If you’ve ever dreamed of a fairytale fort rising from golden sands, then the ancient city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India should be on your bucket list! If not, Jaisalmer will awaken the dreamer in you. Our 3 days in Jaisalmer, India and our camel safari in the Thar Desert was chock-full of adventure.
From exploring in one of the world’s last living forts carved from golden sandstone to sleeping under twinkling stars in the middle of the desert, Jaisalmer delivers on its promise to leave you with an impression!
Read about what to see and do in Jaisalmer in 3 days below! P.S. don’t miss reading about our crazy camel safari adventure in the Thar Desert!
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What to See in 3 Days in Jaisalmer, India
If you keep reading below, you’ll see that we had to skip some top attractions in Jaisalmer because I got deathly sick in the middle of the Thar Desert. (It’s a good story, keep reading!)
So just to make this guide a little more travel-friendly for you, here are some of the top things to do in Jaisalmer – all of which you could get accomplished in 3 days if you’re speedy.
Note: Camping overnight in the desert on a camel safari in Jaisalmer will take up at least 1.5 days on its own, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly.
Top Things to Do in Jaisalmer, India
The golden sandstone fortress that towers over Jaisalmer. The fort is the central hub of activity in Jaisalmer and is worth several visits because there’s so much to see inside the center. The fort is one of the last remaining forts in the entire world in which residents still reside inside.
Ancient cenotaphs (royal burial site of the Maharajah’s) inside a garden temple structure. Get there by taking a bus or taxi (it’s about 5-6 km outside of Jaisalmer). A beautiful place to see the sunset!
A golden yellow Haveli (townhouse/mansion) and heritage museum inside the Jaisalmer Fort.
Sam Sand Dunes
A village named ‘Sam’ where there are 30-60 meter-high sand dunes where you can sandboard, take a camel safari, and stay overnight in desert tents at the budget-friendly Sam Sand Dunes Desert Safari Camp.
Thar Desert + Kuldhara’s Ghost Town
The Thar Desert is the world’s 17th largest desert that stretches between India and the border with Pakistan. Camel safaris are a popular option in the Thar Desert and most packages include a day trip to the ghost town of Kuldhara.
The Thar Heritage Museum
A small yet fascinating private museum showcasing Jaisalmer’s rich cultural heritage and folklore, including ancient relics and fossils, musical instruments, turbans, and more.
A serene lake within walking distance from the Jaisalmer Fort. An awesome place to catch the sunset or escape the city and eat at an on-site restaurant.
Located right next to the Patwon Haveli, this Haveli is a beautiful structure inside the Jaisalmer Fort. Built by two brothers with independent styles, this Haveli is iconic of Jaisalmer’s architecture and history.
Day 1 in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
The way we organized our time in Jaisalmer was a little tricky. Since we needed to fly back out of Delhi (to catch another plane in Kolkata), and because we were urgently out of days, we had to take a long bus trip all the way from Jaisalmer > Bikaner > Delhi.
So, we booked our two-day camel safari to start on the first day we arrived in Jaisalmer, leaving just enough time to dip our toes inside the majestic Jaisalmer Fort.
Arriving in Jaisalmer
Since we booked our camel safari to begin at 2:00 pm on the first day, we had pick-up transport at the train station on our arrival from Jodhpur. This was quite the treat since when we arrived it was still dark out and we were quite exhausted from our first overnight sleeper train.
The nice team at Real Desert Man Camel Safari loaded us up in their jeeps and trucked us to their hotel. They gave us a room to store our stuff, rest and shower, before joining them up on the roof for breakfast.
The atmosphere was quiet and calm. The Jaisalmer Fort stood impressively before us, shining bright gold in the morning sun’s rays.
I toss my scrambled eggs to a stray kitty, who completely stole my attention from chatting with fellow camel safari-goers. I didn’t mind. Once rested and full, we decided to get a taste of the Jaisalmer Fort before it was time to begin the safari.
Inside the Jaisalmer Fort
There’s one access to the Jaisalmer Fort, and you can’t miss it. Its cobblestones lead through an arch, where shops colorfully display their handicrafts on the walls and on tables.
Cars and tuk-tuks enter the fort via the golden cobblestone and brick pathway, which you follow on foot all the way into the fort.
The bright and colorful streets inside Jaisalmer’s ancient living fort
It’s bizarre to be there, honestly. It seems unreal that nearly 3,000 people still live inside the fort. Can you imagine going home to your house or apartment… inside a majestic fort? 😉
But the splash of modernity with the 800-year old architecture is anything but off-putting. It whips up lavish tales and images of kings and princes living a life of royalty, walking down the same narrow alleyways as I am.
The best approach to exploring the entirety of the Jaisalmer Fort is to do a little at a time, rather than in one go. There’s a whole lot to see and discover inside, so we started out by just window-shopping and exploring the quieter back streets. Be careful, though!
Getting lost here is pretty easy. And that’s how we stumbled upon the sweetest bookstore who guided us to his friend’s rooftop restaurant.
The restaurant view was breathtaking. Best of all, we had the whole place to ourselves! We delighted in food and drink and picture-taking before heading back to the hostel to begin our camel safari.
Camel Safari in Jaisalmer
We pack our bags as lightly as possible. Paul and I booked two nights in the desert, and we had anticipated this experience since the beginning of our trip.
With loads of excitement, we pile into jeeps and head further west into the Thar Desert.
The air is getting dustier and drier the farther we go. The driver is playing loud Indian party music and it’s putting a big smile on everyone’s faces. We dodge the occasional camel in the middle of the road as we speed down the straight, never-ending desert roads.
Our first stop is the only oasis known to the Thar Desert.
The abandoned ghost town of Kuldhara
The first attraction of our camel safari is an abandoned ghost town known as Kuldhara. It was once a thriving town of folk from the Brahmin caste – the upper caste in the Indian caste hierarchy. Legends have recounted various stories, but the one our guide told us was rather spookish. I’ve since researched it and it’s a lot less mysterious than he made it out to be, haha.
Here, we had “free time” to roam and take pictures. The air was eerily quiet. The place is said to be haunted, which makes it even more interesting in my opinion. Nonetheless, it pangs at the heart to think of the life that once lived in the houses that today are in ruins.
Our first camel safari
After another half hour to hour in the back of the jeep, we finally arrived at our destination. The camels were all strapped up with the camping equipment and ready to go. Each one had a funny look on their face. Getting on a camel is rather bizarre, it’s almost like a horse but wider and..”Whoaa, way taller.” You don’t really realize just how tall these magnificent creatures are until you’re on it’s back when it goes to stand upright.
Everyone sets on out their camels, mine was named Kali, and he had a gentle attitude. I really hated that they all had a spike through their nose, as that’s how they’re guided. It’s not quite like a horse bit, which I’m used to.
Riding on the back of a camel is a weird experience. You feel like your dancing to a slow disco groove back and forth, back and forth. If you try to change the rhythm pain will ensue. Be warned! I think after 1.5-2 hours on a camel, my cheeks had enough grooving.
Finally, we made it to our camping spot for the night; in a little pocket of sand dunes in the Thar Desert. How exciting! I start to feel a little uneasy as I get off my camel, but I hardly take notice of it.
Our first night out in the Thar Desert in Jaisalmer
Sunset is fast approaching. The camel guides are unloading the camels, tending to them, and setting up our cots. We were going to sleep under the stars and I couldn’t have been more excited. Oh, how I wish I could’ve enjoyed it fully!
Everyone spreads out to wander off in the dunes or to take pictures (like we did). The sunset drew nearer, and so we gathered around for snacks and milk tea; freshly brewed over an open desert campfire. A fellow safari-goer took out his guitar and sang.
That night we had dinner around the fire. It was a typical Indian meal; rice, dhal, veggies, and papadums. At the time, I didn’t feel hungry so I only ate a little and gave the rest to Paul. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.
But, oh, how I wish I would’ve given it a thought.
We share songs around the fire with our guides, who sing together in raspy voices. They have slept many a night out here, under the stars.
The dune beetles are driving me insane as I try to listen. They bury under anything that’s warm, so our butts are the first place they go to. They’re harmless but tickly and big, so annoying. Some of them wish to be warm forever and jump in the fire to burn. It’s a little sad. About ten feet away, the sound of a hundred beetles nibbling on dry bread fills the air. You can hear all of them chewing on it, like fat, happy beetles. It’s cute and gross at the same time.
A sleepless night
Yay! Finally, we are all off to bed. We brush our teeth with bottled water and spit it out into the sand. We curl into our cots which have a 1-foot thick duvet on top to keep us warm during the chilly desert night. With blurred vision, I stare up into the night sky, burrow myself into my pillow, and reach for Paul’s hand. I’m so ready to sleep.
But it came and went so quickly. “Why am I awake?” I wonder. Has it been an hour, two hours? Maybe more, maybe less? I’m not sure.
Unfortunately, I was awakened by a sudden bout of nausea, which tore me from my bed. Paul helped me run down the hill next to me, but I didn’t even have time to dig a little hole! The purging didn’t end until a few hours later. After the 4th or 5th time, Paul stayed in bed while I ran back down the hill next to the noisy camels.
