In the most colourful of all deserts, in the heart of the Thar lies Jaisalmer, the city of gold. Its golden fort, golden desert sands and elaborately carved havelis evoke unseen memories of times as they once were. Magical in look and indeed it could be a city out of the Arabian Nights and its exotic spell weaves its magic not only over foreigners but Indians as well. For three days each winter the city comes alive with brilliant colours, festivities, music, laughter, artists, performers, camels and of course tourists from around the world. Against the majestic backdrop of the Jaisalmer fort, snake charmers, puppeteers, acrobats and folk performers all vie for attention.
Dressed in brilliantly hued costumes, the people of the desert dance and sing haunting ballads of valor, romance and tragedy. Camels, of course, play a stellar role in this festival, where the rich and colorful folk culture of Rajasthan is on show. The festival closes with an enchanting sound and light show amidst the sand dunes on a moonlit night.
The burnished ochers of this otherwise barren landscape come alive a few days before the full moon night in the month of spring, with musicians, dancers, performers from all over Rajasthan moving in colourful caravans to the golden town of Jaisalmer. During this festival one gets a peek into the rich and vibrant culture that throbs in the desert heartland. The traditional arts so dear to the indigenous people and nurtured through centuries. It is a celebration of man's resilience, his will, his spirit and nature's glory. It is a chance of a lifetime to witness this heritage culture against the very backdrop that nurtured it.
The three day festival starts with the arrival of the artists and a series of programs. Gone is the lonely balladeer and in his place troupes of talented musicians create divine music out of ethnic handcrafted instruments. The entire city all the way up to the winding lanes within the fort wears a festive look. Each day the festivities begin at sunrise, throughout the day the tempo keeps increasing and at night it reaches a crescendo under the magnificent star studded canopy of the desert sky. Though mainly a festival of performing arts, there are many other events and competitions that make this festival interesting.
The city turns into one giant crafts bazaar, craftsmen even from the very interiors and the remote corners of the desert exhibit their work here during the festival. The visitor gets a chance to pick up some precious ethnic goodies and even interact with the artists who created them. Exquisitely embroidered skirts, hand-woven shawls, rugs, carvings on wood and stone, camel decorations, embroidered leather bags, ethnic silver jewelry and terracotta are some of the wares on offer.
Evenings are when the tempo really picks up- it's when the dance and drama begins. The dances of Rajasthan are just amazing, men and women move in perfectly coordinated rhythm to the pulsating sound of desert drums. Their colourful scarves and skirts swirl around them creating a pretty picture, some of the dances are no less than acrobatic feats and some are astounding feats of bravery. Fire eaters, sword swallowers and all manner of exotica is on display here.
In any desert occasion how can the all important camel be left behind, here too he is given the place of pride and finely dressed up for the ocassion. In fact, heavily painted and ornately decorated camels roam about jauntily since they are competing for the prize for being the best dressed. Camel races are quite exciting and the sheer thrill of camel polo is unbeatable. Another unique event organised here is the camel dance and you'll be surprised but these beasts of burden really do know how to let their hair down and shake a leg.
Other interesting traditions are the moustache and turban tying competitions, both of these have been considered symbols of honour in Rajasthan for centuries and local men compete for these titles with much fanfare. In the olden days keeping the moustache twisted upwards meant keeping one's pride intact while drooping moustaches conveyed complete surrender. Tying a turban is even more complicated than it looks, in fact its almost an art. The varying styles of tying the turban and the colors of the turban describe the caste, region and also the occasion. It's fascinating to see skilled men wrap yards of colourful cloth into the most complicated turban designs within minutes. The golden sand dunes of Jaisalmer are spectacular hosts for the enchancting desert festival each year.
The nearest airport is in Jodhpur about 300 kms away.
Jaisalmer has its very own railway station and is well connected with most major metro cities in India.
A good network of roads connects Jaisalmer with Jodhpur and many other destinations in and around Rajasthan. Jaisalmer is 290 km from Jodhpur and 330 km from Bikaner. Regular bus service is also conducted between Jaisalmer and almost all the other cities in Rajasthan.