Jaisalmer is a remote outpost in the Thar Desert - now protected as Desert National Park - the furthest city towards west Rajasthan - only about 270km from the border with Pakistan. Strategically located, it was once a flourishing trade centre, on the busy caravan trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia - the silk-route.
Founded in the 12th century by Maharwal Jaisal of the Bhatti Rajput clan - it is the most typical of desert townships. By the 16th century, the city prospered and peace prevailed - wealthy traders and landlords beautified their austere desert surroundings with ornate abodes - the Haveli - also intended to show off their architectural struts against rival neighbouring Rajput clan cities such as Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur - so you'll find haveli's throughout Rajasthan, but each will be differentiated by the local stone material and stonemason's handwork.
The Haveli's and other constructions of Jaisalmer are typically made out of a golden yellow sandstone found only in this region - thus the golden hue throughout the city. The Fort is the most striking example of this construction - no mortar was used to ply the blocks together. Once quarried, the sandstone begin to harden over time, making it more robust in such an arid region.
This desert environment is typically inhospitable to most of us - touching 50s from March to September - and tourists only start coming around from October onwards. Surprisingly, the streets can be quite cool even during mid-day because of the shade that the buildings provide.
The entire Jaisalmer economy subsists on tourism during the flourishing periods and the people have to live off those earnings for the rest of the year. There is secondary industry such as sandstone masonry - where the medieval masonry skills are still handed down to younger generations. There is also a 'wind farm' which is an experimental cluster of windmalls to harness energy from the desert winds. Amongst other tourist trades, Jaisalmer is renowned for it's village brocade and embroidary handwork - buyers from Versace, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and other famous fashion names are known to fly into such Rajasthani cities in their private jets to pick up their collections of artwork direct from the villages, and resell them to their western markets.
The unfortunate consequences of rising ground water upon the fort and older constructions in recent times - impact from growing population and demand for underground water. Today, Jaisalmer and it's remaining haveli's are slowly being restored from years of degradation and neglect. It's old charm of narrow streets and haveli's still remain - between the fort and 'old' city - but the organic population expansion has caused a sprawl in the past 30 years or so, along with growing demands of tourism.
I stayed at the Narayan Niwas Palace - which has it's origins as a 13th century stone mansion and a rest point for camels and traders passing by - and today converted as a heritage hotel. It is still owned and run by the descendant members of Rajput royalty and I was privileged to be their guest there. I also had an an oportunity to travel to the desert fringe.