I had no idea what to expect in Jaisalmer, other than the fact that it was highly recommended we visit. Traveling all the way to Jaisalmer with kids was a long ways out of the way from the standard Rajasthan travel path. It was hard to justify visiting, but I’m SO glad we did!! It’s a quiet (by India standards) town in the middle of the desert, tucked away in India’s West corner. It might be a bit of effort to get here, but as with everything good in life, your efforts are rewarded!
Our Time in Jaisalmer
Our arrival into town was a sleepy one. We rode the Jaipur Jaisalmer train overnight, arriving into the Jaisalmer station at 4:30am. It’s not uncommon for trains in India to run behind, and I was secretly hoping ours would so we’d get an extra couple of hours of sleep. Of course, that kind of thing never happens when I want it to, and we pulled into the station a few minutes early. Thankfully though, Jaisalmer is the last stop on the line, so we were able to take our time rousing ourselves and getting our belongings off the train.
Walking through the small station before dawn was an experience all in itself. The track was lined with people sleeping on blankets on the ground, and this continued inside the station. It was one of the few times the extreme poverty of India was really visible. Unfortunately, at 4:30am after a fitful night’s sleep on the train, neither myself nor the girls were really able to process what we were seeing. We quickly made our way through the station to look for our ride on the other side.
Waiting For A Ride
The cool desert air kept us awake as we watched for our ride. The crowd of people filing out of the station slowed to a trickle, and the number of waiting rickshaws dwindled to only a few. I started to get a bit worried that we’d be walking the streets, or going back into the station to join the people sleeping on the floor! Finally, Randy was able to get a hold of the owner of our accommodation, Wanderlust Guesthouse, and he soon arrived at the station. There was a room waiting for us, and we were able to get a few more hours of sleep before starting to explore the city.
We spent the morning recovering from the night on the train and enjoyed a splendid view of the magnificent Jaisalmer Fort while eating breakfast. After staring at it all morning, we decided it was time for a visit.
Visiting Jaisalmer Fort
The Fort in Jaisalmer is unique amongst the forts of India. It’s a living fort, meaning that life still happens within the fortress walls. The narrow streets and alleyways were fun to wander, and there’s a number of Jain temples to poke around in.
We didn’t take the time to explore the temples, but instead made our way to the outside of the wall. Walking around the wall, beyond the hustle and bustle within, felt like a different world. If I gazed towards the horizon I could almost pretend it was 1000 years ago when the fort was brand new. I could picture the guards marching up and down the narrow walkway, and smell the curries bubbling on the cooking fires within the walls. That was until I tripped over a bit of plastic garbage, and was jolted back into the 21st century! After attempting a few fun photos, we made our way to a rooftop terrace to have a cold drink and soak up the views.
The Most Delicious Chai
The next morning we had time to waste before our afternoon departure for our camel safari. The most obvious thing to do was to go looking for a fantastic cup of chai, so that’s just what we did. And we found it! Not far from our guesthouse was a little chai shop with a menu full of different homemade chai options.
Once we ordered, the owner ground up his special spice blend and the aromas of cinnamon and cardamom filled the air before he even started brewing. The tea was delicious and fulfilled everything I wanted from India! As much as the girl’s loved the chai (a Starbucks chai-tea latte is Calais’ favourite drink at home), it was hot outside and we all wanted a pool.
Swimming At A Palace
Turning from the dusty street into the Mandir Palace grounds was like entering a different world. With each step, the noise of the street faded away and was replaced with a quiet stillness. (As quiet as anything can be in an Indian town anyways!) We went for a relaxing dip in the over-chlorinated pool, and enjoyed one of those rare moments where we actually felt like we were on vacation.
Pigeons skidded along the pool’s edge to dip their beaks in for a drink. I’m not sure I’d be drinking that water if I was a bird (did I mention it was heavily chlorinated!), but it was funny to watch them slide along as they attempted to not fall in the pool while landing on the slippery edge. The girls played in the pool and on the swings, while Randy and I lounged in the sun and then enjoyed lunch in the shade. When it was time to leave for our camel safari, we weren’t quite ready to go. I briefly looked up the price of a room, but decided it was a bit over our budget for this trip (i.e. a LOT over budget), and we were good at our $10CAD/night guesthouse!
The Most Incredible Night…
The camel safari was incredible, and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Jaisalmer or India. It’s an entire post in itself, so I’ll leave you with a couple pictures as a teaser and you’ll have to read the post to find out more!
Waiting For A Ride…Again!
