Desert Life – A 2 Night Camel Safari the Thar Desert – Jaisalmer, India

Jaisalmer is known for its beautiful Thar Desert and starry night skies so when I heard about the 2 night Desert Life safari from Real Man Desert Safari I knew I had to go!  The last time I was in the desert was years ago in Israel’s Negev and I remembered camels being quite uncomfortable but thought this adventure and a chance to glimpse the Milky Way Galaxy during the new moon would be worth a camel ride or two.

I met a few friends at hostels in Jaipur and Agra who heard about this trip and jumped on board; Jon, a Norweigian wedding photographer and Dan, an Englishman with a budding passion for raw portraits joined me and a fellow American, Jeremy.  Our motley crew met the desert guides and were joined by Frenchwoman and Bolivian man in Jaisalmer.  Together we took a jeep ride into the Thar Desert jamming out to Bollywood music and practicing our best turban wrap to protect us from the sun.

Places to Visit in Rajasthan

The first stop was Kuldhara, abandoned village on the outskirts of Jaisalmer. A few hundred years ago when kings ruled Jaisalmer and the Rajisthani forts were regularly fought over a ruler came to Kuldhara and fell in love with the chief’s daughter.  His marriage proposal was refused and the village either fled or were killed leaving Kuldara as it is today.  The deserted town is considered by many to be haunted but recently government funds have gone towards rebuilding the temple and a few other buildings.  Kuldara was interesting but we excitedly got back in the jeep and were off to meet our camels!


 

Booking A Desert Safari in Jaisalmer

Real Desert Man Camel Safari was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend anyone that wants a desert trek to book with them.  You can read almost 1000 amazing reviews of their adventures on Tripadvisor and book directly with Sawai!
Email Sawai at sawaibalewa@yahoo.com

Find out more about their treks on www.RealDesertManSafariJaisalmer.com


The roads went from bad to worse as we sped along the desert highway.  Horns blared anytime a motorist, cow or gypsy walked by on an otherwise barren stretch of land.  Pot holes and giant ditches were carved into the pavement so when the road turned solely to dust and sand it must mean we were nearing our destination.  Right?
We passed a desert oasis drying up months after the rainy season.  A little water remained so goats and hogs helped themselves as we continued onward finally arriving at a path with a half dozen camels ready to go.  My camel, Mango, had a distinct smell to him but I was sure we’d get along quite well.  I’d probably smell worse than him after 2 nights in the desert anyway right?  Mango wore a yellow rope as a collar and happily carried my bags on his saddle. Lulu, our camel guide gave Mango a command and he stood up and the adventure began!

Riding a camel?  Lean back when they stand up to help keep your balance!

Camels are way bigger in person than you would expect and from the top of Mango’s back I felt taller than I’ve ever been.  Remember when you were a kid and you climbed onto your dad’s shoulders?  Well camels are taller than your pops and now I’m a full grown man!  The vantage point put me in line with rooftops and the scattered trees.  Theoretically perfect for photos except that I’m riding a camel and they made that bumpy jeep ride look like smooth sailing.

Finally on our camel it was time to head to our desert camp.  The tour started at 230pm to keep us out of the heat and by now it was just an hour or two before sunset.  Every step Mango took I could feel through my thighs and up my back.  I tried moving with the motion, holding tight and just about every trick to make it comfortable but lets face it.  Camels are not built for comfort.

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Thankfully Real Man Desert Safari padded Mango with blankets and when I crossed my legs I could lean back like a sultan riding into the desert!  Well that worked when Mango was trodding along slowly but he really enjoyed smelling Jon in front of me.  He even tried to kiss Jon’s camera then suddenly Mango let out a rumbling burp.  I felt it vibrating up through my legs and it sounded like a Dinosaur, the smell wasn’t the worst thing I’d smell in the desert but my whatever happens inside a camel’s stomach should stay inside!  The good news was that my stomach was still a bit rumbly from my Delhi belly so I returned the gesture and Mango and I got along just fine.

I was surprised to see cows and goats roaming through the wasteland as we crossed the desert.  In the distance I could make out a gypsy village with children carrying large jugs of water on their heads.  Vultures soared above us in large circles when we passed an unrecognizable carcass.  Desert life is harsh and unforgiving but thankfully we were well stocked with water and I brought extra rehydration powder too.

The desert camp site was just past another series of sand dunes and we arrived just in time to relax a little before sunset.  Our guides cooked up some snacks and asked if anyone wanted a cold beer.  For a paltry 200INR ($3) one of them would drive over to a nearby village and pick up the coldest drinks we’d have all day.  I stuck with water and distracted myself in the desert camp finding a few small lizards, a skull and a stunning landscape.

