Camel Safari in the Thar Desert

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We woke up early after our first night in Jaisalmer and saw some more cenotaphs. They were a peaceful escape from the city, apart from the few young boys harassing us. I don’t care what Bollywood movie star I remind you of, and no, I don’t want my photo taken from every possible angle. I just want to enjoy the serenity of the cenotaphs alone!
There was no escaping though. When we had successfully dodged a couple clingy young boys and wanted to leave, Raju had an entire photo shoot for us in mind.
“Stand by pole. Ok. And you, over by wall” *groan* There’s nothing I dislike more than an awkward photo session where every limb has it’s exact place.
When we got back in the car it was a relief. We were excited to go see inside the fort, then head off to the camel safari in the afternoon.
“Okay I get tomatoes and then after maybe we chello camel safari” said Raju as we pulled up on some street corner and he got out.
What?
“Did he just say he was going to get tomatoes?” I asked Kelsi.
“I think that’s what I heard”
“What does that mean?”
“No idea.”
Big surprise. Kelsi and I still have no idea what’s going on. We watched Raju disappear into the crowd. We waited in the scorching heat in the car. While we waited, we looked around at the busy street.
Motor bikes, bicycles, rickshaws, vendors, cows, goats, children, shoe polishers it was dizzyingly busy around us. And once again, all eyes were on the two blondes in the car. Great. I feel like I’m in a zoo: gawked at behind glass with loads of farm animals around me. What more could a girl wish for?
There was a bottle shop on the corner where Raju had left to.
“Bet he’s gone into the bottle shop” I said. We had joked that we have never seen Raju eat anything since we’ve been on the tour with him.
“No wonder he doesn’t eat!” Kelsi exclaimed, “he’s an alcoholic!”
“Or maybe he went in there to buy us a bottle of whiskey now that he thinks it’s our favourite drink!” We laughed.
“I wonder what he meant by tomatoes…”
Then just as we were pondering, Raju came back around the corner with a big green box in his hand. He walked up to the window of the car and dropped it on Kelsi’s lap. Then he turned and walked back into the crowd.
Inside the box was a big bottle of whiskey.
“Oh god, you’re kidding me. Did he just buy us a bottle of whiskey! What the hell are we going to do with a bottle of whiskey!? And where did he go?!” We had no choice but to sit there perplexed until Raju came back.
When he came back the second time he had a black bag with him. Without a word, he once again walked up to the window, dropped the bag in Kelsi’s lap, and walked away…
We opened the bag. It was full of tomatoes, cucumbers and chili peppers. Okay, what the hell is going on. What’s with the vegetables?! We were so lost. Was this some weird Indian drink we were about to make? Like a Caesar, but with fresh tomatoes? Do Indians eat vegetables while they sip on whiskey? Was this even for us?
Raju came back again with another small black bag. This one had a handful of peanuts in it.
“Eat” he said. It was the first thing he’d said since he’d left us in the car.
We were so confused as we sat in the back of the car, eating our peanuts, that we didn’t even notice we were driving in the wrong direction from the fort.
Apparently the fort wasn’t in our agenda anymore and instead, we drove straight out to the camel safari in a town called Khuri, 40km outside Jaisalmer. Lunch was also not in the program it seems. We arrived at the camel safari start point 2 and a half hours before anyone else, and just had to sit there, with the man who worked there, until everyone showed up. Plenty of time to have explored the fort and eaten food. We were cranky to say the least.
The guy that worked there was at least nice. Love was his name, and he only works the camel safari part time. Normally, he is an engineer that specializes in wind power. Sadly, engineers in India don’t get paid well, so he has to work with camels part time to pay the bills.
Love chatted to us about life in the desert.
“People just work with camels, and relax when it is hot and eat opium.”
Oh, ya. Wait, what was that last part?
“Did you say EAT opium?”
We asked.
“Yes, we eat, it clears brain! Wait, I have some in my pocket.”
