A CAMEL SAFARI AND DESERT TOUR IN JAISALMER
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A CAMEL SAFARI AND DESERT TOUR IN THE THAR DESERT
Situated in the far west of the state of Rajasthan, the Indian city of Jaisalmer is surrounded by desert.
Just 50km from the Desert National Park, one of the main attractions to visiting Jaisalmer is taking part in one of the camel safaris into the Thar Desert. For many people, it is what draws them to this beautiful city. For us, it was a highlight of our trip across Rajasthan.
Nicknamed “The Golden City”, Jaisalmer is synonymous with it’s imposing sandstone fort in the centre of town. Sat upon Meru Hill, about one quarter of the city’s population still reside inside the golden fort. For tourists visiting the city, the fort is the number one attraction.
However, our favourite part of our visit was spending a night out in the desert, underneath millions of stars.
WHEN – February 2020
WHERE – Desert National Park
WHO WITH – Mystic Jaisalmer
WHAT IT COST – 2500 INR per person (£27 GBP)
HOW LONG – 1 night, 2 days
Our trip began at around 2pm, when we were met with our guide for the evening. After filling up the jeep with water and food supplies, we jumped into the back with a couple from India.
Our ride out into the desert was a (very comfortable) 4×4 white Jeep. This kind of vehicle is perfect for bouncing off-road, into the desert. However, with no windows at the back, we were in for a very breezy and dusty ride.
The drive from Jaisalmer to (the very imaginatively named) Desert National Park is about 1 hour. Our guide broke up the journey with a couple of stops along the way. The first of these was a small ‘gypsy village’ just off of the main road out of Jaisalmer.
We pulled up to the edge of the road, and together we got out of the jeep with our guide. The Indian couple had decided to skip this stop. As we all walked across the dust toward a small gathering of brown huts, our guide informed us that this was a village of gypsies, and that they make their houses out of mud and straw.
The closer we got, the more people started appearing from inside the village – all of them walking swiftly toward us. Once we reached the first of the small mud huts we had been completely surrounded by women and small children, all of them asking for money. We weren’t allowed any pictures of the village unless we handed over some money to the locals.
We walked a little further into the village, trying to listen to our guide as he explained their way of life. There were now dozens of children, all of them grabbing at our cameras, bags, bracelets – anything they could get a hold of. Sensing our discomfort, our guide quickly ushered us back to the safety of the jeep, away from the crazy children.
As we approached the jeep he told us how some tourists give them money, so it has actually become more lucrative for them to harass tourists (particularly foreigners) for money, instead of getting jobs. Disappointed, we drive towards our second stop of the afternoon: the abandoned village of Khuldara – also known as the Ghost Town
Now a popular tourist spot on the road into the desert, the ghost town of Kuldhara village was once a once prosperous village just outside of Jaisalmer. In the early 19th century, it was abandoned for an unknown reason. Many speculate that it was abandoned because of dwindling water supply, persecution from the state minister at the time, or even an earthquake. Now, what remains of the village is just a few ruins.
We drove through the gate into the village, and hopped out of the jeep. For about 15 minutes we wander around the old ruins of the town. Crowded with tourists, it’s clear that this is more than just some ruins of an old village. Our guide tells us of the popular rumours that this village is now haunted. Allegedly, the village has been cursed, and can never be inhabited again. This is the main reason for all the visitors.
We walked around under the burning hot sun. Some of the village had been rebuilt in the same style, to replicate what it could have once looked like. We were free to walk around inside these buildings, including the temple. We wandered around, toke a few pictures and jumped back into the jeep. Our next destination would be our last.
We drove for around another 20/30 minutes before dropping off the Indian couple we had been travelling with at a desert ‘resort’ just at the edge of Desert National Park. Now, it was just the two of us (and our guide, of course).
THE CAMEL RIDE
After turning off of the main, paved road, we drove cross country for around 20 minutes. This dirt road was incredibly bumpy. With no seatbelts in our jeep (as is the case in almost all cars in India), we flew around on the long benches. Without windows, we arrived at our next destination covered in a thick layer of desert dust.
We knew that we’d arrived when we pulled up next to three camels, at the edge of a small desert village. We jumped out the back of the jeep and met our next guide: Pokhar. For the next 2 hours, we sat on our camels and rode under the evening sun to our camp.
The ride itself was pretty uncomfortable. Danielle swore that she’d never ride a camel again. I was a little more impressed by it, but did still suffer from some painful leg cramp for the last 30 minutes of the ride. When we jumped off of our camels after the 2 hour ride, neither of us could comfortably stand up – the pain in our legs was intense.
However, it was a pretty awesome experience – especially if it’s something you have never done before. We both rode camels in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia a couple of years back, so we kind of already knew what to expect. It was quite amazing to experience the desert at such a slow, relaxed pace. Especially at sunset, from the back of a camel.
To read our full, very in-depth guide to touring the Gobi Desert in Mongolia – read this post!
Funny story: Just before Danielle got off of her camel, Pokhar asked if she would like a photo taken of her on her camel. She said ‘yes’, and just as she raised her hands, her camel decided to sit down. She legit nearly flew face-first off of the 8-foot-high camel. I found it very funny. She did not (at the time). Pokhar then told her off for not holding on, even though he suggested taking the photo. Unfortunately, no photo was taken.
HOW ARE THE CAMELS TREATED?
It’s also worth mentioning that the camels were treated very well during our camel safari. As soon as we got on the camels, the guide took them over to drink from a huge pool of water. They also got a few rest breaks during the ride, where they ate some of the desert shrubs.
There were no marks or scars on the camels, and they were left to roam around freely at night. Pokhar went out to search for them and bring them back to camp in the early morning.
