Rajasthan Desert Camel Safari

When you are on a big journey like this you have to be prepared for anything.  The plan was to drive to the town of Jaisalmer, spend the night in the hotel and then head to the small desert town of Khuri the next day for a camel ‘safari’.  As we drove into the big city my driver suddenly turned onto a country road and told me there was a change of plans, the hotel was booked up and I would be going to the desert right now for my camel adventure.  I wasn’t ready, I hadn’t packed a small bag to take with me (I didn’t want to bring my big backpack and suitcase), so I was angry.  I was angry at the tour company for not confirming my reservation until the last minute and I was angry that my driver had to speed to the resort to get us there by sundown so I would have a chance to ride a camel. I quickly dug through my bags to pull together what I thought I might need as we sped down the country road, squeezing past big transport trucks and tour buses along the way.  Luckily the only thing on either side of us was desert, so it didn’t matter too much if we went off the road a bit.  I was still fuming as we pulled into the little desert community and made our way to the ‘resort’, basically several huts and a few brick and clay buildings surrounding a large courtyard.  As soon as we arrived we walked out back and I met my camel and his driver who would lead me to the dunes, like a slow trail ride.  I hopped on the saddle and the camel, Shiya clumsily got to his feet and we were off.  The driver was very friendly and knew good English, telling me how he loved his job because he was able to meet people from around the world.  He had been at it for 14 years and the camel belonged to his family, so I knew it would be well cared for because it was his family’s only living for the few months that the tourists would come out to the desert from October to March. After that people stay away because of the heat, when temperatures reach 40-50 degrees (and sometimes even higher).  The ride was not as ‘rough’ as I expected.  He had a smooth gait that rose up and down slowly and if you’ve ever ridden a horse, it isn’t much different, although you are higher off the ground.  The padded saddle helped to cushion the impact.  The only time I felt discomfort was going down a steep hill and I was suddenly pushed up against the saddle horn, kind of like a kick in the crotch.   As we rode up the dunes there were a couple of dozen other tourists on camels already there.  It was a slow and peaceful ride and the beauty of the desert was calming. The waves in the sand, carved by the wind, the town disappearing on the horizon and the setting sun were captivating.  When we reached the summit we moved along to an area away from the other group of tourists, we stopped and I dismounted and was able to walk through the sand.  I sat down staring out at the landscape as the sun went lower on the horizon. Occasionally someone would come along trying to sell me beer or water and of course other tourists who would ride by on their camels preparing to leave the dunes.  We stayed to watch the sun set, if you’ve seen any of my other photos you will know that I have a thing for sunsets, and this one ranks right up there near the top of the list.  It was a bright orange ball that turned the clouds into colourful waves, like those reflected in the sand and combined with the silouettes of the camels and their riders as they moved past us.  Just as the sun was disappearing we decided to head in, because the heat of the day gave way quickly to a sudden night chill.  We rode back to the resort for dinner and called it a day, only about an hour and a half long but still worth the experience.  When we returned my driver was there to greet me and said I had the option of sleeping at the resort or out in the desert.  Since my teeth were already chattering I opted for a bed indoors, even though I didn’t expect it would be much warmer.  I was told to have a seat with the others in the courtyard and as the stars came out, a group of musicians joined us along with a dancer who would perform Rajput folk dances for us.  The music was entertaining and the dances were hypnotic.  After a few songs the dancer came over and asked me to join her.  I declined sitting back to watch the show, but when a couple of others got up to dance the leader of the band came over, put his turban on my head and grabbed my hand, how could I refuse.  I’ve never felt so uncoordinated in my life, as I jumped around trying to mimic the woman leading the dance. Soon several other people got up and joined us, obviously realizing they couldn’t make bigger fools of themselves than I was.  It was a lot of fun and quickly got rid of the chill.  It was a lively dance, using every part of the body, the feet, legs, hips, hands and even your head.  When it ended we all fell back into our chairs and were told dinner was ready.  We piled up our plates with local vegetarian dishes that hit the spot after our adventure in the desert and the dance we just performed.  When we finished dinner they came around and asked us again who wanted to sleep in the desert.  I hummed and hawed thinking it would be a fun experience but the chill in the air won out and my driver suggested inside would probably be a better choice.  About a dozen people packed up their gear and headed out while those us who opted for the comfortable beds were shown our rooms. I’m sure glad I stayed.  I was given a ‘suite’ in one of the brick and mud buildings with a big king-sized bed, wall hangings, satin curtains, and best of all… my own bathroom. I settled down under the quilted bed cover and pillows and couldn’t believe how warm it was.  Even though they promised plenty of blankets out on the dunes, I knew I had made the right choice.  I woke to the sound of cows mooing outside my window, dawn was just breaking, so I decided to get dressed and watch the sun rise.  I followed the camel path towards the dunes and saw peacocks moving among the trees and on rooftops, several deer and an amazing sunrise.  If I thought the sunset the night before was beautiful, this wasn’t far behind.  I took a few photos with the sunrise on my left and the moon on my right.  But I was more in awe of the solitude and beauty at that time of the day.  As soon as the sun broke through, the chill in the air gave way to a morning heat that kept building the longer I walked.  I decided to head back and of course got lost, wandering through huts in the village as people were getting up to start their day, looking at me like I was from another planet.  A group of kids came running up to me asking for pens… not money… pens! Too bad I didn’t have any with me.  When I reached the end of the town I realized I had no idea where to go.  I met a Rajput man sitting outside his home and asked him if he knew where the resort was. He got up and offered to lead me there.  Punama told me he was between 45 and 50 and had been a camel driver for about 30 years.  Within a couple of minutes we reached the resort.  I thanked him and offered to give him a bit of cash, but he refused.  As I walked into the resort courtyard, the others were just getting back from their night in the desert and complained that it was freezing, beautiful under the stars and moon but very very cold.  For me, it was a perfect evening and a perfect start to the day, just me, the sun, the moon and the wildlife, and the camels… truly a magical experience.

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2 Responses to “Rajasthan Desert Camel Safari”

  1. Betty Sleeth
    March 1 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi, I am thoroughly enjoying reading your blog! It sounds like an amazing time and life changing experience. I first read about your trip in one of the Toronto newspapers and have been following your adventure since the beginning. Hope you are feeling better!

    • Darren
      March 1 at 10:59 pm #

      Thank youso much. It’s great to know others are enjoying reading about my adventure as it is for me to live it (well most of it anyway… I could do without another case of Delhi Belly!)

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