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Jaisalmer Camel Safaris

Trekking around by camel is the most evocative and fun way to sample Thar Desert life. Don’t expect dune seas, however- the Thar is mostly arid scrubland sprinkled with villages and wind turbines, with occasional dune areas popping out here and there. You will often come across fields of millet, and children herding flocks of sheep or goats whose neck. bells tinkle in the desert silence – a welcome change after the sound of belching camels Most trips now include jeep rides to get you to less frequented areas. The camel riding is then done in two-hour batches, one before lunch, one after. It’s hardly 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 (p193), 48km southwest, where similar camel rides are available but where you’re already in the desert when you start.

Before You Go

Competition between safari organizers is cut-throat and standards vary. Most hotels and guesthouses are very happy to organize a camel safari for you. While many provide a good service, some may cut corners and take you for the kind of ride you didn’t have in mind. A few low-budget hotels in particular exert considerable pressure on guests to take ‘their’ safari. Others specifically claim ‘no safari hassle! You can also organize a safari directly with one of the several reputable specialist agencies in Jaisalmer. Since these agencies depend exclusively on the safari business it’s particularly in their interest to satisfy their clients. It’s a good idea to talk to other travelers and ask two or three operators what they’re offering.

A one-night safari, leaving Jaisalmer in the afternoon and returning the next morning. with a night on some dunes, is a minimum to get a feel for the experience: you’ll probably get 1½ to two hours of riding each day. You can trek for several days or weeks if you wish. The longer you ride, the more you’ll gain an understanding of the desert’s villages, and oases. wildlife and people.

The best-known dunes, at Sam (40km west of Jaisalmer), are always crowded in the evening and are more of a carnival than a back-to-nature experience. The dunes near Khur are also quite busy at sunset, but quiet the rest of the time. Operators all sell trips now to ‘nontouristy’ and ‘off the beaten track’ areas. Ironically, this has made Khuri quieter again. although Sam still hums with day-tripper activity.

With jeep transfers included, typical rates are between 1100 and 1700 per person for a one-day-one-night trip (leaving one morning and returning the next). This should include meals, mineral water and blankets, and sometimes a thin mattress. Check that there will be one camel for each rider. You can pay for greater levels of comfort (eg tents, better food), but always get it all down in writing.

You should get a cheaper rate (900 to 1500 per person) if you leave Jaisalmer in the afternoon and return the following morning. A quick sunset ride in the dunes at Sam costs around 550 per person, including a jeep transfer. At the other end of the scale, you can arrange for a 20-day trek to Bikaner, Expect to pay between 1000 and 2000 per person per day for long, multiday trips, depending on the level of support facilities (jeeps, camel carts, etc).

What to Take

Women should consider wearing a sports bra, as a trotting camel is a bumpy ride. A wide-brimmed hat (or Lawrence of Arabia turban), long trousers, long-sleeved shirt, insect repellent, toilet paper (don’t forget to burn it after use), torch, sunscreen, water bottle (with a strap) and some cash (tip the camel men, if nothing else) is also recommended. It can get cold at night, so if you have a sleeping bag bring it along, even if you’re told that lots of blankets will be supplied. During summer, rain is not unheard of, so come prepared.

In the Desert

Camping out at night, huddling around a tiny fire beneath the stars and listening to the camel drivers’ songs, is magical There’s always a long lunch stop during the hottest part of the day. At resting points the camels are unsaddled and hobbled, they’ll often have a roll in the sand before limping away to browse on nearby shrubs, while the camel drivers brew chai or prepare food.

Take care of your possessions, particularly on the return journey. Any complaints you do have should be reported, either to the Superintendent of Police (252233), the Tourist Reception Centre, or the intermittently staffed Tourist Assistance Force posts inside the First Fort Gate and on the Gadi Sagar access road.

The camel drivers will expect a tip or gift at the end of the trip, don’t neglect to give them one

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