While scripting about various monuments of Jaisalmer (check my previous post A Golden Memoir of the Golden City – I), I am getting pensive and nostalgic. In this Golden city, Hanuman Chowk is also one of the happening places. It is a busy square where many Govt. offices, court and hospital are situated. There is an array of stalls selling tea, coffee, milk and breakfast. This place remains lively till night.
At the Hanuman Chowk itself there is Mandir Palace which is the current residence of the Royal family of Jaisalmer. This is famous for beautiful carvings on stones. The tower of Mandir Palace, which is it’s main attraction, is a three storied structure known as ‘Badal Vilas’ which is the highest building of the city after the fort. Inside Mandir Palace, there is ‘Jawahar Vilas’ and ‘Janana Mahal’ which have very intricately carved entrances. Many movies of Indian film industry and Hollywood like ‘Sarfarosh’, ‘Nanhe Jaisalmer’, ‘Lily-The Witch’ have been picturized here. It also houses a very well maintained museum which exhibits various artefacts made up of gold, silver, bronze, wood, brass, paintings by the kings etc. A major portion of the building has been converted into a heritage hotel being maintained by ‘Welcome Group’. The entry to the palace is chargeable and the entry ticket costs you Rs. 160/- per person.
Situated on a small hill at almost 6 km from Jaisalmer on Ramgarh road, ‘Bada Bagh’ is another very nice, calm and serene place. ‘Bada Bagh’ is basically a cluster of cenotaphs known as ‘Chhatris’ of Royal families built over centuries and from across several generations. As the name suggests there must be some big garden surrounding the cenotaphs but as of today there isn’t any garden rather than some agriculture land which is one of the source of earnings of Royal family. I think in past there must be a big garden and hence the name of the place. The best time to visit Bada Bagh is the dawn in summer and dusk in winters. The sunrise or sunset views across the Royal cenotaphs is a sight to behold.
Like all other historical monuments of Jaisalmer, the cenotaphs of Bada Bagh are also very intricately carved. They truly represent afterlives of the kings. A king remains a king no matter alive or dead. Canopies of some of the cenotaphs have been destroyed due to the massive earthquake in Gujrat on 26 January 2001 (As told by my driver Tarun. By the way he is a auto rickshaw/cab owner cum driver and a gentle guy. If anyone requires cab/ auto in Jaisalmer, his number is 09983650484).
The cenotaphs are unfortunate enough to be a mute witness of ‘Sati’ custom (an act of self immolation by the Royal widows on the funeral pyre of their husband). On the slabs you can see inscription of the deceased male member of the Royal family (riding the horse) and several ladies on adjoining slabs (in ‘Namaskar’ pose) depicting the widows and concubines of the deceased ruler, going to be ‘Sati’. This is the only face of the history of Rajasthan which I dislike the most. Anyway, the entry ticket to the cenotaphs is Rs. 100/- and the camera fee is Rs. 150/-.
At a distance of 7 km from Bada Bagh, taking a turn on Jaisalmer-Sam road, is the old capital of Jaisalmer state, ‘Lodurva’. It is famous for its old Jain temple and is a major tourist attraction. Entry in the temple is free but one has to pay Rs. 50/- as camera fee. Like other contemporary Jain temples, this temple too is an excellent example of fine stone carvings and temple architecture.
Moving further 9 km from Lodurva on Jaisalmer Sam road itself, is another Jain temple at Amar Sagar village. This temple was built by ‘Himmatram Ji Bafna’ who was an ancestor of ‘Patwas’. In the temple premises there are few small temples, gardens and a very beautifully carved Jain temple. The main temple is three storied and entirely made up of yellow sand stones except the front central portion which is made up of white marble that gives the entire building a very different look. Behind the temple premises, there is a big lake ‘Amar Sagar’ which due to scarcity of rains this year, was completely dried up.
Jaisalmer is not all about the historic architectures, forts, palaces and Hawelis, so let me now take and show you a very different side of Jaisalmer which will fill you with enthusiasm and patriotism and the place is Jaisalmer War Museum. This place is on Jaisalmer – Jodhpur Highway at a distance of 10 km from Jaisalmer Railway Station and 12.5 km from Jaisalmer fort. The Jaisalmer War Museum was conceptualized to display India’s rich military history and showcase real war efforts as they happened in the past.
The Jaisalmer War Museum was conceived by Lieutenant General Bobby Mathews, General Officer Commanding, Desert Corps and constructed by the Desert Corps of the Indian Army and was dedicated to nation on 24 August 2015. The Museum displays war exhibits which include vehicles and equipments captured during the course of operations in 1965 and 1971. It has an Honour Wall engraved with the names of Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra gallantry award winners, two large Information Display Halls – Indian Army Hall and Laungewala Hall, an Audio Visual Room, a souvenir shop and a cafeteria. A Hunter Aircraft of the Indian Air Force, which destroyed enemy tank columns during the Battle of Laungewala is also displayed. The entry fee is Rs. 30/-.
I personally suggest visiting the museum during early evening hours, as the closing time of exhibition halls is 6 pm and also you get to watch the light and sound show, which is definitely a must watch and not to be missed. This spectacular light and sound show is country’s 1st, stating bravery and tales of soldiers of Indo-Pak war at Loungewala front in Jaisalmer. The show is available both in Hindi and English languages, narrated in the impressive voice of Kabir Bedi, the noted Hindi film actor and director. The cost of the ticket for the show is Rs. 100/- .
