Set in Rajasthan's vast Thar Desert, Jaisalmer is known as India's 'Golden City' for its honey-yellow sandstone buildings. It's centred around the ancient, still-inhabited Jaisalmer Fort's imposing battlements, piled up like sandcastles enclosing the city. Inside the walls, a maze of alleyways and crooked stairs reveal bright bazaars filled with incense aromas, leather-work and embroidery. Watch the sun set over Jaisalmer's rooftops to the beat of traditional Rajasthani folk music and dancing.
You'll find many Jaisalmer hostels in richly decorated old buildings, such as one in a towering 500-year-old mansion. You can also stay in a contemporary Jaisalmer hostel with brightly coloured murals, a traditional hut in the desert, or luxurious, locally made tents. Hostels in town often have rooftop spaces with a view of the fort, and some host extras like yoga classes and free sweet chai tea at sunset. A couple of hostels in Jaisalmer also have a swimming pool in which to cool off. Look out for places with handy extras like air con and bike rental.
Much of the old town is contained within Jaisalmer Fort, with temples and historic buildings scattered among the tangle of lanes within. Other places to explore include two abandoned towns. Lodrawa is an ancient former royal capital, with ornate architecture surrounded by shifting sand dunes. Kuldhara is believed to be one of the most haunted places in India – there's no entry allowed after sunset! The wild Desert National Park stretches out to the west of Jaisalmer.
Jaisalmer has lots to see and do. Stroll through its streets to see the intricate carvings on Jain temples and haveli (mansions). One of the most famous of these is Patwon Ji Ki Haveli, just outside the fort. Built in the early 1800s by a jewellery merchant, it's actually five palatial houses clustered together to form a rambling complex. Glittering Gadsisar Lake, surrounded by religious sites, pavilions and green space, is a popular spot for paddle-boating.
Jaisalmer Airport is served by domestic flights and is a 30-minute taxi-ride from the old town. From Jodhpur Airport (also domestic flights only), you'll need to take a taxi to central Jodhpur, and a bus (around 5 hours) or train (5.5 hours) to Jaisalmer. You can also catch a train from Delhi, which takes just under 19 hours. Jaisalmer itself is small enough to get around on foot, or you can rent a motorbike to explore the surrounding areas.