The golden clouds of Jaisalmer

Of sands, safaris and sunsets


November 13, 2020

/ By / Jaisalmer

The golden clouds of Jaisalmer

Sunsets are best watched from the back of a camel atop the sand dunes (MIG photos/Varsha Singh)

Winter is perhaps the best time to take a break in the Golden city of Jaisalmer. The home of Golden Fort offers plentiful to those looking for history, architecture, culture and cuisine, as well as those seeking an adrenalin rush.

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The yellow sands glitter in the dwindling sunlight as one drives on the narrow ribbon of grey bitumen dwarfed by immense sand dunes on either side. Up ahead, for miles on end the road runs straight as an arrow and there is no sign of life. At regular intervals, as the open top jeep races ahead, sandstorm shelters zip by frequently. Even in the falling heat, one can see mirages in the distance and the road seems to disappear in thin air.

Such is the beauty of Jaisalmer. Located in the heart of Thar desert Jaisalmer has been given the name of Golden City because of its foundation on the yellow sandstone. It is also called so thanks to its massive fort, the Golden Fort or Sonar Qila that glitters like gold when sun rays fall at an angle on its massive ramparts.

goldern fort of jaisalmer

The Golden Fort is one of the biggest pulls of Jaisalmer

Besides the Golden Fort, the city also has palaces and museums for those interested in history. It is also home to a war museum recounting the tale of the handful braves of Indian Army who fought the historic battle of Longewala in December 1971 in which 179 Pakistani soldiers were killed and atleast 37 tanks destroyed in a single night.

Jaisalmer also has several havelis or mansions, built mainly by the wealthy Jain families that have dominated trading and business not just here, but also all over Rajasthan. Besides the exquisitely designed havelis, there are also numerous Jain temples, including within the fort itself, that are worth a visit.

Beyond Jaisalmer – Desert safaris & more

But there is much more to Jaisalmer than the city itself. If you want to experience the rawness of nature, then you must spend a night under the stars in the middle of the desert.

After an hour-long drive from the city, you make it to Sam Sand Dunes, located literally in the middle of nowhere. Once you are out in the huge emptiness of the Thar, you realise that the place is actually full of fun things to do and explore.

The unending sand dunes are best experienced through a desert safari and what better ride can you have in the desert than the one built by nature. Camels. Hopping on to a camel, that is decorated in traditional garb and mirror work, as it slowly makes it way up the immense dunes, one sure step followed by the other. As it climbs up the dune, the view beyond emerges gradually and almost in a magical way.

But if a slow camel ride is not your idea of adventure, then definitely take the open-top jeep safari. Or maybe, it is best to experience both as each ‘vehicle’ presents the desert in its own way. When you are the bottom of a sand dune, it is almost impossible to imagine that the driver of the jeep would actually manage to take it all the way to the top. And as the open-top jeep races up, with its engine screaming for the last bit of oxygen, you get the feeling that it might just stall any moment and roll all the way down.

jeep safari in jaisalmer

A jeep safari on the sand dunes can rival any roller coaster ride

But at the end, the jeep does manage to get right on the top. Before you have had the time to recover your breath, it begins to move slowly forward and you feel the emptiness in your stomach race up your throat as the jeep begins its journey downhill.  With the jeep accelerating rapidly, both by the pull of the gravity and the driver’s foot that has pushed the accelerator right on to the floor, you are sure that you would not make it. But the skillful driver does manage to bring the jeep back on the flat land, before accelerating again for the next dune. However often you may do it, each dune presents the same challenges as the very first one.

Desert sunsets & starry nights

Sunsets are also best observed from the back of a camel as it seems to chase the sinking sun all the way to the horizon, with the immense expanse of sand taking on the golden hues of the rapidly fading sunlight.

Once the magical moment is over, you head back to the place where you will spend the night. No, it is not a hotel, but tents laid down right there in the midst of the dunes. The small white tents look like beads decorating the gigantic desert, making it an ideal spot for camping.

camping in jaisalmer

If you want to spend a night under the stars, camping in the desert is a great option

The dusk approaches rapidly and before you know, it is almost completely dark, but for the innumerable stars that twinkle overhead. The evenings in the desert are the prettiest. The clear skies filled with stars and a chilly breeze starts to freeze you. Just then, in the open space between the tents, a large bonfire is lit and you find yourself inching as close as possible, in order to absorb all the heat that emanates from the bonfire. And, a good bonfire, along with a hearty meal, is precisely what one needs to complete the day that’s seen enough adrenalin rush.

As you await dinner, a lovely cultural programme mounted by the local artistes geared up in their traditional costumes who perform traditional folk songs and dance. Sumptuous, hot snacks are served along with your preferred beverages, as you begin to relish the spectacle unfolding before your eyes. The dancers perform a variety of traditional Rajasthani dances, notably Kalbeliya or snake charmer dance as well as Bhavai. Kalbeliya has been recognized as intangible heritage of humanity by the UNESCO. Women are dressed in ethnic attire and dance to folk music that men play. Popular instruments include dholak (a small drum), khanjari and pungi (a percussion & woodwind musical instruments). The dance comprises snakelike dance movements that namesake tribal women perform.

Another notable dance form of tribal women in Rajasthan is the Bhavai, which involves the dancer balancing a number of pots on their head and dancing around. It is a fascinating stunt that these traditional artistes perform. Some balance up to eight earthen or brass pots on top of their head. While balancing the pots they turn around within the circumference of a plate or a glass. Male performers play music instruments including sarangi, dholak & harmonium and sing along.

Rajasthani thali

The spread of a Rajasthani thali will definitely tinkle your taste buds

While your eyes are treated to the magic of magnificent balance and supple movements of dancers’ bodies, your taste buds are tickled with an equally delicious and sumptuous meal served a la Rajasthan. The famous Rajasthani thali that comprises of Dal, Bati, Churma is a must food item amongst the several items that are offered in small containers. Baatis are traditionally served with dal and dollops of fresh ghee. Gatte ki sabzi is another famous staple in a traditional Rajasthani thali, where besan (gram flour) nuggets are boiled and cooked in a flavoured gravy.

A full stomach and a content heart after a long day filled with adventure and awe-inspiring sights is just what you need to fall into a deep and uninterrupted sleep under the stars. As your eyes succumb to the sleep, take a long, last view of the stars while your mind replays the highlights of the day.



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