Sure enough, the man pulled out a black chunk of opium from his back pocket. I don’t think I’ve ever seen opium before, so I just had to take his word for it. I have also never heard of people eating it in small chunks.
“Is opium illegal here?” We asked.
“Yes, but in the desert no one checks, so everyone eats it here.” So weird. Turns out the man carries hashish and marijuana in his pockets too. I had to laugh about how absurd it was that he just walked around with all sorts of drugs in his pockets and didn’t seem phased by it at all. Only in India.
Soon enough the other tourists arrived and we set out on camels for the sunset. It was deathly hot, and we still had four hours of trekking round the desert until sunset. Plus we were starving. Nonetheless, we were excited to head out in the desert and finally meet some other tourists!
The camels we jumped on were massive! I thought the camels in Africa were large, but these ones are insane. I bet some of the larger ones reached 10 feet high with their heads up! I felt like I was sitting on top of the world on my camel, Kaloo.
Turns out, it didn’t really matter that Kelsi and I had waited two hours for the rest of the group. Three minutes into the ride, our two guides split off from the group and we went our separate ways. So much for making friends!
We walked for a while in the sun, then decided to take a break in the shade for a few minutes. Kelsi and my guides could not have been more different. Kelsi’s guide was a young boy at the age of ELEVEN! Yup, eleven years old and working hard. My guide Luna, on the other hand, could have passed for one hundred and eleven. Either way, they were both very nice, and seemed to get along great with each other as well.
In the shade of the tree is when Kelsi and I realized how funny looking camels are. They chew out of the side of their mouths, which looks hilarious in photos, and although they apparently don’t spit, they do bite! Kelsi’s was a mean little camel and tried to nip at her when she stuck her face close. Mine was older and a little less temperamental, but both camels left us entertained for a good half hour as we took stupid photos of them. When we turned around from the camels, we saw that both our guides were asleep. What a great tour. So we went back to the camels.
“Let’s just take them and escape to Pakistan!” We said. We were only about 30 kilometers or so from the Pakistani border. It would be easy! I grabbed the reins of my camel and pretended to run. But Kaloo wasn’t having any of it and just sat there with a stupid look on his face.
It’s hard to believe it, but eventually we got bored taking photos of the same two camels over and over again. Unfortunately, our guides were still passed out. So we decided to go for an adventure. We ran around the desert (literally running. The sand was so hot on our bare feet we could hardly stand it) searching for more fun. We climbed up hills and sand dunes, got tangled in some prickle bushes and finally we found the goat.
There were a number of black goats roaming around the desert, but this goat was our target.
“Let’s see if we can get it” we said.
He was a sneaky goat, that’s for sure! He saw us coming and immediately went skidding away in the other direction. There were so many prickles on the ground at this point that we were at a disadvantage with our bare feet. I chased him around one bush and then got very close as I hid behind a shrub before creeping up behind him. Then a lizard skittered by me and I got distracted. The goat saw me and ran off again. Foiled again!
Kelsi tried next, running round and round this big bush. The goat outsmarted her too and just climbed into the depth of the prickles to get away. Damn you goat!
We give up… Back to the camels.
The camels were sprawled out on the sand and scratching themselves when we got back. Kaloo swung his legs around and flung a goat pellet, hitting me straight in the chest with a thud. Excuse me! Kelsi burst out laughing.
We’d been stopped in the shade for an hour and a half before our guides woke up. Hi. Remember us? You are our TOUR GUIDES and we are supposed to be riding camels! They seemed unphased.
We hopped back on the camels and towards our sunset viewpoint. Kaloo was apparently still tired, because he stumbled his way up the hill and got stuck trying to walk over a huge bush. Kelsi broke out into fits of laughter once again as I struggled to stay on. When Luna freed my camel from the tangle of the bushes, we carried onward up the dunes.
About 20 minutes later we came to our viewing point and back off the camels to sit in the shade. Kelsi and I entertained ourselves by playing xhonu in the sand and taking photos of a camel who’s lower lip was flipped outward and stuck. I was in stitches laughing at this camel, until we found out that his lip is probably permanently stuck that way. Then we felt a little bad for making fun of it.
