with all modern amenities. It has the set up of a Rajasthani traditional village with beautiful decoration and in the evenings have entertainment in the form of puppet show, magic show, folk dances, giant wheels and ethnic food and drinks. A trip to Jaisalmer is incomplete without a stay in the tents which bring you very close to the desert.
We checked into the tents around 4 and around 5 in the evening, we took a camel ride that takes visitors from the tents to the sand dunes. Our camel cavalcade consisting of 2 camels and a camel cart set out taking us a step at a time close to the heart of the magnificent Thar. A bumpy yet enjoyable safari took us along the crests and troughs of the desert and deep into the undulating stretches of golden sand.
The visit to the sand dunes should be made either early morning or late evening to watch the sunrise or sunset. There are several points that show a very clear view of the sunset. Our camels took us to one such spot where I spent one of the most beautiful and romantic half an hour of my life. The emotions on being in the midst of the sand dunes was comparable to the emotions I felt when I had seen the sea for the first time in my life. Extremely vast with the captivating beauty of the sun setting behind the mountains of golden sand sends ripples down the spine. Human beings seem so very very small in front of this wonder that nature created.
After spending the most enthralling time basking in the beauty of the desert, the camels took us back to the tents where we spent an evening of fun and entertainment. Even joined the folk dancers shaking a leg or two in true Rajasthani style.
Finally the last day of the trip. Next morning we planned to visit the Khuldra village that falls on the way back to the city. These are the remains of a historic village that was once inhabited by Paliwal Brahmins. It is a deserted village today with remains of around 500 brick houses that are well built and well planned and is an architectural treat to the eyes.
On the way back to the city, we saw some people do parasailing. Not many know that there is a good parasailing option in Jaisalmer. As there are vast stretches of empty land lying idle and the winds are quite favorable, Jaisalmer grounds make it a good place for adventurous travelers to have some adrenalin boost by trying hands at parasailing. They use jeeps to tie the parachutes and its a pretty long trip one gets as compared to one that you generally get in places like Goa. The charge per trip is Rs. 300 which is quite reasonable.
Our last stopover was the Amar Sagar lake. Although the lake was dry with children playing cricket where the lake was supposed to be. The Amar Sagar has 3 Jain temples, the most famous of which is the Adeshwar Nath Jain temple with beautiful carving and ornate designs.
After this lunch followed by the train journey back home. Definitely Jaisalmer is any traveller's dream destination that promises a taste of both nature and history and a mix of both adventure and luxurious relaxation.