At the end of December 2022, a thought came to my mind. It had been 9 months post my return to India and yet I had not ventured on a solo trip. Yes, I had been on a few trips, however, people were befriended en route and the trip resultantly did not turn out solo in the truest of sense. Thus, I packed my bag, laptop and jacket, and ventured on my little journey to the oldest living fort in the world- the Jaisalmer fort.
On paper, it is easy to travel to Jaisalmer via train. However, India and reality are two parallels in a paradox. If you are unaware, India has the biggest and busiest railway network in the world. At any given moment, millions of people are booking their railway tickets, and Jaisalmer being a popular tourist destination, it is a one-in-a-hundred chance of you getting a seat reserved. It turns out, the stars were aligned for me, and with the blessings of “corona devi” (yep, few people in India have given birth to Goddess Corona), people cancelled their tickets and I got mine confirmed!
This started my most anticipated solo trip in the post (quasi) covid world, but you may travel in the following way:
- How to Reach Jaisalmer by Air?
Jaisalmer does not have a commercial airport as of date. The closest domestic airport is Jodhpur Airport, which is the best way to reach Jaisalmer by air. You may take a regular flight from Delhi or Mumbai to Jodhpur. There-onwards it is a 5-hour ride to reach Jaisalmer fort.
- How to Reach Jaisalmer by Road?
The city is accessible by road, and you may drive from Delhi while stopping by Jaipur and Udaipur. You can do this with your own vehicle or a self-drive rental car but it is recommended that you take an experienced driver along.
- How to Reach Jaisalmer by Bus?
There are no direct buses from Delhi or Mumbai to Jaisalmer. You may reach Jaipur or Jodhpur and take a bus from there, which might take 10 to12 hours depending upon the traffic.
- How to Reach Jaisalmer by Train?
I, personally, would recommend travelling to Jaisalmer via train. It is well connected to railway stations across India, and one can find people from all across the country travelling there. Trains from Delhi, Jodhpur, and Jaipur are common. Some of the popular trains that I can recommend are Delhi Jaisalmer Express, Howrah Jaisalmer Express and Lalgarh Jaisalmer Special.
The city of Jaisalmer
A city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer is located 575 kilometres (357 miles) to the west of the city of Jaipur. Just as Jaipur is considered the “Pink City”, Jaisalmer has the honour of being called the “Golden city”. You might wonder, why is Jaisalmer called the golden city? It is primarily because the city is constructed of yellow sandstones and being at the border of the Thar Desert, during the golden hours i.e. sunset and sunrise, the entire city turns golden in colour. Delightful, is it not?
It is crowned, in the middle, by a thousand-year-old fort. Made of sandstones, the fort and the fortress have been inhabited by the residents since its foundation. Ancestral traits and their generations can still be found residing there and guiding the tourists around. If you ever wish to experience how living inside a gigantic historical fort feels like, this is your primary destination.
Upon reaching this giant fortress’s entrance, you are greeted by a gate. Public vehicles are not allowed to enter, and if you happen to be on a tuk-tuk or auto-rikshaw it is best advised to stop at the entrance and walk uphill. Remember, the rickshaw people are awaiting to pound at you before you even get a chance to bargain, so research your prices beforehand.
I reached the destination at 1 am on a cold wintery night. The dense fog engulfed me and followed me uphill. Truly spooky an experience, if you ask me. But worry not, all fortresses in India are believed to be protected by the Goddess(es) of that estate. It is said that this fort is blessed by one, for that is one reason that it has stood the test of times, from drought to wars, it has seen it all in thousand years.
5 lesser-known facts about Jaisalmer fort:
- Built in 1156 CE, the Jaisalmer fort gets its name from the former Bhati Rajput ruler Rao Jaisal.
- It is the largest living fort in the world. More than 3000 people still reside and live in it.
- It is a UNESCO world heritage and the only preserved living fortification in the world.
- People and livelihoods inside are borne of tradition and spirituality.
- The fort is a perfect blend of traditional Rajput and Muslim architecture.
It was an enthralling experience living inside the fort. In total, I spent 8 days there, working, eating and living how the locals did. Except for a single occasion, I did not feel the need to venture outside of this little world.
The fortress enjoys unique combustion of heritage and contemporary. The people there understand the importance of tourism and will make sure that your visit is memorable and hospitable. If you enjoy a decent cup of chai, do not reject the invitation from the locals. It is possibly the best way to enjoy the local hospitality and connect with them.
Priyanka Tawde in a blog has best described it as, “… the magnificently adorned havelis, monumental Jaisalmer fort, the rich culture, ancient traditions and the desert camels that define the very soul of this city. Bathed in yellow sandstone from the forts to houses, from buildings to palaces, one gets to experience the golden yellow hues of this land. Rajasthani folk music and dance play a pivotal role in the shaping of this desert region and are essential highlights for anyone visiting this paradise.”
One may read, hear, and write about the experiences, however, it can never match the sense of living it. This stands true for the culture and life inside this sandstone structure. You carry your own experience, the sense of being and staying in the desert city which is one of a kind in the world. Every brick and lane sings the song of its history, of the rise and fall of kings and families. Rulers come and go, but the people and their stories survive.
The fort is well equipped with modern infrastructure, from high bandwidth internet connection to necessary luxuries, you will not find the dearth of any daily life necessities. I would recommend visiting the cafe culture which has developed a life of its own there.
Best café inside Jaisalmer fort:
- The Traveler’s Cup Premium Coffee Shop
This is one of the most popular cafes in the city, with numerous global accolades and mentions, it is effectively a hidden bookhouse that serves hand-made french coffee to its customers. I spent 3 days working from there and recommend that travellers try it. Just an observation, it is more popular with free-spirited people than the locals.
- Kuku cafe
The owners boast of more than 100 types of homemade coffee. In their words, they are credited for experimenting and creating a unique combination of coffee. In my experience, the place serves as the finest sunset point in the city. I wish I could say the same for coffee.
- German Bakery And Coffee Shop
Situated inside the entrance of the fort, this cafe serves a nice cup of masala chai with french bakery items (primarily a croissant). If you wish to live your daily life and watch the world pass by, I would recommend sitting here during the afternoon or after hours.
- Karma Cafe
Surprisingly, I was not too fond of this place, however, it serves a unique experience of sitting inside the fort and enjoying the cultural ambience the life there offers you.
It was a memorable experience living inside the fortress. Walking by its walls at the night and observing the city life as people continue living their simple lives. I have been to 7 countries, 2 continents, and have befriended people of 30 nationalities, and yet I would recommend living inside this fort as one of my lifetime goals.
To be amidst a culture of such courteous and hospitable people who go about their daily livelihood with a sense of pride and smile is truly an experience that I would recommend to you.