In the distant westernmost area of Rajasthan, JAISALMER is your exemplary desert town, its sand yellow fortifications rising out of the parched Thar like a scene from the Arabian Nights. Rampant commercialism has dampened the idealistic vision a bit, but even with all the display, shoving merchants and tour buses, the town well deservedly remains one of the most popular destinations of India. Villagers from far-off settlements, dressed in dazzling red and orange odhnis or capacious turbans, still outnumber foreigners in the bazaar, while the wonderful sandstone architecture of the “Golden City” is quite unlike anything else in India.

Jaisalmer has plenty of places to stay in all categories. Traditionally, visitors
preferred the atmospheric guesthouses among the muddle of sandstone houses and havelis within the fort, whose roofs present splendid desert vistas. But that’s changing fast, in answer to the campaign to make tourists aware of structural problems to the fortress caused by increased water consumption.

Do think twice before staying here. Not only do you often pay a premium to do so, but so does the fort itself. You’ll be doing Jaisalmera favour if you stay elsewhere. Note that most resorts in Jaisalmer have a very early 9am checkout time. Almost all accommodation offers camel treks, which vary in standard and price, and some managers at even the recommended hotels can be unnervingly pushy if you don’t want to arrange a safari through them, suddenly hiking room rates or turning you out in the middle of the night.
Getting lost in the narrow winding streets of Jaisalmer is both easy and enjoyable, though the town is so small that it never takes long to find a familiar landmark. Main roads lead around the base of the fort from the central market square, Gopa Chowk, east to Gadi Sagar Tank and west to Gandhi Chowk. Within the fort the streets are narrower still, but orientation is simple: head west from the main chowk and Maharawal’s Palace to reach the Jain temples. For optimum sunset views, head for “Sunset Point” north of the main bazaar area, or the northwest corner of the fort.

Jaisalmer’s tourist restaurants, usually rooftop affairs with fort views, offer
pizza, pancakes, apple pie and cakes on their menus alongside Indian dishes, and some of them are pretty good, as are some hotel restaurants (the Artist, for example, which has a few Austrian dishes in among the usual Indian and European fare), but there are decent Indian eateries in town as well, and there’s no reason at all why tourists should confine themselves to tourist restaurants.