We only rode the camels for around 2 hours in the evening, and then again for about 30 minutes in the morning. Whilst we were on the camels, it was much cooler, and the sun much less strong. It was clear that the guide took good care of the camels.
As we arrived into camp, we were greeted with fresh, hot chai from our guide. Having got there in the jeep around 2 hours earlier than us, he had spent the time setting up his little kitchen for the evening. This kitchen consisted of a small wood-fuelled fire, with a few pots and pans for cooking.
This little set up was completely surrounded by desert. On the edge of the sand dunes, our small camp consists of two semi circle wind-breakers, made entirely of twigs and branches. Behind the first of these is the makeshift kitchen, and behind the second is where we are going to sleep on our camp beds.
Later that evening, we watched as he carefully cooked and prepared an enormous dinner for the four of us. Thinking back, we didn’t really appreciate that he did all of this sitting in the sand by a tiny fire. The fact that he cooked rice, two curries, chapatis and chai with just a few pans on a fire, is a pretty incredible feat.
After drinking our chai, we headed off into the dunes to watch the sun set. It took just a few minutes to reach the top of these relatively small dunes. From here, we could see for miles across the desert. We sat together as the sun went down, taking a few pictures and reminiscing about the time we walked for almost 2 hours to get to the top of a sand dune in Mongolia. We were surprised to be the only ones there.
After we watched the sun turn red and eventually dip below the horizon, we walked through the sand, back into our little camp for the night. We sat next to a small fire with chips and pakoras made fresh by our guide.
We relaxed by the fire, ate an amazing vegetarian thali cooked and prepared by our guide, and watched the stars over our heads. After a few hours, we retired to our beds just a few feet away, behind the other wind-breaker semi-circle.
We were genuinely surprised at how comfortable our beds were. Consisting of just basic camp beds with dozens of blankets, our guide had done an incredible job of making us a comfortable space for the night. We slept under one of the most impressive night skies we had both ever witnessed, and woke just before sunrise.
We both stirred just as the sun approached the horizon. The sky lit up a beautiful orange colour as we woke to the distant sound of pots clanging. Before 10 minutes had passed, our guide was approaching our little camp with two fresh cups of hot chai. What a perfect way to wake up.
In the new morning light, we could see the incredible landscape we fallen asleep within the night before. What seemed like an endless expanse of sand dunes rolled out before us, broken only by a few shrubs and bushes. It was as though we were completely alone in the wilderness.
We sipped our chai as we took in the morning scene around us. Our guide brought over two plates of breakfast: toast, jam, fruit and biscuits. As we ate, Pokhar rounded up the camels for our final ride.
After breakfast, we packed up our things into the jeep, and then hopped on the camels for one last, quick ride. After 20 minutes of camel riding across the dunes, we hopped back into the jeep and headed back toward Jaisalmer. We got back to town around 10.30am.
Although there were definitely cheaper options, we decided to do our camel safari through our hotel: Mystic Jaisalmer. We paid 2500 rupees each, and we feel that the experience that we had was well worth the money we paid. This price included everything; unlimited bottled water, as much food as we could eat at breakfast and dinner, snacks, entrance fees, and all of the transport and activities.
Like I said, there are many cheaper options around the town of Jaisalmer. The first guest house we stayed in offered the same(ish) tour for 2000 rupees. There are also many tour operators in and around the fort offering tours for around the same, or even less than this.
We did thoroughly enjoy the tour we paid for, and were even provided a room to sort out our bags and take a shower in, after returning to the hotel the next day. Overall, we had a great experience, and would highly recommend.
There are also alternative options for desert tours with Mystic Jaisalmer. The tour that we went on was the “under a billion stars” overnight tour, but there was also the option of staying in a desert ‘resort’ overnight. This meant swapping the camel ride for a cultural dance show in the evening, and swapping camp beds in the sand dunes for a luxury tent with a proper bed and bedding, power, hot water and a real toilet.
WHERE TO STAY IN JAISALMER
We stayed in 3 different accommodations in Jaisalmer. Whilst we were in the town, Danielle got very sick, so we stayed much longer than anticipated. Whilst the first guesthouse we stayed in was VERY budget friendly (at just over 100 rupees per night for a double room with private bathroom), we preferred these two:
Hotel Naman Haveli: 1500 rupees per night – double room, private bathroom. Amazing staff – the guy that works there helped us out immensely when we had to go to the hospital, and even waited almost 3 hours with us. HUGE rooms. In a bit of a strange location (lots of cows and goats roaming around the street) – maybe 15 minutes walking to the market area.
Mystic Jaisalmer: 2500 rupees per night – double room, private bathroom. INCREDIBLE staff. The best service we have ever received in India, in both the restaurant and at the hotel. Genuinely lovely staff. The rooms were also amazing and modern.
WHERE TO GO NEXT?
The most logical options are to hop on a 6(ish) hour bus to Jodhpur (The Blue City), or get on the overnight (direct) bus to Pushkar. Both are very easy to reach, and well worth a visit (in our humble opinions). Both buses can be booked online at redbus. Alternatively, skip them both and head to either Jaipur (The Pink City), or Udaipur (The Lake City) on overnight buses.
To see our guide on sleeper buses in India – and to see how to book buses online – read this post.
OUR PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
LAPTOP – Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
SMALL CAMERA – Olympus OMD- E-M10 Mark II
ZOOM LENS – Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm Lens
DSLR BODY – Canon 60D
WIDE ANGLE LENS – Sigma 10-20mm Lens
DRONE – DJI Mavic Pro
ACTION CAMERA – GoPro Hero 7 Black Edition
MICROPHONE – Rode VideoMicro
CAMERA BAG – Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW II