Rising from the heart of the Thar Desert like a golden mirage is the city of Jaisalmer. This captivating sandy outpost has been called the Golden City because of the honey colour imparted to its stone ramparts. Its desert fort, which resembles a gigantic sand castle, is straight out of The Arabian Nights. Centuries ago, Jaisalmer's strategic position on the camel train routes between India and Central Asia brought it great wealth. The merchants and townspeople built magnificent houses and havelis (mansions), all exquisitely carved from wood and golden sandstone.
The city has an interesting legend associated with it, according to which, Lord Krishna, the head of the Yadav Clan, foretold Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata that a remote descendent of the Yadav Clan would build his kingdom atop the Trikuta Hill. His prophecy was fulfilled in 1156 AD when Rawal Jaisal, a descendent of the Yadav Clan and a Bhatti Rajput, abandoned his fort at Lodurva and founded a new capital Jaisalmer, perched on the Trikuta Hill. Bhatti Rajputs of Jaisalmer were feudal chiefs who lived off the forced levy on the caravans laden with precious silks and spices that crossed the territory en route to Delhi or Sindh. These caravans earned the town great wealth. Chivalric rivalry and ferocity between various Rajput clans was the order of the day and the Bhatti Rajputs of Jaisalmer were regarded as a formidable force throughout the region. While Jaisalmer largely escaped direct conquest by the Muslim rulers of Delhi, it did experience its share of sieges and sacking with the inevitable jauhar (collective sacrifice) being declared in the face of certain defeat. For years Jaisalmer remained untouched by outside influences and there is perhaps no other city in which one can conjure up the spirit of those times.
The rise of shipping trade and the port of Mumbai saw the decline of Jaisalmer. At Independence, Partition and the cutting of the trade routes through to Pakistan seemingly sealed the City's fate and water shortages could have pronounced the death sentence. However, the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars revealed Jaisalmer's strategic importance and the Indira Gandhi Canal was constructed, which began to restore life to the desert.
Jaisalmer is a great place to simply wander. The Old City was once completely surrounded by an extensive wall, some of it however remains including the city gates and inside them the massive fort that rises above the city and is the essence of Jaisalmer. About a quarter of the old city's population still resides within the fort walls. The life within the citadel conjures up images of medieval majesty visible in its narrow lanes strewn with magnificent palace, havelis, temples and of course skilled artisans and ubiquitous camels. The setting sun turning Jaisalmer into a beautiful golden brown is a spectacular sight.
The perfect time to visit the golden city is during the Desert Festival, held in January/February every year, when the city reverberates to the sound of melodious tunes and rhythms. Folk dances, exciting competitions and contests and camel races enliven the festivities. Colorful craft bazaars are set up and a sound and light spectacle is organized with folk artists performing against the splendid backdrop of the famous sand dunes on the full moon night.