A few days ago we shared with you our experience of heading out on a camel safari in India’s Thar Desert – an activity we were looking forward to in our travels through India – and how very disappointed we were. It did not live up to our expectations in any way – you can read our original summary here. Just as we were about to write it off as a ‘cliche’ experience thats no longer what it used to be, we were told by some other travellers of a magical night they had with another company. We decided in that moment to cancel our plans for the following several days and remain in Jaisalmer to give it another go – did the gamble pay off?
We were picked up by our smiling guide, Himmit at 12.30PM. Mike had chatted with him the night before when booking the trip, and mentioned our previous trek out into the desert. Climbing into the well kept Jeep, Himmit shook our hands and promised us that he would ‘make us happy’ – we hoped so as well!
Taking off into the desert – off the actual bitumen road and onto the dusty 4WD path into the scrub – Himmit took us out to see some local desert villages. Along the way, he pointed out different vegetation – trees and bushes and scrubs and their uses for food, medicine, and building materials. Stopping in an isolated desert village, we were shown how the locals lived – in their mud houses during winter, the thatched houses in summer. How they built wells to draw up the fresh water from underground, without any need for boiling out impurities. Animal enclosures – chook pens (not dissimilar to those at home) and a ‘baby goat house’.
We stopped at the location of a dried up lake, where Himmit showed us fossils found in the rocks from the river bed, as well as other stones that are used for paint – once ground up, the powder in red, orange and white – is used to paint the local houses. He showed us the different colours by smashing them up and writing our names in Hindi on a large rock.
Our next stop was a slightly larger village – Himmit’s own where he lives when he isn’t working in Jaisalmer. Jumping out of the jeep, we were bombarded by the gorgeous children who took both Mike and I by the hand to show us around. The boys showed off their counting skills to Mike, entranced by his camera whilst the little girls showed me where they lived and all their different animals. Himmit’s wife made us a delicious cup of marsala chai that we drank whilst Himmit introduced his children, mother and extended family – pointing out the nearby school that the children attend six days a week, and the small hospital. It was heartwarming to see that whilst materially these people may not have had much, they clearly wanted for nothing – everyone was happy and healthy.
Heading further out into the desert, Mike had the opportunity to jump in the driver’s seat and take the Jeep for a bash off-road. I held on for dear life in the back, whilst Himmit took selfies for us on both the camera and GoPro, hanging out the side of the vehicle. He didn’t seem too phased which direction we took – as long as we didn’t end up in Pakistan, he said…
Pulling up to another desert village, we parked in the scrub whilst we waited for our camels. It was now 3.45PM – we’d spent over three hours driving through the desert and stopping at numerous villages for photo opportunities and to learn about local life. Already Mike and I were stoked with our experience so far, and the ‘camel safari’ hadn’t even started yet.
Aibie, our camel guide arrived with two camels for us. Everything about the camel trek was a thousand times better than our previous one. Aibie was a beautiful soul, a man who clearly cares for his animals and knows what he’s doing. The saddles were soft and comfortable. The camels behaved perfectly. We trekked into the desert, through scrub and over dunes, through scrub and over dunes – and never saw a single other person or vehicle. Aibie constantly made sure we were ok, talked to us about the camels and desert life. He pointed out an incredible amount of wildlife – Indian deer springing in the distance, desert foxes, eagles, and vultures. Every time we passed through a dune, he’d stop the camels and take photos for us like a proper paparazzi – he was wonderful.
After about an hour and a half, as the sun slowly began to set, we came over a hill and were greeted with an incredible sight – the most spectacular dunes you’ve ever seen. Untouched. Nothing but the foot prints of other animals. Aibie settled the camels as we jumped off to explore, completely mesmerised by the stunning landscape around us. As the sun disappeared and the sky turned shades of orange, yellow, pink and purple, we headed back to our campsite for the night – our tents were pitched right in the dunes, and nearby Himmit had lit a campfire and was beginning to cook dinner.
