Two Canadians, two Germans, Simon and I bumped along in the back of the “Trotters Camel Safari” jeep as we headed off into the Thar desert. With turban in tow, Simon was certainly prepared but I felt slightly hesitant. The tour we chose was the “off the beaten path” option for our overnight camel safari with Trotters. It happened to be one of the most expensive camel safaris in Jaisalmer. We had convinced our two new Canadian friends to come along with us on this tour, so I felt partly responsible if it didn’t meet expectations.
We watched as all houses and paved roads faded away as we made our way out into the desert. To the right, we watched an enormous heard of cows head in the direction of what seemed Jaisalmer. With the largest cow leading the pack, and possibly 50 following, we were hoping that wasn’t really their final destination. There were enough there already, along with their cow patty land mines.
After a short stop at a natural oasis, and then an old fort surrounded by ruins, we continued on into the desert. We made turns that had no signage and followed a path which I could barely see. Finally, we began to slow down and in the middle of nowhere emerged six camels and three guides.
With just enough time to tie Simon’s turban and apply sunscreen to prevent him looking like a spitting image of the tomato he was in Goa, we awkwardly climbed on our camels. (Well, I awkwardly climbed on. One leg didn’t seem capable of making it over the hump.) After being told to lean back, our camels began to rise, and with a few forward and backward motions we were lifted into the sky.
Our Arabian Nights adventure was a surreal experience as we rode through the desert towards dunes that lay 60km from the Pakistan border. Just six of us, a guide and his son lead us deeper into the desert while the late afternoon sun beat down. Swaying back and forth with each step of the camels, we started to realize why horses are a more popular mode of animal transportation. Thankfully, just as we were started to feel sore and bruised, some golden dunes appeared in the distance indicating our arrival.
We descended from our “magic carpet rides” and found a few blankets spread out for us by the jeep we left behind a couple of hours prior. Our man-made oasis had been created before we arrived and we were brought out water and snacks while the other guides prepared our dinner. Just as we got comfortable, and couldn’t ask for much else, our oasis got better—the desert beer man showed up. For 150 rupees (less than $3, about the same as restaurant prices) we could buy beer miles from any towns or villages.
“It’s cold too,” he said as he dug in his sack to pull out a half frozen beer. “See, ice cold.” We all oohed and awed about this desert miracle. We toasted, took our first gulp, but then looked around in suspicion. It clearly wasn’t as cold as the one we originally saw. Still, we were happy to be able to sit with beers and gaze at the dunes. We all opted for another lukewarm round when this tricky temptress of a man appeared out of nowhere again shortly after.
Before dinner was served, we had time to play around on the dunes and flick away the black beetles that always seemed to gravitate towards us. Our friend Mike wandered off on his own, Elena took a huge roll down a dune, Simon tended to his turban, and I pretended to be a National Geographic photographer as the little beetles scurried past.
All too soon the sun was setting. The dunes and desert view slowly faded away until it became a pitch black. We retreated to camp and dinner was served. We chowed down on a desert cooked meal, which I thought included some of the most flavorful dal (curried lentils) I have had in India. They kept refilling our plates, and we couldn’t resist. Spoonfuls of flavorful vegetables and potatoes, rice, dal and chapatti (mixed in with a little bit of sand) made for a perfect desert dinner.
The rest of the night was spent by the only source of light. Huddled around the flames, we passed around a few small bottles of whiskey we brought from Jaisalmer. With the help of Simon’s “Planets 3d” iphone app, we all pointed up at the sky and charted the constellations and planets. Who knew an iphone could be useful in the desert.
In the morning, I awoke from my mat on the dunes, squinted to find my glasses and nudged Simon awake. We watched as the sky near the horizon turned from rose to a deep pink. Simultaneously, the others started to rustle on their mats and pop their heads out from under their blankets. In the distance, the guides were already up and preparing chai.
Over the next hour we slowly got ready to head back to Jaisalmer. We sipped our tea and slowly ate our breakfast. I’m not sure if we were going at this pace because we didn’t want the painful camel ride or we weren’t ready to leave. I for one would have enjoyed a bit longer enjoying the honk-free silence of the desert.
Trotter’s Camel Safaris specializes in “off the beaten path” tours such as the one described here. The safaris run all year round from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan with fixed prices so you can expect a fair deal, haggle free. You can reserve a camel safari online through their website or at their office which is located near the entrance of the Jaisalmer Fort. (To the left if leaving the fort). The rate for this tour (1pm-11am off the beaten path) is 1500 rupees including bottled water, an afternoon snack, dinner, breakfast, transportation, bedding and 1 camel. They also offer many other camel tours with various lengths as well as a few other tourist services.
*This post was sponsored by Trotters, but all opinions on the tour are my own*