I remember sitting on the cold sand, shivering from the desert wind. I didn’t have time to grab my glasses, so I squint up into the stars and recognize the Big Dipper faintly. All I remember wanting is to be healthy again! Oh, how we wish for health the second we don’t have it.
Day 2 Exploring in Jaisalmer, India
Camel Safari Cont’d
The next morning, Paul and I were supposed to continue on, just the two of us and our guide for a second night in the desert.
I was feeling so much better by breakfast, that we decided to trek on for our second night. It would just be the two of us alone in the desert this time after all, so I didn’t want to give up such a cool opportunity!
The morning light was bright and strong. We parted ways from the group and trekked further into the desert with our guide.
After 1.5 hours, we were approaching a small village, I was so excited to get off my camel. Little did I know I wouldn’t get back on it! Within seconds, I started to get dizzy.
I knew I was about to pass out, so I ran to the only shade I could see, where two goats were lying in a scattered layer of old goat poop.
I hurriedly shoo them away and lie on the ground, tossing my legs up in the air for Paul to catch (to prevent me from passing out).
Two small girls from the village come over to speak to me, and the whole time I was on the ground (like 15 minutes) they kept trying to ask me something, but I couldn’t understand so I assumed they were asking if I was okay.
But silly me. I realized, finally, after they kept pointing at my scarf, sunglasses, and camera, that they were actually saying “school pen.” They were asking for money to buy a school pen!
Sensation comes back to my hands and arms (because they went numb and tingly) and I get up from the dirt. The camels are drinking from a basin and I just want to jump in.
Forfeiting our second night in the desert meant not only losing out on the opportunity but out on the deposit, too. Not to mention, we had to pay an extra fee for an “emergency vehicle” to come pick us up—two hours deep into the desert.
I just spent nearly 3 weeks in India and my body chooses my first night out in the desert to get deathly ill? I have a knack for these kinds of situations, it seems. But we laughed about it while we waited. We knew the story this would turn into one day. And here I am, telling it.
The ride back was humbling. We passed desert towns, shacks bearing the brunt of the desert heat if you will, with camels and trash sprinkled about. My privilege was on display that day. I get sick and I get an emergency vehicle. If they get sick, the children, the elderly? Well, I doubt an “emergency vehicle” comes for them.
Back in Jaisalmer
Once back in Jaisalmer at the Real Desert Man Safari hostel, I took a very long nap. Since we had to forfeit our night out in the desert, the staff offered us a room for the night for free and wished me well. After a few hours, I was able to explore the golden city again.
Side Story: Struggle & Success
After my nap, we head back into the Jaisalmer Fort to find dinner, despite my disinterest in food. Instead, we stumble upon a local shop that has a big “as seen in Lonely Planet” banner strung above its entrance.
The girl, whose name I cannot remember now, greets us warmly and welcomes us inside. At the time we were reluctant because we really weren’t in the mood for haggling.
The mysterious couple
But to our surprise, there wasn’t any haggling or negotiating, only conversation and story-sharing. She was from a different caste and moved to Jaisalmer with her husband after falling in love on the train.
His family does not accept her very well, as she is from a “lower” social ranking. She told us her story, of her life and her struggle to integrate into Jaisalmer which has a rich diversity of both Muslims and Hindus. People would throw cow shit and rotten vegetables at her shop and call her nasty names because they believed a woman shouldn’t be at the forefront of the store.
As for the husband, he is the one who started up his store after wanting to help out the widowed women living in the desert outside of Jaisalmer. Together they sell handicrafts; pillowcases, trinkets, bags, and especially quilts, that are handstitched by the widowed women and adorned with recycled jewels, beads, and sequins often from old wedding dresses.
WAS IT A SCAM??
The story is all very telling and we stayed for 2-3 hours just talking to the lady and her husband, who came by later on. He explained that I was sick because of the bottle of water that the camel safari gave out to us, mentioning that it was recycled water and they re-use the bottles. He also went with Paul to the local store to get me a bag of fresh curd/milk – promising that if I drank this I would feel instantly better. And they were right, I did.
That night we left feeling overwhelmed by their story of struggle and success. We gave them the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t just one huge scam or sob story – as we often heard when shopping in India.
We decide to go back the next day for lunch, just to swing by and say hello. The husband had mentioned owning a restaurant nearby, so in order to support them, we decided to go there to eat. He even walked us there and showed us a table on the rooftop overlooking the golden Jain temples in Jaisalmer. He ushered the waiter to come to take our order.
