Some believe the Thar Desert, as a dry and barren land, to be 4000 to 10,000 years old. Some believe its dryness started much earlier. At one time, the Ghaggar-Hakra River was a water source for the Indus Valley Civilization, but it ceased to be a major river around 2000 to 1500 BC. Cities like ancient Kalibanganin in northern Rajasthan were abandoned because the rivers dried up.
The Thar Desert is characterized by shifting golden sand dunes, high winds, sparse rainfall and very hot, sunny days before the monsoon period. It has sparse wild plants and wildlife, such as the great Indian Bustard, White Footed Fox and Chinkara. Many local people still live in the traditional way in small villages surrounding Jaisalmer city.
On the western edge of the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer was an entry point to the large northern plains of the Indian subcontinent and desert stretches of northern Africa and west-north Asia. The location acted as an important destination for caravans on the Silk Road, a trade route that criss-crossed the continent of Europe, Africa and Asia.
Rawal Jaisal, a Bhati Rajput ruler of Jaisalmer founded the city of Jaisalmer in the 12th century. It is said that while surveying Trikuta Hill, a massive triangular rock rising more than 75 metres out of the desert sands, as a secure location for a new capital, he met a sage called Eesul. Eesul told him that ancient mythology prophesied that a descendant of Jaisal’s Yaduvanshi clan would one day establish a kingdom here.
Jaisal moved his capital from Ludorva (the capital of the ancient rulers 15 kilometres from Jaisalmer) to Trikuta Hill in 1156. He built a mud fort and named it Jaisalmer after himself. It was later laid in stone masonry in three tiers at different heights for added security. Over the years, Havelis, monuments and gardens were developed, which are now known for their excellent architecture and beautifully detailed carvings over the facades of buildings.
The Bhattis maintained an affable relationship with the Mughal emperors, and prospered culturally and economically from the trade relations with Muslim kingdoms of Persia, Arabia, Egypt and Africa. A combination of factors (the British opening sea ports in Mumbai and Kolkata) and decline of the Mughals in the mid 17th century led to the glory of Jaisalmer fading.
Jaisalmer Fort, one of the largest in the world, is believed to be one of the world’s very few "living forts", as nearly a quarter of the old city's population still lives within the fort. The picturesque golden Fort accentuated by its 99 bastions dominates the view as it magnificently rises up from the surrounding township and sands.