Sambhar Salt Lake has become immensely popular over the last few years among birding enthusiasts in Jaipur. The lake attracts a significant number of migratory birds from Siberia, Russia, and Mongolia; the most prominent being flamingoes. It was in addition in the news in the last few years for the wrong reasons- the death of thousands of birds. I have already included Sambhar Lake in my best weekend getaways near Jaipur. Sambhar Lake ranks among the top ten places to visit near Jaipur on a day trip. It is extremely popular in winter when migratory birds arrive in huge numbers.
Sambhar Lake Travel Guide
I have been to Sambhar Lake a couple of times over the last few years and decided to share my travel experiences to help other travelers. Here is a Sambhar Lake travel guide.
What is Sambhar Lake famous for?
Sambhar Lake is one of the most prominent saline lakes in India and accounts for the most salt production in Rajasthan. The lake accounts for close to 10% of India’s salt production using the evaporation method. The length of the lake range from 35-40 km. Lately, Sambhar lake has also become popular for pre-wedding shoots due to its white backdrop.
Where is Sambhar Lake?
Sambhar Lake is in Rajasthan. The lake covers an area lying between the districts of Jaipur, Nagaur, and Ajmer. It is situated close to Sambhar town and approximately 90 km from Jaipur.
How much area does the Sambhar lake cover?
Sambhar lake covers an area in excess of 200 sq km.
What is the History of Sambhar?
Sambhar retains a mythological connection. As per Indian mythology, Sambhar was once ruled by Asura king Vrishparva. His Guru, Shukracharya also resided here and his daughter Devyani married king Yayati in Sambhar. A site in Sambhar town with the name Devyani still exists. More on that later in this post.
Apart from this, there is a popular story pertaining to the goddess of Chouhan Rajputs, Shakhambari Devi. As per this legend, she converted forest land into a land of silver but later turned it into salty land when its inhabitants became greedy. The locals believe the name Sambhar lake is derived from the name of Shakhambari Mata.
If we were to carry out a factual check, the history of Sambhar is remarkably fascinating. It was initially under the rule of Chauhan Rajputs. Mughal ruled Sambhar from the 12th century to the 18th century until Rajputs took control in 1709 AD. Records have been found by researchers dating to the Mughal period of tax collection from salt sales. Both Rajput rulers of Jaipur and Jodhpur divided the area under the Mughal rule among themselves barring some. This area was under the joint rule of both these states. After this, the Marathas started attacking Sambhar for ransom since it was a region that generated a lot of revenue. Help from the British was sought, and they created a cantonment in Ajmer to curb the Maratha attacks. Sambhar came under British rule after entering into the treaty until India’s independence.
Places to visit & Things to do in Sambhar
Sambhar is a small town and is definitely not a huge tourist attraction. A traveler should not expect touristy stuff in Sambhar. For people who like offbeat stuff, Sambhar is definitely a good option. Here are things to do in and around Sambhar.
Sambhar Lake is one of the top attractions in Sambhar. In reality, while it has the word lake attached to it, it is a wetland, a saline wetland is a more appropriate word. The landscape is a huge white barren land devoid of any vegetation. Its color is due to a mix of soil and salt. Sambhar Lake has become a hot destination among couples for pre-wedding shoots. It is also popular among driving enthusiasts for it allows them to drive on a landscape that is white to the horizon. It is a thrill ride for many. A word of caution. In many places, the land is marshy, and cars getting stuck is a routine event especially months following the monsoon. In such a scenario, people end up spending a huge amount getting their car out.
Shakhambari Devi Temple
Shakhambari Mata Temple in Sambhar is one of the most visited places in Sambhar. Shakhambari Devi is an avataar of Durga Mata. According to the information provided by the temple, there are three temples of Shakhambari Devi in India and the one is Sambhar is considered to be the most important of them. Shakhambari Devi is “Kul Devi” of Chauhan Rajputs but has a large public following.