We were out of water for the day, so we ordered two bottles to take with us. And can you guess what was brought out? The same water bottles that were offered to me by the camel safari – the same bottle that the husband of the shop, and “owner” of this restaurant, told us never to drink from again.
Suddenly, Paul and I looked at each other like “Is the whole story a sham?!?” Feeling unsure of what to believe now, we ask the waiter about the owner of the restaurant.
We may never know…
He looks at us and laughs and says he is the owner of the restaurant, not the man who came with us. We told him how the man says this location was his restaurant.
Again, laughter filled the air as he repeats that the man only rents them the building, that the restaurant belongs to him and his friend (who waves at us from the kitchen area).
Now, Paul and I are seriously doubting the story the man and his wife told us. So, we go back to confront them about it.
He didn’t like that at all, by the way. Paul jokingly said to him that “his” restaurant served us the same water he claimed got me sick in the first place, and that the waiters said he wasn’t the owner.
The husband didn’t know what to say and completely avoided the question. It was also at this moment that I wished to say goodbye to the wife, who was upstairs.
At this point, we hadn’t bought anything from their shop still, and the welcome became noticeably less warm by both the wife and husband. I asked to stay in touch with her, so she shouted her number from the rooftop, but didn’t come down to say goodbye.
We left feeling unsure of what to think. Nevertheless, whether their whole story was true or only part of it, we learned a lot from the experience.
Rooftop restaurant with a view
Without a plan, we roam the streets to find food. We come across an adorable rooftop restaurant with cushions and carpet to sit on. The view is unhampered and the edges of the fort are dimly lit from the warm, golden lights below.
Paul orders a delicious curry that turns my nose up. We chat about our travels in India and how they are coming to a close, as I slowly, and carefully, eat spoon-fulls of plain rice.
Day 3 in Jaisalmer, India
Touring the Jain Temples in Jaisalmer Fort
The Jain Temples in Jaisalmer are hard to miss. You don’t need a guide, but you should consider getting one if you’re really interested in learning about Jainism. There are not any signs to explain the temple statues, so understanding Jainism before going or learning about it during your tour will enhance your experience.
The temples are carved beautifully and the city just grew around them, it feels like. There are residential houses not even a stone’s throw away.
- Hours: Open till 12 pm noon for tourists (and non-Jains)
- Fee: 10-20 Rs foreigners (free for Indians)
- Rules: Take off shoes and don’t be on your period*
*There’s a sign (see pic below) that says “women on their monthly course period” are forbidden to enter the temples in order to keep the temple’s sanctity… Here’s what I think about that ? ? ?
The Jain Temples in Jaisalmer have high archaeological and religious value. The temples are intricately-designed and date back to the 12th-15th century. It is a lovely experience to tour the temples and practice mindfulness for the spiritual sentiment and rich cultural heritage.
There are a total of 7 temples/monuments, each connected and carved from the same golden sandstone that makes Jaisalmer the Golden City of India. Each is also dedicated to their own god or Thirthankara, like Chandraprabhu and Parshvanath.
Taking the Sleeper Bus from Jaisalmer to Bikaner
We had very little time left to explore Jaisalmer, especially after spending our night and afternoon with the mysterious shopkeepers. We head back to our hotel, sleepy from our journey and eager to get back home.
In the morning, we woke up at 4 am to walk to the bus station. Two ladies were roaming the streets collecting trash, surely for little money.
As we move further away from the city, the entire golden Jaisalmer Fort can be seen in all its glory. It lights up the night sky in its entirety. We scurry past a gathering of street dogs who are about to get into a huge territorial fight. We make it to the bus station if you can call it that, and wait for the call to Bikaner.
Finally, we board and the bus looks a little frightening at first. There are two levels of beds like you’d find on a train. We throw our stuff up on the top bunk and close our dusty curtain. A moldy mandarine peel sits in the corner. We use our backpacks as pillows and curl up to sleep. I sigh a breath of relief not to have to sleep sitting upright.
The 6-7 hour bus ride was long, but I was glad to have the time to finish the book I was reading at the time, I Am Malala (The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban).
I hope you liked this mix of story + guide to Jaisalmer, India! Jaisalmer really brings fantasy novels and video games to life. (I was pretending to be in the Gerudo Desert from Zelda and Paul was pretending to live out the book that he was reading at the time).
Three days in Jaisalmer, India is enough to see all the surrounding attractions and take a 1-night camel safari trip in the Thar Desert, but you need to be careful when planning your train trips. Jaisalmer is very far from Delhi, so don’t procrastinate (like we did) to book your bus or train back.