Northwest India = Thar Desert = Jaisalmer and surrounding areas. Period. Well, that is my feeling … at least at the moment : ). Having seen beautiful sand dunes and pictures of the Great Indian Desert (Thar Desert), the possibility of actually visiting the area was just too good to pass up and we jumped at the opportunity even though it was in the middle of May.
We traveled to Jaisalmer by road from Bikaner and planned to spend about 2 1/2 days exploring. On our previous trip to Jodhpur, we saw first hand the challenges of finding decent places to eat along the way. So this time around, we packed home cooked food … breakfast and lunch that we could eat along the way. It was truly a lifesaver… there was literally nothing on the highway (granted it is brand new and some parts still under construction).
This is what we were able to see during our weekend trip to Jaisalmer
Day 1: Kapil Muni Temple @ Kolayat, Baba Ramdev Temple @ Ramdevra, Jaisalmer
We started early in the morning as we had planned stops along the way. Our first stop was the Kapil Muni Temple at Kolayat. It is located on the banks of a lake and we reached there around 7:45 am. We spent about an hour exploring the various temples on the site before heading onward.
We then stopped by a small rest area to have our breakfast before proceeding towards Jaisalmer.
Along the way, we stopped at the Baba Ramdev Temple at Ramdevra. It is a very famous temple that we did not know much about before going there. It is dedicated to a saint from the 14th century who is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Krishna. The temple area has an amazing vibe! Looking at the crowds, we were afraid we would spend a couple of hours stuck in lines…. but to our surprise, the temple is so well managed that we were able to exit the temple within 1/2 hour. Only later we realised how blessed we were to have visited this incredible gem.
We reached Jaisalmer around 2pm. We settled into our cute boutique hotel and had our packed lunch. We decided to rest for a bit before heading out. Around 5:30pm, we headed out to explore the area.
Our first stops were the Vyas Chhatri and Bada Bagh. We did not spend much time at either of these places. Vyas Chhatri is an active cremation site and as a result members in our multi-generational group deemed it to be inappropriate to visit.
Next we headed to Gadisar Lake. It was around sunset time, so the boat ride in the lake was simply perfect. After the boat ride we visited the Lord Shiva temple on the banks of the lake. Watching the evening aarti was a mesmerizing experience. Afterwards we headed to a restaurant for dinner before calling it a night.
Day 2: Jaisalmer Fort, Jain Temples, Patwon Ki Haveli, Tanot Mata Temple, Longewala Museum, Sam Sand Dunes
This was a very long day, but we were able to accomplish a lot. Right after breakfast we headed to the fort.
The Jaisalmer Fort is a living fort which means that people still live and work inside the fort. Once we were inside, we realized there were hotels located inside the fort which we could have explored as options to stay. Our first stop were the Jain temples inside the fort. Beautiful carvings, serene interiors made them the perfect place to start the day.
Next, we checked out Baa Ri Haveli near the temple. It was interesting to see the interiors of a typical haveli.
We then headed to Dusshera Chowk and the King and Queen Palaces. You have to climb a lot of stairs inside the palaces, so the seniors in our group hung around Dusshera Chowk while the rest of us explored the palaces. It was really interesting exploring the different corners of the palaces where you also get a chance to explore the roof top and the spectacular views in the surrounding area.
Afterwards, we headed to see Patwon Ki Haveli from the outside. After spending some time enjoying the exteriors, we headed to Suli Dungar view point to check out the view of the Jaisalmer Fort from the outside.
It was around lunch time at this point, so we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. It was around 1pm by the time we were done and we had a choice to make… head back to the hotel and rest until evening or head to Tanot and Longewala. We decided to do the latter.
The drive to Tanot seemed long but it was interesting seeing the Great Thar Desert. It was certainly not what I had expected… even in May there was vegetation. Visiting the Tanot temple was amazing. It felt like mostly hard core pilgrims venture out there (it is literally in the middle of nowhere). During a conversation with a pilgrim, they mentioned that Mata needs to invite you…only then you visit. Made sense somehow.
Next we headed to Longewala. On the way to Longewala, we saw some of the most amazing stretches of sand dunes. Since there was no commercial activity, we just ran up and enjoyed the dunes thoroughly (CAUTION: Do not wander off alone… safety first!).
Longewala – Understanding the history of the area and the war that took place was an interesting experience. After spending some time exploring the outdoor museum we headed back towards Jaisalmer.
Instead of going back to the hotel, we headed to the Sam sand dune area (42 km from Jaisalmer in another direction). This is a totally crazy tourist area (crazy in a nice way). Here we enjoyed a jeep ride in the dunes, a camel cart ride(older folks), camel ride (younger folks) and plain running around in the dunes. After sunset, we headed to a camp close by to enjoy a local cultural show. We did not expect dinner to be served really late (around 9:30pm). By then we were super exhausted. We reached our hotel around 11pm ready to hit the bed.
Day 3: Travel Day
After a late breakfast, our original plan was to explore the Jaisalmer War Museum and Akal Wood Fossil Park. Unfortunately, all our plans changed when we entered the shopping area. After a ton of shopping (including buying some of the famous Jaisalmer stoneware), we realized it was almost lunchtime. We headed to the Marriott in Jaisalmer where we had one of the most delicious lunches! After lunch we headed back to Bikaner, this time only stopping once for a short break.
- If you are traveling to Jaisalmer by road, then please ensure your food and water needs are taken care of. Depending on the path you take, opportunities to stop for food and water are far in-between.
- Carry plenty of change (Rs.100 notes) as you will end up using them everywhere!
- Tanot & Longewala – worth the visit? It depends. If you want to see remote areas then the drive is perfect. However, if all you are looking for is to have fun in stretches of sand dunes, then the Sam Sand Dunes area will serve the purpose.
- Stay inside or outside the fort? – We did not think about the area we wanted to stay in before we picked our hotel (which was absolutely beautiful btw – with an amazing view of the fort). However, having seen how vibrant life is inside the fort area, do consider staying in a hotel inside if possible. Of course, most of the high end hotels are outside the downtown Jaisalmer area. We stayed at a boutique hotel very close to Gadisar Lake.