Last Updated on May 27, 2023 by Ellen
The living Fort Jaisalmer in the Golden City is unlike any other place on Earth.
Jaisalmer is a small yellow sandstone city in India’s Thar Desert. Jaisalmer Fort was built in 1156, and is one of the only “living forts” in the world — people still live there today!
As we continue our tour of Rajasthan state, we spent a week in the Jaisalmer district.
This post is about our visit to Jaisalmer – inside the fort, and also in the surrounding city. Our desert adventure side trip will be a separate post.
Living Fort Jaisalmer in the Golden City
Inside Fort Jaisalmer
Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum
Simply put, Jaisalmer’s fort is unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Cars won’t fit on the ‘roads’. Cows rule as they do everywhere. Cannons are like benches at some view points.
One of the ways to learn about it is to talk to locals whose families have lived there for generations. We learned there are about 3,500 permanent residents in the living fort today – far fewer than a few decades ago. One reason: people want cars and mobility.
Another way we learned about Jaisalmer’s living fort was through our visit to the palace museum. At 600 rupees ($7.25) per foreigner ticket, the admission price includes a guided audio tour with a ton of information.
The amount of fighting over centuries is mind blowing. If the occupants thought they’d be overrun and defeated, the women walked into bonfires to kill themselves as men went outside on suicide missions to kill as many of the enemy as possible.
The palace is compact, surrounded by fort ramparts and accessible only after passing the fort’s four gates. The stairwells are narrow, which adds to the feel of a fortified ‘home’.
There are not many rooms with furniture. You will see more artifacts like that in another one of the Golden City museums (I talk about one further down).
Finding official information online about the palace museum wasn’t easy, but you cannot miss the entrance a short walk beyond the main gate (pictured above).
Where we stayed inside living Fort Jaisalmer
Our hotel was ideal. Hotel Mirage was in good shape and clean. It had room choices with air conditioning or not, views or not, depending on what you want to spend.
Our room with a view and AC was $15 a night. Amazing! And there is a rooftop common area known as Ba’s Cafe.
Ba runs the hotel and restaurant, and he makes great Indian food.
The window in our room is in the circle below.
We would not hesitate to recommend this place to anyone of any budget level, and we ourselves would definitely return to Hotel Mirage and Ba’s Cafe.
Ba is from a village outside Jaisalmer named Barna, about an hour’s drive from the Golden City. He is a former camel desert guide, so he can also hook you up with the most authentic camel camping trip you can imagine. We know – because we did it and it was unforgettable! Easily in our top 10 travel experiences since 2015.
Reminder: This is an independent travel blog and we get nothing in return for good reviews.
Note that inside the fort, vendors will ask you to stop and look at their goods. Everyone is persistent to sell you something. Bring patience — because everyone is still hurting from COVID, even though there are Indian tourists.
Also, everyone will tell you they have the best sunset or city view in their restaurant. Truthfully, all the views are phenomenal and picture worthy.
Because of the tourism slow down, you’d be smart to look for recent reviews from other travelers – not ‘local guides’ who often post the reviews to help their friends.
Outside living Fort Jaisalmer in the Golden City
Outside the fort, there is plenty to discover. Visit old havelis (Indian mansions) or take walk to Sunset Point or Gadisar Lake. Yes — a lake! Not to mention wandering around with cows and people through alleys and around different neighborhoods.
Gadisar Lake is around the backside of the fort. Jaisalmer’s founder made sure the lake provided water to the entire area.
Today, the Indira Gandhi Canal feeds it so it never dries. Incidentally, at 400 miles, the Indira Gandhi Canal is the longest canal in the country. It was finished relatively recently – only about 15 years ago.
There are restaurants and shops around the lake, along with several Hindu shrines and a temple.
You can rent a paddle boat, walk along the lake’s edge, and watch a water and light show at 7:00 p.m. after sunset (but it’s in Hindi, not English).
Sunsets are gorgeous here.
A complex of havelis outside the living fort is something to see in the Golden City. You’ll better understand Jaisalmer’s nickname!
The mansions feature incredibly intricate carvings of traditional Rajasthani stone craftsmanship. The architecture is stunning.
The havelis are from the early 19th century. One is still a private home. Two buildings are connected and make one museum that features many antiques. Another haveli is a vacant museum – you can look at the architecture for a 200 rupee fee ($2.40).
The Patwa Havelis Museum entry fee was 250 rupees ($3) for foreigners. There are local guides who will offer you a tour of the museum for a small fee – just 100 rupees ($1.20). We hired a guide who spoke fluent English, and of course, we were generous with our tip.
The museum showed where valuables were held in secret compartments, which was pretty cool to see. Also – couches made of silver!
Other notable points: part of the museum on the lower level is used today by textile traders, and the roof offers great views of the fort.
An amazing view of the fort at sunset is atop a hill you can see from the fort. Walk around the east side for a slope up, or cut through the city and go up steps on the west side of the hill.
Expect priests up there asking for donations, and gypsy children selling jewelry.
It’s free, but we saw many older foreigners on a ‘tour’ with young locals, and we have no idea how much they paid.
Golden City Jaisalmer is a great destination choice
Jaisalmer is a budget traveler’s dream. As you’ve seen, its living fort shimmers in the sunlight and it feels special to stay inside on a visit. The Golden City is cleaner than larger Indian cities.
Additionally, our meals were inexpensive, the views amazing, the people kind, much English was spoken.
We took the train to and from Jaisalmer. As always in India, we recommend you buy your tickets early for the bottom berths in air conditioned cars.
So far, Jaisalmer was my favorite destination in India. I bet from all the pictures above, you can see why.
Thanks for reading, “Living Fort Jaisalmer in Golden City.”
Other stops in India in 2022: