Have you ever thought of giving the mountains or the beaches a miss for a rather understated desert safari experience? Well, it’s quite an experience to have at least once in your lifetime. And the best place to to than is Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Hopping on a camel is the most evocative and fun way to sample Thar Desert life. You won’t find larger-than-life sand dunes here; but what you will find land peppered with occasional shrubs, fields of millet, small villages and children herding flocks of sheep or goats through them.
There are trips now on four-wheelers to get you to less frequented areas, but what gives the actual kick are the camel rides. It can’t exactly be called camel trekking, but it’s a lot of fun nevertheless. A cheaper alternative to arranging things in Jaisalmer is to base yourself in the small village of Khuri, 48km southwest, where similar camel rides are available, but where you’re already in the desert when you start.
A one-night safari in Jaisalmer includes leaving in the afternoon and returning the next morning. You spend a minimum of one night on some dunes, to get a feel for the experience. This way you will end up riding for two hours each day. You can trek for several days or weeks if you wish to get more understanding of the desert’s villages, oases, wildlife and people.
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Among the best-known dunes is Sam, 40km west of Jaisalmer, which is always crowded in the evening and are more of a carnival than a back-to-nature experience. The dunes near Khuri are relatively quieter through the day until sunset, and make for a great off-the-beaten-track feel. Camping out at these dunes at night, huddling with fellow travellers around a tiny fire beneath the stars and listening to the camel men’s songs, is nothing short of magical. If you go towards the end of the air, there’s a nice nip in the air which also adds to the experience. The safari package should also include meals, mineral water, blankets and sometimes a thin mattress. You can pay extra if you want tents and better food for a more comfortable journey.
What you must look forward to the most is a long lunch stop during the hottest part of the day. Camels are unsaddled and hobbled to get them some rest; you’ll often see them have a roll in the sand before limping away to feed on nearby shrubs, while the camel drivers relax, brew chai or prepare food.