As we snacked on freshly made vegetable pakora, we chatted about all sorts of things – culture, work, tourism, India, celebrations, marriage, family with both Himmit and Aibie. Together the two of them cooked up a banquet – cutting up and washing vegetables right there in front of us, and serving rice, dhal, eggplant curry, mixed vegetable curry and fresh cooked chapatti. It was some of the best food we’d eaten so far – we only wish we had room for more!
Once we’d eaten, Himmit and Aibie turned a simple tin plate and an empty water drum into bonafide musical instruments and sang several ‘desert songs’ for us – they explained that these were happy songs, asking their gods for protection and luck for us on our travels. It was an incredible experience to sit there, in the sandy dunes, the complete middle of nowhere, gazing into a hot fire and listening to these two lovely men sing for us.
We tried our hand at some night sky photography again, but unfortunately this time the moon was just too bright – we didn’t even need torches to get around, it was that light out! Instead we continued our conversations with our new friends, Himmit making us some hot fresh ginger and lemon tea before retiring for the night…
There’s nothing quite like waking up in the morning to a beautiful blue sky, not a person in sight, and nothing but the birds to be heard. Aibie bought us some steaming hot marsala chai that we enjoyed on our morning walk through the dunes. Breakfast was more hot tea and biscuits, fresh fruit and toasted bread with jam, before packing up the camp site. Rather than being whisked back to town, we were able to jump back on the camels and return to Aibie’s village. He was so fantastic leading the camels, always looking for the path across the dunes and scrub that would present the least amount of difficulty for both the camels and us riding them – riding on camels is tricky business!
An hour and a half later we dismounted, saying goodbye to Aibie and Mahindra and Poppaya (our camels) before jumping back in the Jeep for the trip back to Jaisalmer. We didn’t stop at any other villages, but the return leg was just as much fun as the first, with Himmit pointing out the different crops and wind farms and driving like a crazy person. We didn’t want our trip to end, but with another safari that afternoon Himmit had just an hour to pick up fresh food and supplies before returning to the desert with a new group of travellers.
We are so so thankful for the conversation we had with that couple the few nights prior, and making the decision to stay and give the safari another go. We could have let one bad experience taint our whole time in Jaisalmer – instead, we took the opportunity to rest and recover from our illnesses and thoroughly enjoy our second adventure into the desert. Himmit and Aibie made our time there so special – despite doing the same trip day after day for over 14 years, you can see they have a special friendship and also a desire to make each persons visit to the dunes a highlight of their time in India – it’s certainly been a highlight of ours.
- How to get to Jaisalmer?
Jaisalmer is well connected by train by most major stops in Rajasthan. We came via Jodhpur, 7 hours. You can even get to Jaisalmer from Delhi on one train – we took this route on our way out – for 22 hours!
- Where to stay?
The ancient fort of Jaisalmer is a living, breathing community with hundreds of people still residing within its walls. There are plenty of accommodation choices within the fort, most offering rooftop restaurants or views out over the fort walls to the rest of the city. We stayed at Desert Boys Guesthouse – a wonderful, comfortable stay with a great bed and a hot shower!
- Which safari to take?
Our second, successful safari trip was taken with Desert Boys Guesthouse also – Himmit has been their guide for over 14 years. Having grown up in the desert villages outside of Jaisalmer, he has a special knowledge of the area, speaks perfect English, and is a seriously funny guy. And a great cook! A one day, one night safari (leaving 12.30PM and returning at midday the next, approximately) is 2500 Rupees per person (approx $45.00 AUD). Considering that we spent 2000 Rupees each on our previously disappointing safari, this is well worth the funds. There are so many suppliers of safaris operating in Jaisalmer, all offering very similar experiences to our first trip. It’s well with the few extra dollars to go on a credible safari with amazing reviews – it’ll be one of the best nights of your Indian travels!