Jaisalmer is one of the oldest preserved fortified cities in the world. Also known as the Golden City, Jaisalmer resembles ancient medieval times with a large fort as it’s centerpiece. The Jaisalmer Fort was built in 1156 AD and people are still wandering around the winding cobblestone streets to date...
We took the sleeper bus from Pushkar to Jaisalmer expecting the same buses we’ve been taking all along, but instead it was more of a dusty, dirty cattle truck pretending to be a sleeper bus. The windows were broken making for a very cold, windy, dusty night. To make matters worse, we were in the last upper bunk at the rear of the bus and the driver chose to disregard the speed bumps causing us to be airborne more than laying on our grimy mattresses throughout the entire journey. The locals packed in like sardines on the lower deck with all of their cargo and vomit bags, knowing all too well they definitely did not pay the 400 rupiah ($7) we did for the bus. I was sleep deprived and nearly in tears when we arrived at 7am with no will to haggle or chat to anyone.
A man at the bus stop insisted we come to his hotel for chai and all of us being too shattered to argue accepted the free ride. We ended up at a rooftop restaurant attached to a hotel drinking a chai completely drained from the journey. He was quite aggravated that we wouldn’t book anything with him so he passed his driver on to us who dropped us on the side of the fort when we told him we were staying at Fortside. In hindsight I find it quite hilarious when we asked if this was Fortside he just nodded. Technically he was right because we were on the side of the fort, but we were no where near our hostel.
We finally found Hostel Fortside down the winding sidewalks of the ancient city. It was hot and stinky with trash and pigs everywhere, but when comparing it to Gorakhpor it was a palace. The litter/waste problem in India is quite disturbing and definitely gets worse in certain areas, but they have started to educate their citizens on garbage disposal in hopes for change. From what I have been told, travelers that have returned to India after many years have said it’s started to get better.
Aladdin, our host, was very sweet and accommodating. He made us chais and we chilled at his rooftop restaurant on lovely couches overlooking the fort for the afternoon. Hostel Fortside costs 75 rupiah ($1) per night and included free chai, coffee and omelettes. Aladdin also picked up a wonderful cake for our birthdays and made our stay very special.
We spent a full day walking around the fort and the surrounding area. The town outside the fort is quite busy, but inside the fort you will find a sense of peace and calmness and very little litter as you walk down the cobblestone alleyways. It’s easy to get turned around and completely lost. There are cannons and viewpoints along the wall of the fort that I recommend visiting for the views. The locals sit and lay in front of their houses that double as shops full of the same stuff you see everywhere else in India, apparel, artwork, jewlery, etc. One of our favorite excuses for not buying anything is “We just arrived mate. We are here for a week. Give us some time.” They will smile back and say, “See you tomorrow then!”
Cafe Kaku, just outside the fort, offered a brilliant view for sunset and ice cold beers for purchase. The sky was a mirage of all different colors and looked like something out of a history book with the fort in the background.
After a second full day of exploring the fort and buying clothes for our camel safari we ended up at our favrorite spot Cafe + for dinner. We ate at Cafe + a total of four times in our three day stay. It’s rooftop area has great energy and the owner even sat with us for a while telling us about his life and his extremely long pinky nails he uses for painting. We were already a couple beers down when we finished our meal, a delicious malai kofta and mix vegetable curry, and walked out of the restaurant to what seemed to be a parade. A jeep had a bunch of party lights fixed on the trunk and huge speakers blasting dance music while a couple hundred people followed dancing in the streets. There were men carrying lamps on both sides to light up the party. We were pulled into the parade dancing with all the local women dressed up in their traditional wear.
We failed to notice the white steed following the group with the groom on display until we reached the ceremony. They lit a large amount of firecrackers for his entrance and then were ushered inside the huge tent to a massive wedding. When I say massive I’m talking at least a thousand people. There was buffet style food and street food stands that lined the walls of the goregeous tent. There were flowers, chandeliers, and even a stage. We were pulled up on stage for a photo shoot with the groom and his family, feeling like celebrities all over again.
