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Rajasthan Travel Guide

Jaisalmer and Environs

The stark, compelling beauty of the Thar Desert draws travelers to far-western Rajasthan—for good reason. Jaisalmer, a medieval city resplendent with golden buildings and a towering citadel, is an intriguing city in its own right, and is an excellent base for camel safaris into the desert and for day trips to the photogenic Sam Sand Dunes and Desert National Park.

Jaisalmer

seems like a mirage: its array of sandstone buildings are surrounded by the stark desert and illuminated in a gold hue by the sun. The medieval city is defined by its carved spires and palaces and the massive sandcastle-like fort that towers over the imposing wall that encircles the town. Jaisalmer is a remote and unusual city; it's out of the way, but it's worth it if you want to see a different side of India, and definitely if you want to take a camel safari.

Founded in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal, Jaisalmer is on the western edge of Rajasthan's Thar Desert, about 160 km (100 miles) east of the India-Pakistan border. The city started as a trade center: from the 12th through the 18th centuries, rulers here amassed their wealth from taxes levied on caravans passing through from Africa, Persia, Arabia, and Central Asia. Smugglers were also known to frequent Jaisalmer to work the profitable opium trade. The rise of Mumbai (known then as Bombay) as a major trading port in the 19th century, however, began to eclipse Jaisalmer.

Today Jaisalmer draws travelers attracted by the city's fairy-tale architecture and the mystery and harsh, remote charm of the desert. At night the golden fort is bathed in light, which illuminates its seemingly impregnable walls (most of the buildings inside are made out of yellow sandstone).

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