After our night in the desert we drove back to Jaisalmer, just to turn around and head back out to the desert, right past where we’d come from. The village stay in Khuri was only a few km past the turn-off to our camel safari, but we didn’t know it at the time. Back in Jaisalmer, we showered the desert off us, ate lunch at Wanderlust, then took a rickshaw to the bus station at the edge of town. The bus station was really just a big dirt parking lot with a few rickety shelters and someone selling chai. The rickshaw driver asked around and then informed us that the bus driver was getting married, so there’d be no 4pm bus. The next bus would go at 5pm.
We drank a chai (or a few) and sat and waited. As soon as the bus pulled into the lot there was a mad dash of people towards it, us included! Using our packs as leverage, we firmly held our position, and made our way to seats at the back of the bus. There was no luggage storage, so we shoved our packs in front of us, and piled the kids on top as best we could.
The Bus Ride to Khuri
The bus stopped a dozen times before really getting out of town. By this point the inside of the bus was completely full! We stopped one last time on the outskirts of town, where we met up with another bus. I thought for sure there would be people getting off our bus onto that one, since the bus was SO full. But, no!! A big group of people filed off that bus and onto ours.
Most of them climbed on the roof, and when I looked out the window all I saw was dangling feet. About an hour later we arrived in the village of Khuri where Badal, the host from our homestay, met us on the bus and walked us to his house. We settled in for the night, a few km away from where we’d started earlier that morning, but many hours later!
Rural Indian Life
Our day in Khuri was relaxing, and full of incredible food prepared by Badal’s wife. The girls played with the baby animals, watched Badal milk his cows, and wandered around town counting camels (there were a lot!). We walked out to the sand dunes, had chai from a local shop, and explored an old graveyard.
It was fun to just watch life happen, and was a nice change from the busier cities. Camel-led carriages carried people down the dirt roads, and boys pedaled past us on bikes far too big for them. It was a completely different world from the rest of India we’d seen so far.
On our last day in Jaisalmer we left Khuri on the bus (it wasn’t nearly as busy as the bus going TO Khuri) and checked back into Wanderlust Guesthouse. After a late lunch and a little wander around the local market, we hailed a rickshaw to Gadisar Lake. The lake is small, but was an important part of Jaisalmer’s history.
It’s surrounded by buildings on one side, and is a lovely place to sit and people watch. Of course, the girls wanted to go for a paddleboat ride, so we spent an hour paddling around, enjoying a different perspective. As the sun was starting to set, Randy decided to fly his drone. The light off the lake was stunning, and the fort could be seen in the distance.
Arrested in India…Almost!
As he was packing it up, a man came up and started to take his picture. Randy packed up quicker and tried to walk away, and then a few men dressed in military fatigue showed up. Apparently, there’s a military base by the lake, so flying drones isn’t permitted. Being India, there’s no signage, it’s not listed as a no-fly zone in the DJI data-base, and the military base isn’t anywhere near the lake according to google maps. This didn’t stop them from wanting to arrest Randy!! It was a pretty tense few minutes, and I made it worse by questioning the Police Chief’s authority.
Finally, Randy sternly told me to take the girls away. This apparently earned him some respect in this male-dominated society. As we sat and waited, Calais found a flat rock and tried to scratch a message into it. I thought she was writing it to the police, but she was actually writing to Randy! She wanted him to apologize for yelling at me. The police finally let Randy off, but made him delete the video. One man told him he was lucky he was a “family man” because if he wasn’t they likely would’ve just arrested him. I guess that’s one of the unexpected benefits of traveling with kids…the police in India are less likely to arrest you!! Haha!!
A Traditional Puppet Show
Everyone was a bit shaken up after this, although the girls were mostly thrown off because Randy “yelled” at me!! We decided to carry on with our evening plans, and made our way across the street to the Desert Cultural Center. This is a small building, and was a bit underwhelming, but it’s a noble venture on the part of the owner. The puppet show was short, but entertaining. If we weren’t with the girls it would’ve been less so, but there were a number of parts the kids thought were hilarious!
We enjoyed one last sleep at Wanderlust, then caught the day-train to Jodhpur. Jaisalmer surprised me in so many ways. I went into our visit not knowing what to expect, and left completely enthralled by the city.
Tips for Visiting Jaisalmer With Kids
- Jaisalmer is in the middle of the desert! It’s hot and dry, so make sure you bring LOTS of water with you.
- The food can be spicy, but many places are happy to make it without spice if you just ask. When all else fails, order rice and bread!
- If you don’t book a hotel with a pool (and many don’t have pools), take advantage of the Mandiri Palace pool at least once during your stay.
- Get up early and do your exploring in the morning before it gets too hot!
- Definitely go on a camel safari. It was my girl’s favourite thing we did in all of India!