Camel Safari & A Night Under the Stars in India’s Thar Desert
As soon as we planned our trip through Rajasthan we just knew that we had to stop and explore Jaisalmer’s Golden City and trek through its rippling sand dunes on camel back. It was to be an experience of a lifetime and we could not wait!
Arriving in Jaisalmer
After volunteering in Jaipur for 3 weeks we finally headed off on an overnight train to the dusty, sandstone streets of Jaisalmer. Despite everyone telling us it would be overwhelmingly hot at this time of year we persevered not wanting to miss out on the camel safari we had dreamed of doing. But, as the train rolled closer and closer to Jaisalmer we could actually feel the heat rising and as we stepped off we were met with the full force of the blistering summer heat – 45 to 48 degrees!! They were right, it was freaking hot!! What on earth where we doing?
Our friend had got there the day before us and hunted around the hundreds of travel agents that all offer camel safaris. We had heard of Abu Safari which was the top backpacker choice but after a little research and some great haggling we decided to go with Adventure Travels. We paid 1500 Rps per person and had the added luxury of an actual bed under the stars! That compared to a roll mat and a tarpaulin was something that we just couldn’t refuse and so we booked on and were set to head out at 3pm that afternoon!
The camel safari was due to leave in the late afternoon to avoid the scorching midday heat so we decided to use our time wisely and explore Jaisalmer Fort. The Fort is the sprawling sandstone structure which towers on its hilltop over the city below. Jumping from shadow to shadow we wandered the cobbled streets and gazed around in awe at the intricate carvings and Jain temples inside the fort walls. Unlike any of the other forts in Rajasthan this one still has people living and working inside and is thus completely free to roam around!
Already feeling like we were being roasted like a chicken in the oven we decided it was probably a good idea to invest in some appropriate desert wear! We found a friendly guy whose shop was, like everywhere in India, just bursting at the seams! He kitted us all out with some long sleeved, loose fitting tops and waved us goodbye!
On the Road to Safari
Come 3pm we met our fellow safari adventurers and climbed into the jeeps! There was us three – all looking slightly ridiculous in our matching outfits – as well as another couple in our jeep. There was one other jeep of five people but we would be the only group, madly or cleverly we weren’t yet sure, to actually stay the whole night! Adventure Travels offer many different length safaris with anything from just a half day and overnight to a full seven night escapade!
As the jeep rolled out of the city and into the rapidly arid looking landscape we were all giddily excited. The single road rolled away behind us as we entered the Thar Desert and for 45 minutes we drove with not another soul in sight!
Note: There are so many safaris going on each night that you do run the risk of setting up camp near to another or not really getting too far out into the desert. Some companies only do a short camel ride to the outskirts of the city where you may still be near to a road and where there are now many wind turbines being built. Do your research before booking to ensure you’re getting the real deal; Adventure Travels drove us further out into the desert away from the more touristy Sam Sand Dunes!
We stopped en route to our camel pick up point at a small desert village where we were greeted by a friendly family handing out some much needed water and who also offered to show us around. Our guides all described themselves as “desert people” themselves and so were keen for us to see how they live day to day! It was amazing to see a small insight into such a different way of life and like all people in India the family was so welcoming.
Camel Riding Through the Thar Desert
Back in our jeeps we made the last ten minute ride to where we would pick up our camels – we already seemed to be in the absolute middle of nowhere and still had a two hour camel ride ahead of us!
We were introduced to our camels and swiftly shown the ropes of how to get on. No sooner were we on their backs were we lurched forwards and backwards as they awkwardly made it up onto their long, spindly legs! It was hilarious watching everyone jerk around and some obviously took better to the ride than others!
Sat upon big padded, brightly coloured seats we set off being guided in a long line through the desert brush! Luckily, by this time, the sun had begun its afternoon descent and although it was still very hot – it was bearable. Plus, as we reminisce, the hot wind whipping at our cheeks actually really added to the desert experience – we mean whats a desert if its not hot?! The landscape was amazing and with a keen eye you could spot not only wild camels but antelopes, deer and eagles soaring above us in the cloudless sky!
Arriving at Camp
After around two hours of peaceful riding (apart from the groans of one camel with a stomach problem!) we made our way up a small hill crest with the gleaming rays of the sun just jutting over the rim. What we saw below as our camels rode up and over the peak was a moment we will both probably never forget. Rolling out ahead was no longer brush and trees but rolling sand dunes deep and golden and a burning pink sun on the sweeping horizon! We’d made it and this is what we’d come for!
Down at camp we dismounted our camels with some already sore hips and bums and took the obligatory camel selfies! They are such funny animals and despite their often bad reputation we came to quite love them and all their individual personalities!
As the sun poured out its final orange and pink beams of the day we ran, rolled and danced through the deep soft dunes. Sitting as far out from camp as we dared, we found a tranquil spot and waited for the suns final performance of the day. There was nothing but desert for as far as the eye could see, the sun threw up beautiful sepia tones and we all sat in awe at an already magical journey!