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Sunset in the desert is absolutely beautiful and one of the main reasons I joined this excursion.  The orange hues light up the sky as the glowing orb sinks lower silhouetting shrubbery and any stray birds finding an evening meal.  Before long our food was ready and the stars began popping up.  I specifically planned this trip to be during the new moon.  That’s the opposite of the full moon when there is actually NO moon in the sky which means more stars!

We all sat star gazing for hours counting shooting stars and playing with long exposure settings on our cameras.  Jon, Dan and I shared my tripod and photo tips as I intermittently hunted the dunes for strange insects.  When I found a “weird white cricket” I called everyone over to have a look.  It sat peacefully as bugs buzzed around and would viciously jump and grab one in its pincers.  I showed Lulu this photo later in the night and he jumped back.  Even though it looks like a cricket they call it a “scorpion” and its bite will send you writhing in pain for 24 hours!

Beware of scorpions while in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer!

Waking up in the morning the desert air is as cool as it will be all day.  Without moving I could turn my head and watch the sunrise over the sand dunes in the distance.  Even if I had to deal with Mango I knew today was going to be a good day.  We packed up camp quickly after breakfast and got going before the heat became oppressive.  Jon, Dan and I said farewell to the rest of the group who went back to Jaisalmer after enjoying a single night safari but the rest of us were excited for another full day in the desert!

Our first stop was Lulu’s village and happily only a short camel trek from our campsite.  His wife and children met us at his house, if you can even call it a house.  The family hovel was made out of a natural cement mix of sand and cow dung.  Walls came up to about shoulder length in a pseudo courtyard with a single enclosed room.  On the far corner from that room Lulu’s wife has an alcove in the shade that she uses as a kitchen to keep the heat away from the rest of the house.

Many desert people and gypsies live these simple lives and it was an eye opening experience to sit for a late morning chai with them.  The children played with us and I encouraged them to practice their English.  We all snapped plenty of photos and Jon offered a pen to the school girl who wandered over.  Too shy for words but curious enough to take the pen.  She nodded a semi-thank you as she unzipped her backpack and added the pen to her small collection.

Moving on from Lulu’s village we strolled past a watering hole surrounded by a herd of goats and another of cattle.  The livestock here is strictly for milk and refining their excrement since most Indians and just about everyone in Rajasthan has a strict vegetarian diet.  A short camel trek with Mango led to a few smelly burps and speaking of excrement I watched the camels in front of me (Pineapple and Papaya) drop a few prizes on the ground.  Which of course Mango stepped right in.

Our guide asked if we preferred the long or short version and with the heat and soreness in our legs from riding yesterday we always picked the short trek.  So we stopped for lunch in the shade and enjoyed a lazy afternoon in the desert.    Dan took out a deck of playing cards and we pondered the meaning of life during this afternoon siesta.

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The best section of our camel trek came just after lunch as we went through to the desert to our last desert camp.  We passed through a cacti filled valley between sand dunes.  You could see windmills powering Jaisalmer in the distance and Indian deer danced around us for the next 2 hours.  We must have seen 2 or 3 dozen of them jumping between sand dunes and tumbleweed and everytime I tried to capture a picture.  Too bad Mango wouldn’t cooperate with that venture and decided this was the perfect time to take some huge strides and rub up against the next camel so here’s a photo of a lizard instead.

Arriving at our desert camp meant some more relaxation before sunset and dinner.  Now, you may think that all we did on this trip was relax but when the temperature is well over 104F (40C) your body needs lots of down time to recover.  The 3 of us drank plenty of water and relaxed in the shade before grabbing our cameras for another round of golden hour photography.

Sunset in the desert is simply outstanding and this one was just as exceptional as the last.  The rolling dunes reflect the golden rays perfectly bringing just the right shadows and shades to anyone who likes landscape photography.  Heck, even if you love portrait photos like Dan or Jon you’re sure to enjoy snapping away at the desert campsites with Real Desert Man Safari!

The sun fell behind the horizon and the stars trickled into view as we ate a delicious veg curry with roti (bread) and rice.  Once more the 3 of us went into the dunes with my tripod but this time we were ready for some light painting.  We took turns getting the settings just right and used a phone flashlight to illuminate the curvy dunes in the foreground as the Milky Way Galaxy teased us above.

Another sound night sleeping under the stars meant it would soon be time to return to civilization and in the Thar Desert’s March heat this was perfect timing.  If you’re lucky enough to be in Rajasthan and Jaisalmer during the cooler months you can venture forth on a 4 or 5 day deep desert excursion but for the rest of the year 2 nights is plenty for any adventure lover!

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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