Everyone was so incredibly welcoming and lovely. They tried to force feed us anything and everything they could before the bride entered in a carriage carried by about ten men. It was an incredible, mind boggling experience. I thought we spent a lot of money back home, but nothing compares to a four to five day Indian wedding.
We booked with Trotter’s for our camel ride the next morning. They picked us up and drove us into the desert to enjoy a breakfast during sunrise with our camels. We mounted the camels and rode through the desert for a handful of hours passing by a surprise lake where the camels enjoyed a nice long break and drink. We stopped for lunch under a massive tree in the middle of no where. Puja, our guide, taught me how to make chapatis on a tawa (pan) over an open fire. I realized when I stood up that I sat in a big pile of cow poop. You win some and you lose some, I guess... At least the food was delicious!
We continued on our camel ride through the expansive desert until we arrived at the sand dunes. We set up camp and enjoyed a lovely sunset in the sand while they served us snacks and a delicious meal cooked all over a wood fire. It looked unreal watching a camel’s silhouette walk across the horizon with the sunset in the background. We slept under the exceptionally bright stars and caught a few of the most beautiful shooting stars I have ever seen. As I was laying there in the sand under blankets I felt very far away from everyone and everything I’ve ever known, but I was comforted by the glorious night sky and could not help but feel incredibly close to Jesse. I had a nice little conversation with him thanking him for protecting me on this journey and lighting up the sky above.
In the morning I helped make chai and coffee with the village men. Many of the guys that work with the camels haven’t ever left Jaisalmer. The desert is all they have ever known and they love it. Each one of them incredibly happy and at home in the sand. It’s strange because the first question every Indian guy asks is if I have a boyfriend or if I am married. For some reason that morning when they asked I told them what happened to Jesse when most times I just avoid the question all together with fear I’ll break down. One of the guys responded with, “You have to forgive, but never forget. Remember he is putting this show on for you and is always with you.” As he pointed at the sunrise I got goosebumps all over my body and realized he was right. A local man with broken English who has never left Jaisalmer understood the pain I was feeling and made me feel at ease.
We enjoyed hard boiled eggs and porridge before packing up camp and jumping back on the camels for our last ride through the desert. One of the men took us to his village family home on the way back into town. He explained how they built the houses with sand, cow dung, and water in his village of 500 people. His nephew gave me a brilliant henna on my hand while we all tried to drink the very sugary black tea that was served. We returned back to Trotter’s hotel in town to shower free of charge before our long night bus journey.
We paid 2250 rupiah ($34) each for a day and a half trip in the desert. They took unbelievable care of us, served us delicious meals, taught us how to cook and made sure we were warm and comfortable for our night under the stars. My favorite part about Trotter’s, the family owned company, is they take great care of their camels. They are healthy and happy camels that get fed the same lentil soup we do at night. I highly recommend the overnight safari through the Jaisalmer desert with Trotter’s.
Things to do:
- Trotter’s Overnight Camel Safari - 2250 rupiah ($34) for an overnight camel excursion through the desert! Includes all food, accommodation and great guides! They even put you up after the safari free of charge.
- Get lost inside the fort. Enjoy the old buildings and kind locals.
- Visit the lake nearby
- Crash a wedding - Trust me they love Westerners that show up to their weddings!
- Sunsets at Cafe Kaku
- Traveler’s Cup for coffee - connected to a book shop.
Where to eat:
- Cafe + Vegetarian - The best spot in Jaisalmer. Great food and amazing vibes! The owner is very kind and you can spent hours just chilling on the rooftop.
- Cafe Kaku - glorious sunset view! Full menu and ice cold beers!
- Free Tibet Restaurant or Little Tibet Restaurant - Back to momos and thentuk. The Arabic salad is delicious and safe to eat!
- Street food - Most street food in Jaisalmer is served in the mornings before it gets too hot out!
Where to stay:
- Hostel Fortside - 75 rupiah ($1.10) per night - Aladdin takes great care of his guests and has many private rooms to choose from! He even gave us a private room at no extra charge when we booked the dorm.
Enjoy your time with the camels in Jaisalmer, I know I did!