The sunset was incredibly disappointing. Even in the middle of the desert, the sun hit a layer of smog long before it touched the horizon. We didn’t even stay for the whole thing. We were so hungry at this point, having not eaten more than half a handful of peanuts in 12 hours.
When we got back to camp, we were greeted by Raju.
“Look! I made you a treat!” He said with a smile. He pointed into the back of the car. It was a salad of sliced tomatoes and cucumber and chili peppers. Next to it was three glasses and a bottle of whiskey. My stomach churned. What a surprise!
“Now you go eat your dinner. But drinks, they maybe are too expensive, and many tourists, so no talking to them. Then when your dinner over, maybe we drink whiskey and eat the tomato!”
What? First of all, don’t talk to the tourists?! Kelsi and I have been craving ANY conversation with someone who speaks English for about a week now! Also, do we want to eat a salad after we’ve already eaten a four course meal? Probably not. And I really don’t want to drink a bottle of whiskey right before bed. But Raju looked so excited and had prepared everything for us, so we politely said we would join him after dinner.
Turns out we sat next to Italians and French at dinner, so our excitement to speak English was shot down anyways. Dinner was lovely, and came with wonderful dancing and fire breathing entertainment. When dinner was over, Love came around asking if we would like to sleep in cabins or in the desert.
“Desert, please!” We said.
“Okay, we leave in ten minutes then”
Oh no, we hadn’t even seen Raju. We rushed out to the car to tell him we couldn’t join him, but he said “no problem” and filled our glasses with whiskey. “Eat” he said and pointed to the salad.
Oh my god, I was so full. I couldn’t eat a salad now! But we had a few bites to be polite. When it had been a minute since we’d touched the food he repeated “you, eat”. No!!! I don’t want to. But our polite ‘no thank yous’ were brushed away with another “yes, you eat”.
Meanwhile, we had a cup of whiskey to drink. Why oh why did I mention the whiskey yesterday! To be honest, the whiskey wasn’t bad. It was very smooth and reminded me of drinking Sangsom back in Thailand. When we drained our glasses he filled them up. “Oh, no thank you” we said.
“It’s okay, it’s okay” and he poured in more.
This was weird. We were sitting in the desert, in the back of our car, eating slices of cucumber and tomato and drinking back shots of whiskey like they were water. ‘I just want to be sitting inside meeting people’ I thought.
We downed our second cup and jumped out of the car before he could fill it up a third time.
“See you in the morning” said Raju “be very safe, and no talking to anyone!”
We hopped on the back of a camel drawn cart and rolled out into the desert, feeling a little tipsy.
It was pitch black out there. We couldn’t see a thing as we rolled along the sand dunes and into the night. All you could hear was the grunting, growling, snoring sounds that were coming from the camels.
We slept apart from the group with two girls from Italy. We had no choice in the matter, that’s just where they put us. But our guide set up little cots for us, and full bed rolls and lots of blankets. It was the most comfortable I’d been in weeks!
Kelsi and I watched the stars for a little while, then I fell asleep quite quickly. I was woken a couple times in the middle of the night with the sounds of singing and drumming coming from somewhere way off in the distance. It could have been the small village, or perhaps it was somewhere in Pakistan. Apparently you can hear the village on the other side of the border when the wind is right. Then finally it was morning. The sunlight looked incredible over the sand dunes. It was the first time we saw where we had been sleeping and it was beautiful. Kelsi and I hiked up a small dune to see the sun rise, but really it just came out of a black cloud just like the sunsets.
Just after daybreak we were back in town, having breakfast. Then we were herded back to the car.
“You sleep good in the desert?” Asked Raju.
“Yup!” We both said. Then Kelsi looked down at the back of her seat with a horrified gaze.
“Look” she nudged me.
It was another bottle of whiskey….
Kill. Me. Now.

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