Spending the night in the desert in Jaisalmer is definitely one for the books. It’s better than a five star hotel, as you sleep directly under the starry sky. Last night we were so lucky to get this unique experience. There is something magical about the whole experience; going on a camel ride, arriving at your camp between the sand dunes and sleeping under a million stars.
Of course there is more to Jaisalmer than only visiting the desert. It’s our favorite place in India so far, so we decided to share some of our experiences and recommendations.
Jaisalmer is a remote city, located in the southwestern region of Rajasthan amid the Thar Desert. Although it’s remote, it’s still one of the most popular places in Rajasthan for tourists. The best time to visit Jaisalmer is between October and March. As it’s a popular place to visit, it’s definitely easy to get there. One can reach Jaisalmer by bus, train, car or even by air – if you would fly to Jodhpur and get a ride on a bus or train from there.
Jaisalmer is a place with a rich history. The city was established by the Maharaja in 1156. Legend tells that it’s founded by a man named Jaisal, a Bhatti Rajput ruler. It’s said that he did it in assignment of a local hermit called Eesaal. The Trikut hill was chosen as the place for the fort, as it seemed a good site to prevent possible attacks by enemies.
Things to do
The Fort of Jaisalmer
The fort of Jaisalmer is the second oldest fort in Rajasthan, a massive structure and therefore hard to miss. It’s made of sand stones, like many of the other buildings in Jaisalmer. The architecture is beautiful, and we absolutely love all the sandstone buildings in Jaisalmer.
In the fort you can find houses, temples, shops, hotels and lots of restaurants. Unfortunately, during recent years, the fort has been facing large conservation problems due to unrestricted water use. This is caused by the large amount of people living in the fort plus the growing tourism. Therefore, we decided not to buy, sleep or eat in the fort, nor do we recommend you to do that. The government is trying to offer subsidies for local people to leave the fort, but they rather stay and make more money out of tourism.
However, we did have a look in the fort and it was a very special place, with amazing views of the desert. It’s completely free to enter the fort of Jaisalmer.
Gadsisar Sagar Lake
This is a lovely refreshing place in Jaisalmer, where you can enjoy a peaceful boat ride or just enjoy the scenery. Around the lake you can also find temples and other impressive buildings such as shrines and ghats. The Gadsisar Sagar Lake was the only source of water for the city in the olden days.
We particularly liked the gate right before you reach the lake, called Tilon-Ki-Pol, or Gate of Tillon. This beautiful sandstone gateway arches on the road and creates a nice frame before the lake. It was hard to capture this beauty, so it’s best to see it for yourself in real life.
Salim Singh-ki Haveli
Salim Singh-ki Haveli is located in the heart of Jaisalmer. It was commissioned by Salim Singh, the Prime Minister in the time that Jaisalmer was the capital, and was build on the remains of an older haveli in 1815. The most influential family of that time, the Mehta family of Jaisalmer, occupied the haveli.
The haveli has a very unique architecture, as the first floors are very narrow, and the top of the building is a lot bigger. The large top of the haveli has beautifully carved out details, and balconies with an arched roof in the form of peacocks.
To get into the Haveli you only pay 30 rupees per person, and 20 rupees extra for your camera (so about 0.60-0.70 $USD/euro in total per person).
Desert Safari – Camel ride and sleeping under the stars
Going on a desert safari is definitely the highlight for most when visiting Jaisalmer. It’s possible to do a half day or two days (one night). It’s even possible to spent a whole week, if you have the time! A half day usually includes visiting the desert by camel and watching the sunset. When you spent the night, it’s the same, but you also sleep in the desert, get to watch the sunrise and get a breakfast included. We decided to sleep in the desert, and we booked it via our hotel Tokyo Palace, and absolutely loved it.
Imagine the sunlight beaming on your skin, massive sand dunes, an amazing sunset with gorgeous views, and ending the day sleeping under the starry sky. Plus, the next day, you’ll have an amazing sunrise and another camel ride back. We really enjoyed the whole experience. We slept right under the stars without any tent, and it was a lot easier to sleep than we thought.
What to bring
There is not much to bring if you only go for one night, like we did. Our hotel covered most of the essentials, such as food – dinner and breakfast, mineral water, mattress, blankets and tent (if you want one). You need to take sunglasses, sunscreen, long sleeve shirts and warm clothes for if it gets cold at night. We also brought basic hygiene products such as toothpaste and a toothbrush, and it’s also recommended to take cleansing tissues.
Is it ethical to ride camels?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure at first how I would feel about riding on a camel. Yes, it seemed fun, but how ethical is it? I know there is not much taboo about riding camels, but after learning a lot about the mistreatment with riding elephants, I’m a bit more hesitant about everything doing with animals and tourism. And I would rather not participate in it at all.
Therefore, I did some research and found this organization online, called SPANA. Their main focus is improving the welfare of working animals in the world’s poorest communities. This is achieved by treatment, training and teaching. Learn more about them here. They have a very useful guide that you can download with six ways to improve the lives of working animals in the tourism industry.
Luckily, I soon discovered the camels we had were treated very well. They didn’t hurt them in any way, plus they have lots of freedom. During our dinnertime the camels actually went their own way, walking around in the desert and eating plants. They went so far that we couldn’t see them anymore, and one of our tour guides had to “ask them” to return by yelling “EYEYEYEY”. So it was nice knowing they have the option to drift around by themselves when they aren’t “working”. And decide to come back after.
Thus, I guess the best answer to the question whether it’s ethical is: it depends on how they are treated.
Where to sleep
We found an amazing hotel called Tokyo Hotel, which has a beautiful engraved golden facade, gorgeous rooms and a view on the fort from their rooftop restaurant. The hotel is located only five minutes walking to the fort, and you can book your tours via them.
The hotel has 15 rooms, and five different types of rooms that vary from dormitory to deluxe suites. The first two nights we spent in the normal room. The price was a bit more than we usually pay per night in India, namely 900 rupees per night (about 12 $ USD/euros), but also a lot bigger and cleaner. The shower was hot and the WiFi was overall good, although in a few instances the connection failed.
Today we got back from our desert safari and they were even kind enough to upgrade us from a normal room to a standard room. The standard room is pretty much the same, but looks a bit fancier. See picture above for the standard room.
Where to eat
1st Gate Home-Fusion
Here we had a little break from the overload on Indian food, and had a delicious pizza. Good Italian food is quite rare in India, so we were very happy to have found this place.
In addition, their restaurant is on a rooftop with a great view, they decorated it nicely with fairy light, bringing a nice vibe to the whole place. It was very quiet when we came, so it was also a very relaxing place for us.
Hotel Tokyo Palace Roof Top Restaurant
The hotel we stayed in also has a great roof top restaurant. The thing we liked most was the interior and the view of the fort! We had a good basic breakfast each day, and dinner was good too.
There are so much more restaurants in Jaisalmer that you can try out. Be sure to go to one of the many rooftop restaurants and enjoy the surroundings!
Have you ever visited a desert or went on a camel ride? Share your experiences below!