Started the day with a walk to the imposing Jaisalmer Fort. It is positively the most exotic fort that we have ever seen anywhere in the world and it was almost like stepping into the pages of Arabian Nights. Not just us ordinary mortals, it even inspired the legendary Indian film-director Satyajit Ray of international acclaim, to make a movie Sonar Kila (Golden Fort).
Built with local sandstone and without any mortar. the shifting sands of the desert cover the base of its 99 closely-spaced semi-circular bastions creating the fabulous illusion of a fort rising out of the desert.
We explored the still inhabited interiors of the fort - walking through the different lanes and bylanes and saw the Jain Temples, the Palace and the numerous curio shops.
After lunch, we explored the other parts of the beautiful Golden City of Jaisalmer. Sandstone is extremely fascinating - a tawny lion colour in the day, it turns into a magical honey-gold at sunset. Now, just visualize an entire city made with ONLY this stone and you would be able to understand why we were absolutely floored! It's as if a master-craftsman took one huge piece of sandstone and patiently carved out the entire city. Each and every building is built with yellow sand stone and is very exquisitely carved with intricate jaalis (latticed grilles). Amongst them, the Havelis (mansions) of Diwan Nathmalji, Salim Singh and of Patwa Brothers stand out as architectural masterpieces.
Jaisalmer's bazaars are evocative of the medieval days when the town flourished because of its position on the main caravan trail up through Afghanistan. Walking through the narrow winding lanes flanked by carved havelis, we were transported back to the time when this was the place where the products of India and China were exchanged for those of Persia, Arabia, Africa and Europe.
Jaisalmer is a great place to pick up chunky rustic silver jewellery, colourful embroidered and mirror-worked fabrics, camel leather goods, wood carvings and various delicately carved sandstone items.
We had dinner at the ethnic Narayan Niwas Palace Hotel with folk music and dance against the backdrop of the dazzlingly lit Fort.
Spent the forenoon visiting the royal palace known as Mandir Palace and Tazia Tower. Also saw the beautiful man-made Gadsisar Lake - encircled with beautiful archways, cupolas and kiosks, it has been a watering hole for dog-years in the Thar Desert.
Tucked away in the narrow alleys, Jaisalmer's houses have some real hilarious wall paintings. The tradition is that prior to a Hindu wedding, the front wall of the bride's house was painted with an image of Lord Ganesh. Today's painters have gone beyond their brief and added their wry humour to it.
After lunch, we took a look at the Vyas Chhatris and Bada Bagh cenotaphs. The desert had begun to get to us and we decided to get adventurous by taking a Camel Safari.
On camel-backs, we left for Samm (pronounced Sum) sand dunes some 40 kms (26 miles) away visiting the villages enroute. Spent an enchanting evening on the sands watching the sensuous snake dance of the Kalbeliya gypsies and listening to the full throated folks songs of the Manganiyars. Sleeping in tents under the desert starscape was another of our unforgettable experiences of Rajasthan.
Last night's revelries could not keep us from waking up early in the morning to see the cool golden sands of Samm changing colours in the sunrise. Explored around on camels and proceeded back to Jaisalmer visiting different villages, ruins and temples enroute.
We could quite imagine what it must be like to be here during the highly popular three-day long Desert Festival, when the sands come alive in a magnificient spectacle of colour, music and festivity. Folk music apart, there are turban-tying competitions, Mr. Desert contest, longest moustache competition, camel races, camel polo, Gair dancers and Fire dancers as well. The grand finale is at the Samm dunes on a moonlit night where the festivities continue.
Later in the day, we visited the Lodurva ruins of Jain Temples and the palaces at Moolsagar and Amarsagar.
Half day excursion either by Jeep or on Camel to the fascinating desert village dunes
Half day excursion of the ruined village of Paliwal community