Jaisalmer Fort is one of the world's largest fully preserved fort which is still a living fort. Built in 1156 AD by Rawal Jaisal, the fort derives it's name from two words - Jaisal and Meru. Jaisal came from the king himself and Meru is the name of an unassailable mythical mountain of the Gods in the Himalayas. Before the British came, Jaisalmer was a part of the Silk Route and an important stop-point for the travellers and merchants.
Jaisalmer Fort is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with all the other hill forts of Rajasthan, like Chittorgarh Fort. Due it's yellow colour which glows like gold in the morning and evening, it's also known as the Golden Fort or Sonar Qila.
I decided to start my day at dawn and from a hill right across the hill where Jaisalmer Fort is located. It gave me the perfect shot of the fort, and also put the fort in perspective to the rest of the town. Over the last few hundred years, Jaisalmer has expanded far beyond the much smaller town that it used to be when housed within the fort, yet the fort remains central to almost everything in the present day Jaislamer.
It was peak summers and within minutes of sunrise temperatures soared above 35 degree Celsius and so I dropped the plan to walk to the fort, and instead continued in my jeep. After an exiting drive through the empty narrow lanes of the city, I was at the gate for my third visit to the fort over the last six years.
Over the next several hours I explored the lanes and by lanes within the fort - something I had done before, yet something that I can simply keep doing over and over again. So what is about Jaisalmer that makes it so interesting? What keeps bringing me back to it again and again?
Well, to answer these questions, here's a guide on Top things to do in Jaisalmer Fort.
This is actually true for any place that you are exploring, especially if it has an old town where people walk on the streets, and conversations are possible. Jaisalmer is a goldmine if you love to talk to strangers on the streets.
This time the most fun conversation was with a temple priest who invited me home after a short chat for tea, after apologising profusely why he invited me for tea and not opium. Well, opium isn't exactly legal, though it's openly consumed in a traditional way in many nearby villages, so tea is the only option left.
The fort has numerous temples, and most of them are predictably Hindu temples. However, the most beautiful temples here are the Jain Temples, especially the Parshwanath temple.
Do make a visit to one of these to enjoy the intricate carvings on the stone. Additionally, also visit a cafe close by with a terrace overlooking these temples. The view from top is even more beautiful. I can recommend Desert Boys Hostel which is located right next to the temple, and this is how these temples look like from the top!
Now, this is something new that I discovered only this time - you can walk almost the entire periphery of the fort and it's quite an interesting experience. At any point of time you can always walk into the town through one of the connecting roads, while rest of the time you can just walk all around and enjoy the view of the town outside the fort.
Partially built over the hawa pol (air gate), the Palace is conveniently located right at the entrance to the fort and is also a living museum.
The fort has many sections and you can actually spend quite sometime exploring it. Most of it also indoor, and gives you respite from the heat outside. The two key areas are Raja-ka-Mahal and Rani-ka-Mahal. I would also strongly recommend taking the audio-guide - it's free of cost but you need to deposit Rs 2000 as guarantee.
Now this is something that only tourists do, but even I must admit that it's tempting to shop within the fort complex.
Jaisalmer is well known for camel leather goods, and you can buy some really innovative products made with it, including coin pouches made with camel testicle and penis.
However, since all this shopping is exclusively for tourists, the prices are inflated and require a fair bit of bargaining. However, my favourite are these leather travel bags :)
Do you know anything about an instrument called Ravanahatha? If the answer is no, a great place to enjoy its music is right at the gate of Jaisalmer fort.
It's is an ancient bowed, stringed instrument with a rustic sound, which makes it even more ideal for the deserts. I don't quite know why, but the you will find many inside the fort playing the instrument and you can sit with them and listen for as long as you like. Just be nice and leave some tip too :)