Just 62 mi/100 km from the Pakistan border, the oasis of Jaisal, India, is the only inhabited spot for miles/kilometers in the Great Indian Desert. The walled city of Jaisalmer, built of sandstone about 410 mi/660 km southeast of Delhi, is dramatically perched on a flat-topped hill. The town contains several interesting Jain temples, havelis (intricately carved buildings), a maze of narrow alleys and two medieval estates, Patwon-ki-Haveli and Salim-ki-Haveli.

Before sundown, walk to the inns and rest houses just outside town or take a camel ride to Bada Bagh, a collection of royal stone cenotaphs north of the city walls. As the sun goes down, the stones of the entire town take on the shades of the fading sky—a magical sight. The town is also a popular spot for booking overnight camel safaris into the desert.

People-watching is another treat in Jaisalmer. Residents wear especially brilliant colors, perhaps to make up for the starkness of the surrounding terrain.

Jaisalmer hosts a Desert Festival each February that includes a colorful Camel Tattoo, resembling Scotland's Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but with dromedaries. A band on camelback plays music, while troupes of brightly dressed camels perform intricate maneuvers—circles, crossovers and balletlike steps—before their riders perform various tricks on their backs.

Another Desert Festival event is rangoli, traditional building or pavement decoration using colored paints from ground sandstone and soapstone.

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