It would be injustice to a legend if I don’t mention here his sole efforts to preserve the culture and heritage of the Thar in Desert Cultural Centre (previously known as Folklore Museum). Near to Gadisar Lake, this centre showcases the efforts of Mr. N.K. Sharma, who alone established it and invested all his salary, superannuation benefits to enrich it. A puppet show is also staged twice a day which is much appreciated. A big salute to his zeal.
I can feel the enchantment prevailing in the air of this small town of Jaisalmer. Every building is built on the same theme, sandstone tiles, carved windows and balconies, beautiful terraces that gives a Royal appearance to the structure. Even any random house looks like a Haveli.
Jaisalmer but the desert of Thar can by visited in two days. On the first day you can cover the fort, all the Havelis, Mandir palace and Jaisalmer War Museum. On the next day Bada Bagh, Lodurva, Amar Sagar, Govt. Museum along with Akal Wood Fossil Park could be covered during day (they all at one side of the city) while the ideal time to visit Gadisar lake is in evening. The ruined village of Kuldhara and/or Khabha are far away and can be visited en-route the sam sand dunes. Although we couldn’t visit Govt. Museum and Akal Wood Fossil Park due to lack of time and information.
When to Visit:
The best time to visit Jaisalmer is during October to February. After March, the temperature starts soaring and reaches beyond tolerance limit and that continues till August last. In December and January, the early mornings and late nights, could be chilly specially if you are in outskirts like desert, War museum, Bada bagh or Lodurva etc, so heavy woolens may be required though the day remains pleasant without or with light woolens. During rest of the year, light shades of cotton is advisable. In February each year, Desert Festival is celebrated in Jaisalmer with much fun and fiesta. To read more about Desert Festival, click here.
How to Reach:
By Air: The nearest airport is Jodhpur, which is 280 km from Jaisalmer. From Jodhpur, you can take state owned bus or private cab to Jaisalmer
By Road: Jaisalmer is well connected to the other parts of the state by a network of State and National Highways. It is easy to commute to the city. Normal state owned buses, luxury coaches, sleeper AC buses, cabs, taxis and private vehicles can reach the city.
By Rail: Jaisalmer is a terminus station and is connected to every major city of the state like Jodhpur and Jaipur and the national capital New Delhi via rail network.
Where to Stay:
Jaisalmer is getting popular by leap and bounds among tourists across the globe. There are many options available to fit everyone’s budget. We stayed at Nachana Haveli which was built in 1718 CE by Maharaj Kesari Singh ji, a descendants of Maharwal Jaisal (Founder of Jaisalmer). It is situated at Gandhi Chowk which is adjacent to Hanuman Chowk.
Some very Royal and luxurious options are available like Suryagarh, Marriot, Hotel Jaisalkot, WelcomHeritage Mandir Palace, Hotel Lalgarh Fort and Palace, The Gulaal. Apart from these, there are plenty of options available inside the Jaisalmer fort itself.
Where to Eat:
The Trio: (Mandir Palace, Gandhi Chowk)
This restaurant is located in Mandir Palace and it is a stylish fine-dining spot. The high ceiling tent and uniformed waiter give you a different experience. The restaurant serves authentic cuisine and you ought to try chickpea pickle of this restaurant.
Jaisal Italy: (Fort 1st Gate, Akhey Prol)
This is an Italian restaurant located in fort near Akhey Prol. It is a spot to enjoy lush Italian styled dining experience in an open terrace. You can enjoy Chardonnay, Pizza and other dishes here. A place for luxury dining.
Free Tibet Restaurant (Inside Jaisalmer Fort, Manak Chowk, Amar Sagar Prol)
This Tibetan based restaurant serves popular Tibetan cuisine dishes. The view from the restaurant is mesmerizing. The place is famous for Chicken Thupka, Wonton Soup, Momos and Spinach Momos with cheese.
Here two more spots deserve a special mention. First is the ‘Fatta Kachori wala’ at the right hand side of the Akhey Prol, next to wall of the fort, a stall without any pomp and show. Put all your resolutions aside for not eating too oily or something, it serves super tasty Pyaj Kachori, Bread pakoda, Mirch Vada. Just look at the crowd gathered in picture for those delicacies. If you miss to grab then you have to wail for almost 30-40 min for next lot to get ready. People don’t even wait for the stall owner to pack for them, they pack it themselves. Thanks Tarun (our cab driver) for taking us there.
The next is a restaurant (purely vegetarian) named as ‘Shree Jee Excellency’ which is near to Pocso court ahead of Hanuman Chowk. The taste of the cuisines being served here is really mouth watering. The service is quick, waiters are well behaved, serving quantity is ample, it’s a neat and clean restaurant. I recommend any curry from ‘Shree Jee Special’ section. Paneer Begum Bar was our pick (even now it makes me drool..).
While returning, we stopped at Hanuman Chowk again, this time couldn’t control our temptations for hot Kesaria milk (kadhai milk) at a stall among many.
All the ladies were so happy to be in front of the camera. Find the odd (wo)man out…!! 🙂