Life in Gurgaon

Once a Popular Destination, Jaisalmer has Sadly Fallen Off the Tourist Map

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It was once a much sought-after destination for tourists who wanted to experience camel safaris, golden sands, mesmerising dunes, and the rich culture and heritage of the Thar desert. Then came the Khalistan Movement of 1986 and since the borders of Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district were bound on the west and southwest by Pakistan, tourists weren’t permitted beyond 45 km of this World Heritage City.

Around 2/3rd of the district was brought within the ambit of the Protected Area Permit (PAP), which barred any kind of tourist activity in its vicinity without prior permission from police and administration.

The Khalistan movement left a sad imprint on this border area. Even the once popular 14-day safari from Jodhpur/Bikaner to Jaisalmer came to a tragic halt with the implementation of the PAP in Jaisalmer.
Those affected the most by this harsh initiative were the locals who survived on the decent incomes being generated from tourists. Even the numbers of camels dwindled substantially as demand fell, drastically cutting the income of their masters.

“Until 1986, the area was absolutely open and people used to do long safaris from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, right along the border. There were royal desert safaris too which lasted 10-15 days. Many dignitaries from India and abroad were a part of these safaris,” Vikram Singh Bhati, a member of the erstwhile royal family of Jaisalmer, told IANS.

As Khalistan movement was growing strongly and Jaisalmer had a 450 km-long border with Pakistan, the authorities preferred shutting down the area.

“Now, whoever wants to visit the border areas needs to take permission from the police. One can enter Jaisalmer but can’t go beyond 45 kilometres. Beyond this, they need to go to the local police station and take permission and only then can they go ahead,” Bhati said.

“People want to come and see desert and the real desert starts from 45 km and beyond. That’s the best part of the Thar desert, the second-largest desert of the world, which now remains inaccessible to people, he added.

If the area is opened up again, it can help generate better incomes for locals. The infrastructure can also improve and the number of camels, which is dwindling, can be increased, he said.

“If people are allowed to go there, they can see camels, culture and heritage.”

“Sadly, the villagers are now switching to lucrative cash crops on land once used to graze camels. We have the best breed of camels in Asia with us, and now this is dwindling because the locals can’t bear the cost of retaining the camels,” he said.