Where to do a Camel Safari in Rajasthan?
Jaisalmer is the town located in the heart of the thar desert. Hundreds of tourists come here for the desert but Jaisalmer is also a really cool city. In Rajasthan a lot of the cities are associated with colour. Jaipur is the pink city. Jodhpur is the blue city. Udaipur is the white city. Jaisalmer is the golden city and it’s easy to see why. Nearly all of the buildings are made from yellow sandstone that look golden in the intense desert sun. There are many homestays and hotels in Jaisalmer and lots of restaurants catered to tourists. One of the main attractions in Jaislamer is the impressive fort that towers over the city right in the centre. There are still people living inside the fortified walls today and you can pass a few hours wandering through the tiny streets finding hidden treasures of architecture and colour.
Booking a Camel Safari
It seems like every other hotel or shop in Jaisalmer can book you a camel safari. I can’t really recommend a specific company but when you look around make sure you know what’s included. On our tour we had a ride in the afternoon and a jeep picked us up from our hotel at 2pm. It’s much better if your tour starts with a jeep taking you further into the desert otherwise it’s very unlikely you’ll get to see any sand dunes! We were dropped off at Desert Camp Hotel where we had tea and then were taken to be matched with our camel. I joked about whether you choose your camel or your camel chooses you, just like in Harry Potter with the wands! Get it? Hahaha. Anyway you are just given a camel.
Our tour also included evening entertainment with dinner and breakfast in the morning. Unfortunately we didn’t have any meals in the desert itself. Rather the hotel acted as a ‘base camp’ and after our ride we came back to the hotel for dinner and then taken back out later. You can buy soft drinks and beer at the hotel for an extra price but they’re pretty reasonable and it’s quite nice to have a beer by the campfire in the evening.
Riding the Camel
First of all, camels are not comfortable. You will realise very quickly, from the moment you get on the camel and the camel stands up how uncomfortable camels are. For me, the camel standing up was the most terrifying thing. It does not happen in one fluid motion. The camel leans forward and picks its back legs up, you are thrown forwards. The camel then picks up its front legs and you are thrown violently backwards. If you didn’t fall off well done! I was very close. I didn’t find getting down as much of a terrifying experience. The trick is to lean back as much as possible and you will kind of counteract the violent rocking forward and then backward.
The trek itself was also a challenge. There are no stirrups and the guides hold a rope to guide the camel while they walk. You have to kind of grip on to the saddle and just slump, hoping your body will learn to naturally balance on the huge animal that’s swaying clumsily side to side. Sand dunes get even more fun, especially when going down and the camel slips a bit.
Camels are not built to trot
At the end of our trek the guides asked us if we wanted to try trotting. No actually he didn’t ask me, he asked Ben who said yes. My guide decided to join in. It was the most uncomfortable experience and I couldn’t stop myself from wildly bobbing up and down feeling like I was going to slide off at any moment.
Our legs were hurting for a good few days after. I have no idea how this dude was standing up on a camel but I guess he must have had a lot of practice and incredible balance.
Watch the Sunset
At the end of your trek the guides will usually take you to a dune where you can watch the sunset and take pictures. We got some good ones of the sun setting into the golden sand. It was nice to watch all the camels chilling out together and some of the kids playing around. There was a guy selling beers, at a ridiculous price, but some people might not mind about the extortionate markup. It was a great place to have a beer. There are usually quite a few camels and tourists around but that means you have a good chance to photograph others riding into the sunset before riding back to the hotel yourself.
Sleeping in the Desert
We also had the option between staying at the hotel or going back out into the desert at night to sleep under the stars! No tents, just thick blankets and pillows. The desert can get quite cold at night so make sure you bring something warm to wrap up in, but we had about 3 thick blankets each which kept us toasty. Half our group was taken back out to the desert by jeep, but a lucky handful of us were hauled on top of a camel cart loaded with the blankets. It was pitch black and there was nothing to hold on to but it was pretty funny. The camel and two guides stayed out in the desert with us and set up all our ‘beds’.
There were quite a lot of stray dogs running riot around the desert at night. At one point Ben and I were in bed talking and he told me not to move as there was a dog right behind me. We both stayed completely still while the dog came up to our heads and sniffed our hair. But it wasn’t that interested and it moved on. Don’t expect to get a full nights sleep in the desert. Every few hours something set the dogs off that started a whole chorus of howling and barking in the town.
Sleep under the Stars
The most exciting part of the night was when we woke up to thunder and lightning with very light rain. At that point it was dark enough so we could see the stars and it was absolutely incredible. Such a clear night sky. I don’t have a camera good enough to capture it but it wouldn’t really show you the full extent anyway. It’s something you need to experience and enjoy in person.
Also be warned, although completely harmless dung beetles come out of the sand at night. One of the couples in our group ended up with three dung beetles in their bed in the morning. If you’re squeamish about bugs maybe use a sleeping bag liner.
The morning in the desert was definitely my highlight. It was so quiet, fresh and the sky was gorgeous. I was kind of sad that we had to go back to the hotel for breakfast. But coffee was calling me.
One of the main things I was concerned about is how ethical this activity is. We didn’t get to choose our company as it was part of a tour booked by a company round Rajasthan. When I looked online the main things that cropped up regarding the camels was whether they are owned by local people or by big farms. Generally camels are well looked after. They’re very strong animals that don’t really have any trouble pulling a cart with 5 people in it, let alone having just one person on their back. The camels we saw all looked pretty well looked after and were allowed rests and water.
Independent guides vs big companies with camel farms
The main concern is who your money is going to. If a camel has one owner then it’s much more likely that your cash is going to a family who have that camel as their source of income and they’re likely to get more from it than if the camels are from fams who hire guides. Those guides won’t earn nearly as much and from a safety point of view they won’t necessarily know the camel as well. My camel was called Laloo and he always has the same guide that takes tourists out on the safaris which means that they understand each other and he’s more likely to be looked after than a camel without an owner.
The other big issue with camel safaris is people leaving litter in the desert. When you’re watching the sunset often there will be a little dude selling beers and snacks so there is the possibility for litter to be left around the desert and harm wildlife. You should always take rubbish back with you. In our case the guy selling snacks came back round to everyone to collect the litter and told us he would dispose of it properly. The desert is an amazing natural place. A lot of India is plagued with litter, as travellers we need to make sure we don’t contribute to the problem and take responsibility for our waste.
Why should you do a Camel Safari?
If I haven’t convinved you already here are some reasons why you should consider a Camel Safari on your trip to India.
- Support desert communities and independent camel guides
- Learn more about life in the desert
- Watch the stars from your bed
- Sunsets with a cold beer on the dunes
- Sunrises with dung beetles in your bed!
- Cool camels
What more could you want?!
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