Three Men, Three Camels and No Wisdom
There are a multitude of choices for your Jaisalmer desert camel safari. You can trek for days deep into the desert, sleep under the stars with a few blankets without a tent, sleep in a basic tent or even in the luxury of semi-permanent tent in a desert resort. Your choices will depend on your budget and what you want from the experience, the more luxury options start at about 3000 Rp plus each. We chose natures way and for one night only we slept under the stars, out on the dunes – with what we hoped would be some very warm blankets. The tented desert resorts with the dance shows and bands playing piercing music would ruin the silence of the desert, we wanted it all to be a bit more rustic.
Choosing your Jaisalmer Desert Camel Safari
Everyone has a camel safari for sale in Jaisalmer, shopkeepers, restaurant staff, your hotel and the various travel companies dotted about the old fort all have packages on offer. In the end though they all use a few groups of local herders to provide the end product, for a basic camel and a guide package.
We went with the hotel option which we thought was good value. For 1500 rupees each it included our food, a camel each (some will tell you that you have a camel each only to find you are sharing when you arrive) warm bedding and three beers a piece , it also included a trip on the way home to a desert village, an abandoned village and a restored Jain temple. This also included a private guide, and we had requested we set up camp on our own in the desert away from any others. There are many dodgy operators here so we figured using the hotel to book at least gave us someone to moan at on our return if it was awful. Although the manager at our guest house was a very trustworthy and interesting Indian guy, who managed to pull the stops out for us at every opportunity, so we hoped all would be well.
Our jeep was loaded with blankets and food, beer and water from the hotel and we set off on our journey at about 2pm with one of the hotel staff. The main desert dunes are around 40 km from Jaisalmer so you will need a jeep to get there, passing all the tented resorts and five star hotels on the edge of town which will take you about an hour. Our driver suddenly turned off the main Tarmac ribbon and we were on the sand where we hoped to meet our camels. However, we had a bit of trouble finding them and it was only after asking the fourth camel driver were we led to the correct sand dune at the side of the road where eight camels were huddled at its base.
Finding Our Camel Rides
We were introduced to Piro, our camel driver and our three camels, one for him and two for us. The rear saddles on each were loaded with the blankets and provisions. We were then ready to set off, well we would have, if only we could get on the bloody things. Getting on a camel that is laden with cargo is not a graceful procedure, but with a little help from Piro we heaved ourselves aloft our trusty rides.
They had made up western type names for the camels, that we instantly forgot due to a lack of authenticity, as we set off with Piro at the front and us two following behind guided by ropes and nose rings tied to the camels. We trekked for about two hours across the desert in an incredible silence, it was a silence I have never before heard, which sounds a little oxymoronic. You will have to hear it to understand what I mean. In fact the only thing you hear are the camels farting which they do with great gusto and at regular intervals.
The majority of the desert on the first part of the journey is flat and dotted with scrub and brush but every now and again you happen across a beautiful set of sandy dunes. We marvelled at the wind created ripples that form their surface casting deep shadows as the sun gets lower in the sky.
Our India Desert Camp Experience
We made it to the camp on one of the dunes and while Piro set to work lighting a fire and un-saddling the camels we wandered around the dunes sipping a beer. We were once again asked whether we wanted the solitary experience in the dunes or whether we were happy to share it with another small group. We changed our minds and opted for the camaraderie and just as the sun was setting a group of four strangers lumbered into our camp. We were made to promise not to tell the price we’d paid, or the fact that we had free beers thrown into the deal, and had negotiated half the going rate for further purchases. They were a French and Japanese couple. Chai was served and we all gathered on mattresses on the floor as the main camp fire was lit to take the chill out of the desert night as the suns warmth disappeared to the other side of the world.
Chicken curry, vegetables, chapatis and rice were prepared by the drivers over the smaller cooking fires and served to us hungry desert virgins. Considering how and where it was cooked, it was great food. We washed this down with more beers and then cracked open a bottle of rum, and a special cake we had brought with us for communal drinking and eating. Then it was a magical evening of shared India travel stories and the telling of ghost stories too. Piro beat us all with a tale of his desert ghost with a pimpled face who spooked his camel and then himself when he was young, he may have just made it up, but it gave me the heebie jeebies. The drivers also like to belt out a local tune too so we were treated to their Rajasthani traditional songs which were a very pleasant addition to the evening.
We watched the stars twinkle and even spotted a shooting star before we all scrabbled over to another smaller dune to lay down our beds and get covered with as many duvets and blankets as possible. The drivers wanted John and I to spend then night with them, which I was happy to do. However, John didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the situation and without uttering a word the French couple asked us to sleep with them. Although it gets cold in the night, we really didn’t feel it as the blankets provided are more than adequate if you are wrapped up in warm clothing already (think layers and sleep in t-shirt, shirt and a warm hooded top or hat). The Japanese couple opted for a tent not far from where we bedded down. We all awoke before sunrise and were treated to a desert breakfast of toast made on the fire and boiled eggs with a morning cup of chai. We were all a little dazed after quite a heavy session the previous evening.
The camels were saddled and we said good bye to our new acquaintances as we trekked for about an hour back to the road. Piro decided to try us with quite a bit of camel trotting (it felt like camel racing to me) which is interesting to say the least. My bottom certainly didn’t enjoy the process, I have sore buttocks as I type this. I shall spare you a photo of my reddened cheeks.
Opium tea and other alcoholic and mind numbing products are freely available and offered at all points from the camel staff. Well above market prices. If your into this sort of stuff, pick this up in Jaisalmer before you leave. They will charge around 250 for a beer and 500 for a bottle of rum or whisky.
We also spoke to people who had stayed in the more luxury desert safari resorts, they had been told that drinks were included. Needless to say, they weren’t and they were then handed a large bill, ontop of the very expensive price already charged for their desert camel experience.
Our camel trek in the end was a great experience, but we read many stories of people who didn’t enjoy it because they didn’t get what they asked, or paid for. So it makes sense to shop around find the right price, and if you are going try and do it on the cheap you may find yourself sharing a camel, or not having enough blankets to keep warm. I would say the cost for an overnight stay in the desert camel safari is 1000 rupees, bare minimum, if you want to get a decent experience. If your on a backpacking budget and it sounds too cheap, it probably is for a very good reason. Our Jaisalmer desert safari was certainly worth what we paid and sore buttocks aside I would do it again without hesitation, truly a highlight of our trip. I personally think one night, 2 days in the desert was ample time for us to experience this.
Things Can Go Missing in the Desert
The only downside to the entire experience was John “lost” his wedding ring. It was all a little bizarre, John thinks it may have been stolen. One of the camel drivers that evening, had taken an interest in John’s wedding ring and asked if he could try it on, as we were all in high spirits John who is usually quite sceptical,said yes. John got the ring back and it was placed back on his finger. For some reason that evening, John was unusually protective and worried about our valuables knotting our day-packs with blankets together and placing under our beds, before we eventually went to sleep. Maybe this was due to the stories we’d listened to from the camel drivers of how tourists belongings sometimes go missing while they sleep as they are taken by dogs!!! Who knows how John’s ring disappeared from his finger, whether it had been lubricated and taken, we’ll never know. All I can say is that we didn’t let this detract from the enjoyable experience we had and would recommend others include this as part of their India travel itinerary, maybe just leave any jewellery and watches with your hotel.