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Jaisalmer Camel Safari


The fascinating Thar Desert is best explored on a Jaisalmer camel safari. A two-day excursion takes in historic sights and villages of sheep and camel herders. An overnight stay in the desert offers magical dawn and sunset views amid the dunes.
After doing a lot of research on tour operators for the Jaisalmer camel safari, we decided to try Arya Tours. We had read terrible reviews for some of the big tour operators in the area while Arya Tours, a smaller private operator, had some of the best reviews.
We went on a Jaisalmer camel safari in the Thar Desert for two days and one night. We thought that any more than two days on a camel would be painfully difficult and not enjoyable if we had sore butts.

Day 1 of our Jaisalmer Camel Safari


We were picked up from our hotel by Om, the owner of Arya Tours, in a car at 8am in the morning.
We drove for about an hour out of town to a nearby village to see how the villagers lived in their mud houses with their livestock. There were a few villagers around that morning but what was more interesting were their mud houses. The houses were painted with beautiful floral prints in bright colours. We didn’t want to disturb the villagers so we just walked around outside enjoying the quiet village life.


Back in the car, we drove for another 30 minutes without much in sight except for electricity poles and wind turbines. Then out of nowhere we saw an old man who was to be our desert guide for the next two days standing at the edge of the road with a couple of camels.
I was expecting to see two camels covered with colourful Rajasthani-style sheets and plenty of cushions and blankets on their back for a comfortable ride. What I saw instead were two almost bare-boned camels with hardly any padding on their backs. I soon realised that this tour is aimed at giving the tourist a realistic experience of how a desert nomad lives. This is how the desert people travel, and instead of travelling with all the western comforts this was a more realistic version of life in the Thar Desert.
No sooner had I come to this realisation when I discovered that it was time to mount my camel. This was my first time on a camel, however over the next couple of days I became an expert at climbing on and off camels. The hard part about riding camels is when the camel stands up and sits down. It took me a while to learn this trick so I didn’t always feel like I was going to fall off. This is how it’s done.
When a camel is about to get up, it lurches forward on its front legs first, then on to its back legs after. The trick is to lean backwards before the camel lurches forward, and then lean forward before the camel gets on to its back legs. The first time I was so sure I was going to topple off the camel but once I learnt this trick it was easy going.


We had only been riding the camels for ten minutes or so when we were asked to disembark so we could explore the area by foot.
The area around us was more like arid scrub land than the dune seas we associate with a desert. A few shrubs were scattered around but mostly it was stones and rough sand with nothing else around. Given that we were only about five kilometres out of Jaisalmer city we couldn’t really have expected to see sand dunes so soon.


We soon came to a little watering hole after crossing the hill. Here, the village people had brought their livestock to drink water. There were a flock of goats whose neck bells tinkled in the wind as they drank the water. Nearby a young boy who was tending the sheep sat in a dreamy haze obviously bored with his job and probably thinking of all the fun things he could have been doing elsewhere.
This would have been a busy watering hole as we didn’t see another one for the next two days in the desert. Everyone from the villages around would bring their livestock here to drink. There was evidence that this watering hole was used a lot from the numerous marks made by the hooves of the animals and the slushy area at the edge of the water.


Our guide had also brought the camels here to drink before we wandered into the desert for the next two days. I realised how long camels’ legs are because they have to spread them while drinking otherwise their necks are not long enough to reach the water.
While the camels drank their fill of water our guide sat in the sand and fixed his shoe. The sole was coming off his shoe as he continuously walked on the hot desert sand leading tourists on camels into the desert. I felt sorry for him and didn’t mind when he decided to climb on the back of my camel and share the ride.


After the camels had had their fair share of water to drink, we climbed back on and headed into the desert. On the way, we passed several juvenile camels foraging among the shrubs.
Till they are about two years old, camels continue to grow and do not work for a living. They are allowed to roam free during the day and eat the desert greens. Once they are old enough to work, either in the tourist industry or to transport goods, their nose is pierced with a sharp metal object so a string can be tied to it to lead them.


It was about midday when our guide found a nice shady area to stop for the afternoon. Even though it was November and almost winter, it was getting really hot in the desert so it was nice to get off the camels and rest under the shade of a tree.
Once we had gotten off the camels, our guide unburdened them and allowed them to forage on the nearby trees. He made sure to tie their front legs together so they couldn’t venture too far but loose enough so they could walk slowly around the nearby area. I wasn’t sure when they last had a meal but these were hungry camels who had their heads in the trees for a very long time.


While the camels were having their lunch, our guide was making a fire so he could prepare our lunch. A rudimentary fire was made out of a couple of stones and twigs that he had collected from the shrubs nearby.
I was happy to see that he was using mineral water to cook our food in the desert. Om had packed half a dozen bottles of mineral water along with a stock of vegetables, rice, cooking oil and other paraphernalia.


Our guide was nice enough to first make a snack for us. Coloured vegetable puffs are a traditional Rajasthani snack. They started off looking like pasta but once they were deep fried in oil they looked like regular vegetable wafers.
Although they didn’t have any particular flavour to them, they were crunchy and filled the gap till lunch.


After cooking the vegetable wafers, our guide proceeded to make our lunch over the basic wood fire. I was impressed how he was able to make chappatis by pressing a piece of dough into a round flat pancake with his bare hands. This man has a few skills which are essential for surviving in the desert, and which have been developed as a result of living in the desert for many, many years.


The result of all the chopping and cooking over the basic fire was a wonderful lunch which consisted of cabbage and potato curry with chappatis. This was one of the most filling and satisfying meals I have had in India. Simple yet delicious, this dish was a result of a lot of love and care and we appreciated it.


While we were having lunch, our camels had managed to walk a fair distance away from the camp. Our guide called out to them to return (in camel language which consisted of strange sounds) with no luck. While he was out looking for the camels, we had a lovely siesta under the tree. About 30 minutes later, he returned with two camels in tow and a big log of wood which he was planning to use later, either for a bonfire or to cook our dinner, I wasn’t sure.


Once the camels were back, our guide prepared to set off once again further into the desert.  I noticed that one of our camels had a strange personality. Once he had been allowed to roam free, he didn’t like being tied up again, and would get quite angry with the guide when the rope was being attached to his nose.
Graham even tried to pacify him with no positive results. Unfortunately, this happened to be my camel. Why do I always get the shirty animal!?!


Back on the camels again, we rode for the rest of the afternoon over miles and miles of scrub land. I was worried that we would never see the sand dunes I had pictured in my head when I thought about the Thar Desert.
It was tough going as the sun was high in the sky and it was very hot and dry. Occasionally the wind blew in our direction and it was a slight respite from the scorching rays of the sun. I got into a routine of moving back and forth as the camel walked which made it easier on my butt and upper legs and it didn’t hurt as much as it should have.


At about 4pm or so, after riding for several hours we reached sand dunes. It was a sight to behold and I was ecstatic when we climbed over them. I was so sure I wasn’t going to see any sand dunes during this desert trip.
We were in the heart of the desert and it was as remote as it could possibly get. It was clear that no one had been here for a few days as there were ripples in the sand made from the wind blowing in over the dunes.


The pristine rolling sand dunes went on for miles and miles all around us. We were camping here for the night, right in the middle of the desert under the night sky. There wasn’t another hut or person in sight except for the camels, our guide, and us.
While our guide tended to the camels and organised our camp site for the night, we wandered up and down the sand dunes and watched the view from the top. It was a sensational feeling to look out in the distance and see nothing but the desert in front of us.


Most of the big tour groups take their customers to the popular and touristy dunes at Sam and Khuri. These dunes are always crowded in the evening and are more a carnival than a back-to-nature experience.
On the other hand, we had decided to go with Arya Tours because they promised to take us to a private area that belonged to a friend of Om’s who lived in the desert not far from here. It was a tour that was ‘non touristy’ and ‘off the beaten track’ in the purest form there could be.


The wind had left ripples on the sand and we were the first ones on these sand dunes for several days. As we walked around, we left our footprints in the sand. It would only be there for a few hours before the wind would blow them away and leave no trace of us in the desert.


Our guide had allowed the camels to roam free again so they could forage on the nearby trees and shrubs. When we got back to our camp site, our guide was calling out for them to return. We could see them in the far distance munching on the shrubs. As usual, they didn’t heed his call and continued to walk further away. So the poor old man had to chase after them miles away in the desert to bring them back before the sun went down.


As we sat in the camp site, we noticed this strange bug-like creature that reminded me of a dung beetle. When I asked our guide what it was he said it was simply a desert beetle.
We had made our beds on the desert ground out of several layers of blankets. The sleeping area was protected from the elements by a wooden fence.
There were several beetles around the camp site and they seemed to be coming towards our bed. I’m sure they were harmless but nevertheless they looked frightful, so we ensured that none made their way into our sleeping area.


The sun was starting to set in the distance casting shadows on the sand dunes and making the sand look like gold in the setting sun. We took up a spot on top of one of the sand dunes so we could watch the sun set over the Thar Desert.


One of the highlights of a Jaisalmer camel safari into the Thar Desert is to watch a sunset and a sunrise in the desert. Watching the sun set over a desert is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was magical.
The clear skies in the distance, without the pollution and smoke from the city, allowed us to view the sunset without any disturbances. As the sun began to set, the colour of the sky changed from purple to pink to orange to red, until finally the sun was gone beyond the horizon.



Even though we were technically in the middle of the Thar Desert, we could still see wind turbines in the distance. Although I don’t think they are a pretty sight and usually ruin the view, they didn’t look so bad in the distance as the sun set behind them.


After dinner our guide gave us the option of having a campsite bonfire. Even though it was a tempting idea, we were still hot from the day that we decided to give it a miss.
Instead we curled up on the blankets and watched the stars come out at night until the sky was covered with them. Living in the city of Melbourne, we had not seen so many stars for a long time and it was a treat to be able to watch them twinkle in the clear night sky. We were even lucky to see a couple of shooting stars that whizzed past at the speed of light.


Day 2 of our Jaisalmer Camel Safari


We woke to the sound of birds chirping nearby and our guide cooking breakfast in the morning. We had slept so well that we’d missed the sunrise in the morning. It was wonderful waking up in the desert to the sounds of nature rather than the sound of car horns. It was peaceful and serene, and we enjoyed the quietness of the morning.


By the time we had gotten out of bed, our guide had already got the fire going and was preparing breakfast for us. Eggs were boiling in hot water and it looked like a very basic breakfast was on its way.


To start our day, we had boiled eggs, jam and toast with chai. This was a simple breakfast but this is more than what desert nomads get to eat so we were grateful for the meal.


After breakfast, our guide washed up the utensils from breakfast and the night before. There is a very interesting method of washing utensils in the desert where water is scarce. Instead of using water, our guide used coarse sand to clean the utensils. It is great cleaning agent due to its abrasive and absorbing properties. The disadvantage to this method is that sometimes we found a few grains of sand in our meal but it was nothing that was going to kill us.


Then it was time to pack up our camp site and organise the camels for the day’s hike back across the desert to civilization. The blankets and bags went on to the camels and we were ready to begin our day.


This was not the same idea that my camel had that morning. I didn’t realise that camels were so bad tempered and aggressive until that point. As our guide attached the rope to the camel’s nose spike, the camel bared his teeth and made throaty gurgling noises at the guide throwing up whatever he had eaten for breakfast. He kicked up such a big fuss that it took a long time to get the ropes on to him.
I was terrified about getting on to this camel as I thought he might throw me off. However, after a few minutes he calmed down once he realised that he didn’t have a choice in the matter; he had to carry us for the day.


Graham’s camel, on the other hand, was as docile as they came. He just waited on the sidelines till we were ready and mounted.
By day two, Graham had learnt how to maneuver his camel. Our guide had taught him a few camel instructions and foot movements so Graham could communicate with his camel the speed and direction he wanted. Honestly, it isn’t rocket science to lead a camel.


As we trudged through the desert on camel back the sand dunes gave way to shrubbery again. Whatever leaves were once on the trees had fallen off in preparation for the approaching winter. It was still a beautiful view just looking at the starkness of the trees against the backdrop of the arid yellow desert.


Very soon, even the trees and shrubs vanished and we were left with a stony landscape and nothing else. The hills that surrounded us were so dry that nothing could sustain itself in this part of the desert.
As the day wore on, it got intensely hot and dry and I had to cover my face and head with a linen cloth to keep cool. The breeze that got caught between the cloth and my face was refreshing and made an otherwise beastly hot day a little cooler.


By late morning, we had made our way towards civilisation and were surprised to find ourselves in a new village. Our guide told us that this village had been recently established as they had found a source of water not far from there.
Building works were still going on as people had moved to the village from other areas. Houses, schools and shops were being built for the people that had come to live there. The government had provided a subsidy so they could build their village with the necessary amenities.



As we walked around the village, we got a glimpse of the village life and people going about with their day-to-day routine.
Besides the houses were small shelters for the livestock, mainly cows but also some goats and sheep.


Most of the people in the village were really friendly and waved and screamed out at us as we walked around. I’m not sure how many tourists visit this village but these people were quite accustomed to seeing foreigners.
Young girls were getting ready to go to school while their mothers fussed about in the house.
As we walked around, we came across two kids playing outside in the dirt. They looked pretty grimy – as if they had not had a shower in quite a few days – but in the desert that would be the last of their concerns.


One of the most important amenities for any Indian village is a temple. In fact, it is so important for the people that it is one of the first buildings to be built in a village. Here, a temple was being built at the front of the village so it could be seen by anyone passing through.


