I’ve spent 3 months in India, interning for an NGO. Among my travels there, Jaisalmer is by far the greatest marvel I’ve witnessed. It is a fortified ancient town in the middle of the desert, bordering with Pakistan, and it’s incredibly hard to reach – but totally worth the effort. It is famous for its minutely chiselled architecture, unique and beautiful in all its manifestations.
The town, honey-yellow in its majestic walls, the same colour of the sea of sand it floats on, is in Northern India, in the state of Rajasthan. There is no close airport nor railway station so we left in a van from New Delhi, where we were based, at night with the hope of reaching our destination by noon the day after.
Tip for affordable travelling: beware of agencies or services offered to foreigners, they are truly overpriced. We were helped by some local friend in finding a driver that would offer his van and his driving for the whole of our days out. His rate, negotiated by our Indian friends, was super affordable and we could split it as the van could easily fit the 6 of us. In India, where railways are not reliable with regards to timing and flights are not always an option, renting drivers with vans and split costs can be an incredibly convenient way of travelling. Be prepared to spend entire days in the vehicle though, distances are massive.
The ride went smooth and we arrived on time to start to have a look around. Jasailmer is literally a fortress in the middle of the desert so we immediately went for a camel ride between the dunes. There are plenty of camel owners offering rides and chilled drinks so be prepared to negotiate. I’m still not sure about how to feel about my camel ride. I literally fell in love with the camel but I wonder how ethical it was.
A Safari ride in the desert followed. It wasn’t centred on animals but on the very fun off-road ride.
Our hotel was stunning, again booked by our Indian friends. Probably this is again the reason why we saved so much money: we ended up paying less than 13 euros per person per night, safari ride and dinner in the desert included.
Speaking of our dinner in the desert, we were served by the fire with local and unusual food. There were plenty of delicious vegan and vegetarian options, based on legumes, roots and herbs collected in the desert. A transgender dancer, commonplace and fascinating figures in India, danced for us the whole evening, spinning at incredible speeds, pacing on broken glasses without blinking.
After dinner, during our ride back surrounded by sand, an antelope crossed the road. Our driver suddenly drove off road to hide the van behind a dune. A group of armed man followed up. Our driver told us they were probably Muslims –so used to eating mammals, unusual in most of India- out for hunting even if forbidden by the Indian law. We were told to be careful around the area, being the border sometimes subjected to terrorism.
We spent the following days exploring the old town (there is no such a thing as a more recent part of the town though). We ate at local restaurants (check out this post for tips on authentic Indian food) and visited a Jain temple, one of those that feature the incredibly fine chiselling that are so typical of Indian architecture. It is definitely worth a visit. We discovered too late that there are other such temples in the middle of the desert, I wish I had time to explore them as well.
While walking around, we were told by our driver that Jaisalmer is the town of silver. Here is where it is vastly manufactured, mostly by families themselves, and then distributed all around India and the world. So we entered one random silver shop. It looked mostly like a home that a shop – indeed, it was a home. Our host showed us the tools he used to create his artefacts and work his silver, than brought us upstairs in his family’s bedchambers. He laid down a linen and invited us to sit while showing us, one by one, all his doings.
Rings, necklaces, earrings and charms of all sorts. Long negotiations followed –always negotiate, it’s a fun and necessary skill to acquire by traveling- and we ended up purchasing unique silver garments at a stunningly cheap rate as we were right at the beginning of the production chain. We even got local and delicious tips on the best places to eat to.
But the thing we appreciated most surely was just strolling in the maze of alleys, discovering the beauty of Jaisalmer buildings, both the simple and the royal ones. And, of course, enjoying the chilled charisma of resident cows.