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Jaisalmer

There is something magical and ethereal about the 12th century fortress town of Jaisalmer; the massive and ancient battlements rear out of the barren and sandy plains of the picturesque Thar Desert, like a mirage from the age-old Middle Eastern folk tales, One Thousand and One Nights. It’s hard not to be enchanted by this desert citadel.

Once a guard to western Rajasthan and a staging post on trading routes, Jaisalmer’s most prominent landmark is the Jaisalmer Fort, also called Sonar Qila or Golden Fort. The thickly walled and formidably fortified citadel has ninety-nine bastions encircling the fort’s labyrinthine twisting lanes. Unlike most other forts in India, Jaisalmer’s still inhabited fort houses a meandering maze of streets full of shops swaddled in bright embroideries, wonderful golden havelis where generations continue to live, and numerous fine Jain temples. The enriching Jain community has adorned the city with several beautiful temples which are situated within the fort. Mostly built during 12th and 15th centuries the temples are known for their exquisite architecture and intricate engravings, that was predominant during the medieval era.

A walking tour gives an excellent insight into a way of life seemingly little changed for centuries. Listen to the hollers of vendors echo through the fort's atmospheric alleyways, with swathes of vibrantly coloured Rajasthani wall hangings for sale, and bullocks ambling along the streets, or walk around the ancient walls to look out over the shimmering expanse of desert, appreciating the sheer isolation of the location. Beneath the ramparts and the forest of intricately carved spires and turrets, is the old city, a merry jumble of palaces and alleys, animals and humans, shops and cafes. The ancient city is finely sculpted from the golden-honey sandstone that lights up in the rising and setting sun, hence Jaisalmer’s designation as the Golden City.

The silky Sam Sand Dunes, around 40 kilometres west of Jaisalmer, make for a wonderful excursion away from the charismatic buzz of the city. The band of dunes is about two kilometres long, and is undeniably one of the most picturesque in the region. We highly recommend sundowners in the nearby dunes followed a by a camel ride under the desert stars for an impossibly romantic experience. There is no place which better evokes the exotic camel-train trade routes and desert mystery.

In the past half-century Jaisalmer has come back well and truly onto the tourist map; it may be remote, but it’s certainly not forgotten, and today it is considered to be one of Rajasthan’s biggest tourist destinations.

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