Jaisalmer has always held a special place in the imagination of travelers - domestic and foreign alike - as India's finest desert outpost. Located in the sandy expanse of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer was once part of the fabled 'Silk Route'. Being a trade route, passing caravans brought wealth to the town that found manifestation in impressive havelis built by wealthy traders. Built in local yellow sandstone, now christened as Jaisalmer stone, the town quite literally looks like a 'Golden City' as it has come to be known. The piece de resistance of Jaisalmer, however, is its iconic fort. One of the rare living forts in the world with close to 3000 people living within its ramparts, the fort dominates the town physically and forms the hub around which life in the town revolves. Jaisalmer, in contemporary times, is the ideal base to explore desert tourism.
The majority of inhabitants of Jaisalmer are Bhatti Rajputs, who take their name from an ancestor named Bhatti, renowned as a warrior when the tribe was located in the Punjab. Shortly after this the clan was driven southwards, and found refuge in the Indian desert, which was henceforth its home. Deoraj, a famous prince of the Bhatti family, is esteemed the real founder of the Jaisalmer dynasty, and with him the title of rawal commenced. In 1156 Rawal Jaisal, the sixth in succession from Deoraj, founded the fort and city of Jaisalmer, and made it his capital as he moved from his former capital at Lodhruva (which is situated about 15 km to the south-east of Jaisalmer). In 1293, the Bhattis so enraged the emperor Ala-ud-din Khilji that his army captured and sacked the fort and city of Jaisalmer, so that for some time it was quite deserted. Some Bhattis migrated to Talwandi, now Nankana Sahib in Dist. Nankana Sahib (Punjab, Pakistan) and others settled in Larkana (Sind, Pakistan) under the name of Bhutto. In Nankana Sahib, the Bhatti Clan can be traced from the lineage of Rai Bhoe and Rai Bular Bhatti. After this there is nothing to record until the time of Rawal Sahal Singh, whose reign marks an epoch in Bhatti history in that he acknowledged the supremacy of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The Jaisalmer princes had now arrived at the height of their power, but from this time till the accession of Rawal Mulraj in 1762 the fortunes of the state rapidly declined, and most of its outlying provinces were lost. In 1818 Mulraj entered into political relations with the British. Maharawal Salivahan, born in 1887, succeeded to the chief ship in 1891.
The Maharajas of Jaisalmer trace their lineage back to Jaitsimha, a ruler of the Bhatti Rajput clan. The major opponents of the Bhati Rajputs were the powerful Rathore clans of Jodhpur and Bikaner. They used to fight battles for the possession of forts, waterholes or cattle. Jaisalmer was positioned strategically and was a halting point along a traditional trade route traversed by the camel caravans of Indian and Asian merchants. The route linked India to Central Asia, Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Africa and the West.
During the Islamic invasion of India, Jaisalmer escaped direct Muslim conquest due to its geographical situation in the desert region. The Rawals of Jaisalmer agreed to pay an annual tribute to the Delhi Sultans. The first siege of Jaisalmer occurred during the reign of Alauddin Khilji. It was provoked by Bhattis' raid on a caravan filled with treasure. According to local ballads, the Bhattis defended the fort for seven years until the enemy army beached the ramparts. Bhattis, facing certain defeat, proclaimed the rite of jauhar. Later, Sultan Ferozshah also seized Jaisalmer after the rulers of Jaisalmer raided his camp at Anasagar lake near Ajmer. The siege led to another jauhar. Jaitsimha's son Duda perished in the attack. Duda's descendants ruled over Jaisalmer for about two centuries. Duda's descendant Lunakarna had a fight with Humayun when the latter passed through Jaisalmer en route to Ajmer. Mughal emperor Akbar was married to one of the Jaisalmer princesses.
Later, Jaisalmer was ruled by a noble called Sabala Simha, who won the patronage of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for services rendered in his Peshawar campaign.
There are two broad sides to exploring shopping options in Jaisalmer. Shops within the fort, and in the bazaars beyond! Inside the fort, the main path leading to the Rajmahal is particularly attractive. Colorful textiles with mirror work that can be used for wall hangings, bedspreads or cushion covers are eye-catching. As are the carved stone pieces, traditional musical instruments and other knick-knacks like trinkets. The winding path from the fort gate to the Jain temples also has a fair sprinkling of shops selling a variety of curios.
The fort done, walk into Sadar Bazar right below the hill for leather items such as bags, sandals, jootis (traditional footwear) et al. mostly made of camel leather. They are cheap (around Rs 150 to 200) and easy on the human skin. Embroidered textiles, tie-and-dye fabric, wooden decorations and stone artifacts can also be bought here.
There are several good khadi (homespun cloth) shops around town. Gandhi Darshan Emporium at Gandhi Chowk sells khadi including carpets, shawls and woven garments. Zila Khadi Gramodan Parishad and Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan are worth a visit as well.
Barmer Embroidery House near Patwon ki Haveli is a veritable treasure trove for antique textiles. Designers make a beeline for this place. Jaisalmer is also famous for its wool products, particularly rugs.