The temple compound has beautiful old buildings and structures but is not maintained well. The temple even though is claimed to be very old has been renovated probably in many phases.
Sunset and Sunrise Point in Sambhar – Cenotaph
The popular sunset and sunrise point in Sambhar is a cenotaph above Shakhambari temple. A new staircase was constructed a couple of years ago near Shakhambari Temple which leads to the cenotaphs. The Cenotaph is perched on a hilltop that towers over the temple complex. As per popular legend, it was built by Mughal ruler Jahangir. I recommend visiting this place because it provides a panoramic 360-degree view of the lake. If you are lucky, you might catch a car driving at a fast speed in the salt pan.
Devyani Temple & Sarovar
Devyani Sarovar or Kund is a water body with a temple complex surrounding it on all sides with Ghats. It resembles the Pushkar lake. The setting is beautiful however, not all structures are well maintained and so is the case with the water in the lake. The water of the lake is considered sacred just like Pushkar lake. Unlike Sambhar lake, the water in Devyani is freshwater. Devyani Kund is considered to be an important place in Hindu mythology. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata as a place where Devyani, daughter of Shukracharya is married to king Yayati. Locals believe one of the temples here dates to that period & is called Devyani Temple.
Sambhar town is located not far from the railway station. It is a historic town and many merchants made their riches with salt trading. A large number of these merchants have moved out of town over time. Sambhar town is best known for its Fini. These days Sambhar Fini due to its demand has created many suppliers. It retains a character of a small Rajasthani town. Many Bollywood movies have been filmed here like PK and Jodha Akbar.
Sambhar Salt Museum
A Salt museum in Sambhar is housed in a heritage building. It exhibits salt samples from all over the country. Sadly, when I visited twice during the last two years, due to Covid protocols, the salt museum was closed to visitors. All one could see was the scaled model of the salt production facility at Sambhar that is placed right outside the museum building.
Sambhar Salt Complex
Sambhar Salt Ltd operates a salt processing center near Sambhar Lake. Sambhar Salt is owned by Hindustan Salts Ltd. It is the only central government-owned enterprise engaged in the manufacturing & processing of salt in India. Some of the facilities here date back to colonial times when the British set it up.
Sambhar Lake Train
One can take a train ride along with the lake to experience the vastness of the lake and see the salt production. The train with 2-3 wagons takes travelers at specified times. The boarding point is near Sambhar Heritage Resort tents at Jhapok. It is a narrow gauge train. Narrow gauge trains are reminiscent of the colonial period. A few historic trains in India still run on narrow gauge railway tracks like the Kalka-Shimla train and NJP-Darjeeling train.
There is another option to take a train ride. A small single locomotive cum cabin is meant for bird watching at Sambhar Lake.
Birding at Sambhar Lake & Migratory Birds
Sambhar Lake is one of the leading saline wetlands in India and is a designated
Ramsar Site, a wetland of international importance. It was accorded this status in March 1990. The algae in the lake create a suitable ecosystem by providing food for the birds. It attracts thousands of migratory birds including flamingos from Mongolia, Nort China, and Siberia between November and February. Among the many bird species, one finds here are common coots, common moorhen, black-winged stilts, red-crested pochard, common cranes, demoiselle cranes, sandpipers, and redshanks. As per Asian Waterbird Census in 2022 report, the total number of migratory bird species spotted at Sambhar Lake is in excess of 2000. You can take a loco train ride for bird watching. More details are in the section of Sambhar Lake Train.
Many people visit Sambhar for astrophotography. The topography is suitable for astrophotography.
Best place for Star Gazing in Rajasthan?
A few operators also offer star gazing from Sambhar Lake especially when some important related event is about to take place. This involves camping. If you want to do the star gazing on your own, you need to procure a license from the authorities by paying the requisite fee.
Sundowner in Train
For those seeking an exclusive experience, a sundowner during golden hours on the Sambhar Lake train can be a good option. You can contact the train boarding point at Jhapok or Sambhar Heritage Resort.
