One of the must-do things in Jaisalmer is the camel safaris. It is the most evocative and fun way to sample desert life. The best time to go is from October to February.
A number of travel agents and tour operators in Rajasthan organize camel safaris. Most of these are in the vicinity of Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Osian and Khimsar and stretch from anywhere between 2 to 7 days, with longer ones up to a month. There are shorter daylong camel safaris too, which give you a glimpse of the desert. The majority of camel safaris start from the desert fort town of Jaisalmer. In most cases, one camel is provided per person and a camel cart accompanies the entourage, laden with food, utensils and other supplies; it’s also an option for anyone who gets sick of sitting on a lurching camel. For longer camel safaris, which are spread over a few days, camps are usually set up at night in the vicinity of villages.
Before You Go
There are a lot of safari organizers out there and the competition is fierce. Different operators have different standards and hence the prices vary. Your hotel may claim to run camel safari, but there are chances that the hotels don’t own them but are independently owned. A little research will help you find the decent safaris and fares; ask the locals there and make sure to fix the prices, the amenities involved and how long is the safari. For example, a claimed three-day safari will get you back to hotel after breakfast on the third day, which is not what it meant.
The realistic minimum price for a safari is about Rs.450 to Rs.500 (approx. $10 to $16) per person per day. For this you can expect breakfast of porridge, tea and toast, and lunch and dinner of rice, dal (curry made from lentils or other pulses) and chapati (Indian bread). Blankets are also supplied. You must bring your own mineral water. There are “luxury” safaris where you can pay for greater levels of comfort: tents, stretcher beds, better food, beer etc – but take care, because some travellers have paid extra for promised upgrades only to find out afterwards their safari was much the same as people who paid less.
Most important thing to remember is to take care of your possessions, particularly on the return journey. Any complaints you do have should be reported, either to the Superintendent of Police or the Tourist Reception Centre.
What to Take
- Long trousers
- Strapped water bottle (preferably a big one)
- Wide hat or Arabian turban
- Sleeping bag. Your operator may provide blankets, but it gets cold in the night so if you have one, get it.
- Thick socks
- Toilet paper
- Muscle-ache cream or balm. Camel ride can be bumpy and some visitors have complained of back-pains.
Several independent agencies have been recommended:
Trotters Camel Safari
Tel: +91 94144 69292
One of the most recommended operators.
Inside the fort, is owned by camel drivers and is a well-thought-out operation that gets good reports.
Tel: +91 2992 252609
Next to the First Fort Gate, gets good reviews, and is run by Mr Bissa, alias Mr Desert – he graces lots of Rajasthan Tourism posters.
Tel: +91 2992 250773
Tel: +91 2992 252722
Offer variations on the usual circuit.
In the Desert
Unlike the sub-Sahara desert, the Thar desert is mostly barren scrub that is sprinkled with villages and ruins, so don’t expect dune seas. You will often come across children herding flocks of sheep or goats, whose neckbells tinkle in the desert silence.
Camping out at night, huddling around a tiny fire beneath the shed of stars and listening to the camel drivers’ songs is magically romantic. The reins are fastened to the camel’s nose peg, so the animals are easily steered. Stirrups make the journey a lot more comfortable. At resting points the camels are unsaddled and hobbled; they limp away to browse on nearby shrubs while the camel drivers brew chai (tea) or prepare food. The whole crew rests in the shade of thorn trees.
Most safaris last three to four days and, if you want to get to the most interesting places, this is a bare minimum unless a significant jeep component is included. More and more travelers are opting for ‘nontouristic’ safaris. You are driven in a jeep for around 30km or so and then head off on your steed, avoiding the major sights and avoiding encountering any other groups.
The traditional circuit takes in Amar Sagar (admission Rs 10, camera/video Rs 50/100), where there’s a garden, dried-up step-wells and a Jain Temple; the deserted ruins of Lodhruva; Mool Sagar (admission Rs 5), a run-down oasis with a Shiva Temple; Bada Bagh (admission Rs 20, camera/video Rs 20/20), a fertile oasis with a huge old dam and startling sandstone-sculpted royal chhatris with beautifully carved ceilings; and the dunes of Sam, as well as various abandoned villages along the way.
If you’re really pressed for time you could opt for a half-day camel safari (which involves jeep transfers). The camel drivers will expect a tip or gift at the end of the trip; don’t neglect to give them one.