Around the Campfire
Back at camp our wonderful guides had already set about creating a campfire and brewing us up some delicious sweet chai in huge camping mugs!
We sat and chatted with the group and watched as our dinner was prepared from scratch over the wild open fire right in front of our eyes. The guys prepared a thali with rice, dahl, two curries, pickle and some fresh doughy chapattis. Sat there in the darkness, around the crackling fire, with our toes in the velvety dunes eating a meal freshly prepared and tasting so absolutely delicious was one of those special moments where you truly feel alive. There was absolutely nowhere we would rather have been in that moment!
After we’d had our fill, and there was a lot to go around, we waved off the other guests as they headed back to Jaisalmer. Now we knew we were the clever ones and all felt secretly feeling smug that we got to stay a little longer in this beautiful spot.
Starry Starry Night
The fire put out we sat back and relaxed on our camp beds which had been set atop one of the dunes and made up with lovely thick mattresses and fresh white sheets! They were genuinely nicer than some beds we’d slept in in Indian hotels! Snuggling down we watched as the night sky gradually came alive and the stars began to twinkle above us! It was completely breathtaking and the stars seemed to be never ending as they unfurled like a map across the inky darkness around us!
Then, as the moon began its ascent big and bold in the sky we all drifted off to sleep. The desert held a deafening silence apart from the snuffle and grunt of the sleeping camels every now and then!
It would have been the most comfortable nights sleep ever had a couple of desert dogs not come sniffing and howling around us in the early hours of the morning. Awoken from sleep we were, for some reason, all a little disturbed and tried to hush them away as quickly as possible! In the morning it turned out they were actually a lovely pair of happy dogs with wagging tails just looking for some attention not the rabid, scowling dogs we’d overplayed in our sleepy heads!
Sunrise Over the Thar Desert
Despite our nighttime visitors, we all awoke early greeted with some very welcome cups of chai ready to watch the sunrise. The desert was still so quiet and peaceful and for a few hours it was like we were completely the only ones to exist out there.
We rolled over in our beds and awaited the sun in silence. It rose so quickly over the dunes but it was simply spectacular. You could tell everyone was having a moment of pure reflection, energy and contentment. It was such a surreal moment and one which none of us really wanted to end!
Day Two Camel Safari
After a feast of a breakfast including porridge, boiled eggs, fruit and toast we were almost ready to make our way back to the city! We say almost as we most definitely could have spent another few hours just admiring the dunes and the freedom of being so far away from civilisation!
But, we had to leave early so that we weren’t riding in the midday sun and we’re thankful we weren’t as it proved to be another searingly hot day!
Our final journey back to the jeep was another two hours and took us back a different route through the desert and scrub. The landscape was similar but still so dramatic. We rode past some smaller villages with handmade shelters for the farmers and camel herders and even a few small places of worship.
Despite loving the ride we were all quite pleased to get down off the camels! It had been an unforgettable experience but boy did our bums and legs hurt – camels may be cute but after four hours of riding they’re certainly not comfortable!
One Magical Experience
The experience was truly everything we’d hoped for and more thanks to our wonderful guides and their well thought out itinerary! This was all topped off by the fact that the owner of Adventure Travels also offers up a shower in his house so that you can freshen up before heading off to your next destination! Let’s just say after sweating on a camel in the dry desert heat we weren’t smelling great and the cold shower was extremely welcome!
As we waved goodbye to Jaisalmer and headed off to Jodhpur we knew that it would always hold a magical place in our thoughts. Tinged with dappled golden dunes, the soft hot winds, the slow plod of the camels, the sweet chai, spicy curries and some the most beautiful skies we’ve ever witnessed!
If you’re heading to Rajasthan then definitely don’t miss out on doing a Camel Safari! It’s worth the extra journey and the money just to witness the glorious Indian desert and the unmistakable Indian sun setting and rising over the dunes! And, if you’re unsure on which tour to choose then we can’t recommend Adventure Travels enough – they were superb and still very affordable!
Things to remember when booking your camel safari;
- There are lots of companies so shop around and compare what each company provides
- Having a bed to sleep on and a proper meal can be included and made our experience even better
- Ask how long and where the safari takes you to ensure you actually get out into the desert
- Find out how many people you will share the experience with
- Don’t be afraid to haggle – there is always a good price to be found especially if you are travelling in a group
Things to take with you on the camel safari;
- Scarf as extra protection to wrap around your head or face if it gets windy
- Wear loose fitting cotton clothes – this is both for the heat and for comfort when riding the camel
- Men should wear loose fitting shorts or trousers as again it can be particularly uncomfortable during the ride
- A camera/GoPro to snap all your favourite moments
- A torch
- Hand sanitiser and wet wipes to keep you feeling fresh
- A change of top for the second day
- Water although this should be provided aplenty
- Snacks in case you need something extra – especially if you have food allergies
- A well sealed bag to prevent sand getting in
C & J x