Adventure experiences at Sambhar Lake
A couple of adventure experiences take place on demand at Sambhar Lake. These are not run on a regular basis. A few of these are ATV rides, Jeep Parasailing, and cycling. These are operated by private operators based out of Jaipur.
Where to stay in Sambhar?
A couple of years ago, there were very few stay options in Sambhar. Now, with Sambhar Heritage Resort, one has an option to stay in the circuit house, the Kothi, and, the swiss tents. Lately, a few more accommodation options have sprung up on the road leading to Shakhambari Devi Temple from the Sambhar Salt facility overlooking the lake. If one is looking for economical accommodations, there are a few in Sambhar town.
Circuit House at Sambhar
The Sambhar circuit house was built by the British during the colonial period in 1880. The architectural style of the building is similar to the ones built by the British during that era. I was told that high ceilings and thick walls were meant to provide insulation from extreme climatic conditions. A manually operated lift or dumbwaiter is installed in the circuit house used to deliver items to the British “MemSahibs” on the first floor. This circuit house is currently operated by Sambhar Heritage Resort.
The Kothi at Sambhar Heritage Resort
Also part of Sambhar Heritage Resort is this building that earlier served as a clubhouse for the Britishers residing in Sambhar. Now converted into a boutique property. It also has a kitchen that facilitates food for the guest staying at Kothi and Circuit house, close by.
Sambhar Heritage Resort – Tents Overlooking Lake
Even though the circuit house and the clubhouse are operated by the Sambhar Heritage Resort both these are heritage buildings and date to the colonial period. The tents near Jhapok on way to Shakhambari Devi Temple were built a couple of years ago and are luxury swiss tents totaling 18. Tents overlook the lake and provide a serene and peaceful experience.
Sambhar Lake Camping
Camping in Sambhar lake is possible after obtaining a permit by paying a fee. A resort by the name of Camp Sambhar is another stay option. However, it is not an authentic camping experience. It has a tented option built on a stilt platform. Currently, permission for camping in sambhar lake is Rs 2500 per tent+ taxes. The permission can be obtained from sambhar salts.
How to reach Sambhar?
Sambhar is approximately 80-90 km by road depending on which route one takes. The shortest route is via Jobner. However, when I last visited by this route, it was in very condition; it seemed like it was not repaired for the last few years. On my return trip, I retraced the Naraina route via the Jaipur-Ajmer Highway. It was in considerably more satisfactory condition. Subsequently, I made another trip via the Jaipur-Ajmer Highway and Phulera, it was mostly in a good condition barring a small stretch. Another option is to travel via train as it is on the Jaipur-Jodhpur route.
How is salt processed in Sambhar lake?
Sambhar lake is fed with water by a few rivers like the Mantha, the Medtha, the Rupangarh, the Khari, and the Khandela. Experts estimate these and subsidiary rivers and rivulets together form a catchment area of over 5500-6000 sq km.
Under the surface of Sambhar lake are deposits of salts. The salt is brought to the surface by water and becomes brine; in normal circumstances, it would take 45-50 days for the water to evaporate completely leaving behind crystallized salt. These days, most organizations engaged in salt production in Sambhar lake use deep borewells to pump out groundwater. This has also created a delicate situation where excessive water is being pumped out of the ground lowering the water table.
Avian Botulism and bird death
In 2019, thousands of birds died in the Sambhar Lake region due to avian botulism, a bacterial strain. Things are back to normal now since last year. Avian botulism is a toxin created by a bacterial strain and causes neuro-muscular disease.
Sambhar has become a hot destination for pre-wedding shoots and film shooting. Even though the Kishangarh marble dump yard attracts a large number of couples for a pre-wedding photoshoot, some prefer Sambhar for its natural and rustic setting. Wondering when is the best time to visit Sambhar? Winter months are best to visit Sambhar. Summer months are not suited for visiting Sambhar lake.