I was surprised to see a tractor in this region given the arid conditions of the soil in the nearby desert. I guess it might be possible to grow some kind of crop in this soil but I couldn’t imagine what it might be.
There were quite a few tractors on the road in front of the village and I’m guessing that the farmers who live there would be quite well off from their agricultural business.


Following our tour of the village, we made our way to a watering hole near the village. This was a watering hole purely for animals as all different kinds of livestock were here.
Our camels were really thirsty and took to the water like they had been in the desert for months. While they drank, our guide scoped the area for familiar faces.


Animals are brought here not just for drinking but for all sorts of reasons. Given it was a really hot day, there were a couple of sheep cooling down by standing in the water (even though it was only knee deep). I would have done that too if I had all that wool on my body in the middle of a desert.


On the other side of the road, there was a covered water well meant for human consumption. There was a ladder at the side of the construction to allow the women to climb on top of the well so they could draw out water to fill their buckets.
This is a popular spot for the woman folk of the village as it is a place to meet other women and exchange hot gossip of the goings-on in the villages.


As we returned to the desert on camel back, we came across the skeleton of a cow. The birds had pecked off all the flesh and the skin had disintegrated with the elements. It was a stark reminder of the harshness of the desert and the importance of life-giving water in this arid land.


It seemed that this area of the desert was quite fertile as there were quite a few watering holes and wells in the vicinity of each other. Life was thriving here due to the abundance of water and there were quite a few villages nearby.
We stopped here so our guide could fill up his drinking bottle and chat with the ladies at the well. It seemed like he knew them but I guess that in this thin neck of the woods people talk to each other like they’ve known each other for ages.



In the afternoon, we found a shady spot in the desert to stop so our guide could cook some lunch. While he was busy preparing our meals, we wandered off for some sightseeing.
We had noticed some peacocks in the area when we had headed in on the camels so we went off to search for them. Soon we found a group of peacocks in the bushes. They were quite shy and would take off as soon as we got close. Some of them were sitting in the tree and as soon as we walked towards them they flew away.
Peacocks are quite heavy birds so they can only fly very short distances. They only fly into trees to roost or they fly away from danger. While peacocks are considered to be very graceful and elegant birds, they are one of the most ungraceful birds when it comes to flying. They seem to flop rather than fly.


Back at the camp site, our lunch was ready and waiting for us. When we got back, we had a mixture of chappatis, khichdiand a tomato curry for lunch. Khichdi is a preparation of rice, dal and vegetables cooked together. While the khichdi lacked some flavour the tomato curry made up for it, so it was nice to have a combination of the two.
After lunch, we made our way back to where we started our tour where we were met by Om waiting for us in his car.


On the way back to Jaisalmer, Om took us to Kuldhara, an abandoned village about 15 kilometres west of Jaisalmer.
Kuldhara was the largest village in an area consisting of 84 villages.  The village was established in 1291 by the Paliwal Brahmins and was a rather prosperous community due to their ability to grow bumper crops in the rather arid desert.  Paliwal bhramins were a very prosperous clan and were known for their business acumen and agricultural knowledge. However one night in 1825 all the people in Kuldhara and nearby 83 villages vanished in dark.
The evil dewan (minister) in the ruling kingdom wanted to marry the young daughter of the village chief. He gave them a deadline for the marriage after which he would forcefully enter the village and take their daughter. All the chiefs of the 84 villages met one night and for pride and honor decided to leave the villages in the middle of the night.


Nobody knows where they went but it is believed that they settled near Jodhpur, a city in western Rajasthan. Though nobody knows exactly how they did it, everybody in all of the 84 villages completely disappeared that very night.  Nobody saw them leave or figured out where they went – they simply vanished.
It is believed that they cast a curse over the village as they departed that would bring death to anyone who tried to inhabit the land.  It is likely that this is the reason why so much of the ancient village still remains (though mostly in rubble, but not stripped for materials).


As we walked through the village it felt like we were wandering through a ghost town. The crumbling brick structures span out towards all directions and a ghostly silence is all that lives on there. There are still some double storeyed houses that are still intact.

Following our tour of Kuldhara, Om drove us back to Jaisalmer in the late afternoon sun. We stopped by his cafe, Blues Cafe, where we discussed our experience in the desert with him over a cup of chai.

While there are more popular and touristy camel safaris going to the Thar Desert, we enjoyed the Jaisalmer camel safari with Arya Tours because it wasn’t touristy at all. We wanted to experience what it would be like to live in the desert as a nomad and we got to taste a bit of that life for two days. It was a tour which allowed us to connect with nature and witness real life in the villages rather than a fake show put on by the villagers for the tourists. We really enjoyed our time in the Thar Desert and would recommend this tour to anyone wanting a genuine Jaisalmer camel safari.

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