Recommendation number four for India during August and September, the tail end of monsoon season, is camel trekking through the deserts near Jaisalmer.
When you move to the West of Rajasthan and arrive in the desert city of Jaisalmer, the feelings of Arabian nights become reality. Most people visit this city to see the incredible fort and to experience a ‘camel safari.’
For me, the camel safari was up there with one of my favourite ever travel experiences and I highly recommend it. This was definitely a “when in Rome” moment on our trip. We hadn’t given much thought to a camel safari in Jaisalmer, but it didn’t take long once we arrived to come around to the idea. Lonely Planet describes the fort in Jaisalmer as like a sandcastle appearing from the dunes. It is definitely one of the poorest places I have been to – people here really don’t have much and there are so many children everywhere. It is truly a desert location and the architecture, the abundance of jeeps and the presence of camel safari vendors all add to the vibe. The entire economy probably depends quite significantly on tourists coming in to do safaris, but don’t expect many other luxuries from your time here.
Like the houseboating in Kerela, finding the right camel safari can be an intimidating thing. Every hotel and restaurant owner, tuk-tuk driver and the travel agencies are all trying to set you up with a tour. It can be hard to turn down your hostel, particularly if they are pushy and give you a hard time if you’re not interested, but you always have the ability to move accommodation once you’ve found a camel safari that you want.
Don’t be expecting the Sahara Desert on your trip. There are some dunes, but not all tours go to them. Other parts of the desert, particularly the Sam Desert are notoriously dirty try to avoid these areas. There are also many windmills dotted around the place, which are specifically used to power the Indian military presence close to the Indian-Pakistan border.
You can choose the length of your safari. Be aware that excursions start in the morning will need to stop for lunch and to escape the heat of the day. We met some people that had started in the morning and had spent four hours just waiting under a tree for the heat to pass. If this doesn’t sound like what you want I suggest just selecting a tour that leaves in the afternoon and comes back the next morning. This was plenty for us and it meant we left the experience still very much on a high.
After looking on a few travel blogs and forums we headed directly to the Trotters office, which came fairly highly reviewed on a number of sites. After a five minute chat with their smooth salesman, Jalam, we had all but decided to go with their tour. Jalam promised that we would have a unique experience out by some dunes and would not be surrounded by lots of other people. When we paid and confirmed we were still slightly dubious, but our experience did not disappoint.
Our camel safari began at around 2:30pm when we set off in the jeep. Our driver was very friendly and talkative and we soon stopped to visit a local village – where the driver and other Trotters staff were from. We weren’t really sure what we were supposed to do here, but the many children found us entertaining and we enjoyed a cup of chai. Then it was an onwards drive to meet our camels. He we were helped onto the beautiful animals. As they stood up you felt slightly unsteady, like you might just slip off the front, but we were soon on our way and settled into then rhythm of the camel’s walk. After about 30 minutes we met up with the two that had begun their tour in the morning. They were ready to get off the camels, but we still had about an hour to go before we reached our camp.
About fifty minutes the windmills became sparser and we began to see some sand dunes. They weren’t towering around us, but it was still a very beautiful sight to see nothing but our camels juxtaposed in front of the rolling dunes. We finished the ride near a hut and we left to just sit and enjoy our new acquaintances while dinner was prepared. Sunset was a bit of a disappointment due to the wind stirring up the sand, but still a great experience to be so isolated. It was another India experience where you seemed to find total peace having left the horns of Jaisalmer far away. Our dinner was very enjoyable, all vegetarian, but with plenty of gluten free options as I had requested. Considering what these men have to work with out there, I think they cook up some pretty good grub!
The four men who were with us in the desert looked after all our needs – plenty of chai and cold beer as required, but left us very much to ourselves. As it got dark and the stars appeared I realised just how special our night was. We had literally ridden to dinner in the desert on a camel! We had brought along some legal Bhang sold at Jaisalmer’s famous “Bhang Shop”, which added a very special something to being away from civilisation in the desert under a black velvet blanket dotted with stars. I slept amazingly on the comfortable beds that were set up for us.
The next morning we were woken with hot chai and left to wake up while our breakfast of fruit, boiled eggs and other gluten containing foods were prepared for us. We rode out on the camels and on our way home in the jeep stopped off at a few sights that are important to the communities living around Jaisalmer.
I highly recommend our one night camel safari with Trotters. The company run a professional and efficient service. Prices are fixed and not up to date in the Lonely Planet.
As of September 2016, when we did our trip running 14:30-11:30 it was 1950rs per person. There is always going to be an expectation that you tip the people that give you the most assistance on your trip – in this case the camel guides.
Trotters will also help you arrange accommodation at their guesthouse – Gajju Palace. The rooms are comfortable with a private bathroom and air-conditioner. They are not pushy if you choose to stay somewhere else.
To get in touch with Trotters you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +91 982 892 9974.
The standout attraction of Jaisalmer is the incredible fort that towers over the rest of the town. You can wander around inside the fort for free where there are a few shops, restaurants and hotels. There is significant pressure on the infrastructure (particularly due to water consumption) in the fort so Lonely Planet recommends not staying inside the walls.
The Fort Museum is an absolute must. It’s slightly pricey at ₹500 each, but this includes a good audio guide and can fill a good two hours of your time if you stop to enjoy the history, architecture an views.
Apart from a camel safari and the fort Jalsaimer isn’t a place you will want to hang about for days in. Accommodation – usually tied to camel safaris – is cheap, but everything else is expensive to compensate. Restaurants charge far more than they could get away with anywhere else and the quality isn’t what you would expect for the price. Being so isolated there isn’t much choice but to find charm in the limits of Jaisalmer. It is a place you realise just how poor some areas of India really are and how very different life can be from your own back home. Here are a few recommendations for food:
Monica restaurant: A nice balcony restaurant with friendly staff. You can get a decent feed here for relatively cheap by Jaisalmer standards. They have a tandoori oven, which does flavoursome meat. The laal mas here is very tasty.
Café the Kaku: Go here for the views, the food is decent but secondary.
Jaisal Italy: The only place I found where I could buy real coffee. In fact they were kind enough to sell me some coffee grounds when I asked. The Italian food here is good, but all vegetarian. Gluten free options are more confined to the Indian part of the menu, but I can recommend the boiled vegetable dish under appetizer for a proper hit of veggies, something you really cannot find anywhere else. This is a great place to escape the heat and relax in air-conditioning during the hot desert days.