Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sand Castles in the Desert

The city of Jaisalmer in western Rajasthan, India is sometimes called the golden city, for its magnificent fort and surrounding city carved and built out of sandstone with some of the most exquisite and intricate carvings in all of India. From a distance, the fort, perched high on a hill resembles a sandcastle, rising out of the golden desert sands.

Unlike other forts found throughout India, this one in Jaisalmer is a living, breathing medieval city, where descendents of the original settlers who came when the city was founded by Prince Jaisal in 1156 still live and work in their ancestral homes. Perched roughly at the center of the silk route, Jaisalmer flourished as a major hub for the trade route between India and the West.

While the city today seems to be overrun with tourists and the resulting touts for everything from guesthouses to shops, it is still easy to wander through the narrow alleys and find hidden treasures of intricately carved buildings, magnificent vistas, and serene Jain temples. Jaisalmer is also the starting point for camel treks through the Thar Desert. My advice would be to avoid the touts as much as possible, and find lodging in the center of town outside the fort (tourists are advised not to stay inside the fort as tourism is putting a huge strain on its infrastructure, causing many parts to collapse). In general, room prices decrease as you move further away from the fort gates. You can easily find rooms for about Rs. 150 in the Gandhi Chowk area (about 10 min walk from the fort gates) or upwards of Rs. 300 closer to the gates. For camel safaris, I highly recommend Sahara Tours with the one and only "Mr. Desert" (review for this tour will be posted soon).


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