John Harvey Photo

Jaisalmer And Camel Safari

Go to Slide Show Smaller Images Three nights, four days wandering the Thar desert

The train from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was late.  I was at the station at 6 something ugly in the morning and the train didn't actually arrive until 8:30 - some two plus hours late.  There are no electronic signs with trains/tracks or times, perhaps a scratchy announcement (in Hindi) so you are pretty much on your own to figure out what's going on.  Once on a late train is late it only gets more late - the train has to wait at sidings for on-time trains to do their on-time thing.  Perhaps an hour away from Jaisalmer, people came through the train to "chat" and try and convince us to change hotels to their "really good" hotel.  By the time I arrived in Jaisalmer it was pretty much sunset.  The hotel had a roof top deck and we got to enjoy the sunset falling over the fort.  The beautiful colours made me completely forget about the day on the train.

Fort Pano

My hotel (highly rated in every guide book) was full of nothing but tourists.  Different tourists than you seen in Delhi or in the National Parks - these are younger back packers (or flash packers like me) who are out to fill their check lists.  I booked my camel safari (4 days, 3 nights) and chatting with people that evening I found out I was a complete freak - everyone goes for one night.  Uh oh.

The next morning, I loaded into a jeep with a family of 5.  Apparently we were the only people going that morning.  We stopped at two sights - a cenotaph area and a Jain temple before driving down the remarkably good (military maintained) roads to some place just out of town.  The jeep pulled off the road and there were camels.  We got our bags off the roof and watched while the guides packed up the camels.  They were quick and with very little coaching, we were on and our camels were munching.

Loading Onto SaddleLoading UpTieing Saddle Down

Girl Leading Camel
Riding a camel is not like riding a horse.  To start with the saddle - it's made of wood.  They tie blankets over it, but you will be reminded from time to time, it's wood you are sitting on.   There are no stirrups - you cannot stand up.  There is a horn like a western saddle and you generally use that to shift your weight around.  A horse is generally led by a bit in it's mouth - a camel has a piercing in it's nose and I'm sure it hurts like hell when you move it (let alone tug it).  Horses go when you give them a kick in ribs.  Camels need the kick, as well as a verbal que (kind of a kiss kiss sound) as well as a smack to the neck with the rope.  They will sometimes respond to just one, but if you don't use all three, they will dull to the input.  Famously, camels have a mind of their own.  Sometimes that mind is nice - they accommodate you and pretty much follow on auto pilot - and sometimes that mind isn't nice.  Final difference - horses you mount while they stand.  Camels you get on and off of while they sit on the ground.  That transition from sitting to standing has three motions while the camel gets to its knees and then stands and at one point you are holding on tightly so you don't fall off.

For our first day, our camels leads were generally held by the guy in front of you.  That nose piercing is an extremely effective inducement for the camel to follow smartly behind.  We rode for about 1.5 hours to a water stop and then rode another 2 hours until we got to the edge of sand dunes.  This whole area is desert but sand dunes are actually quite rare. 

Walking In Sand DunesSand AheadMe Watching Sunset In Dunes

Once at the sand dunes we ran away and played in the sand while our guides made us dinner and set up camp.  A little sore for the days walking, we were happy to be over our own feet.
Sand Dunes In SunsetTwo Fires At Night

Group Walking In Dunes
The next morning I dreaded what my bum would feel like when it hit that wooden saddle.  Breakfast was good - fried egg, toast and the universal unidentifiable fruit jam they have in India.  Chai if you wanted it.  We packed up (although the guide would do that for us if we didn't) and the guides got us back in the saddle.  Surprisingly, it didn't feel so bad.  We walked through a Hindu village (they sold Pepsi in bottles) and had lunch in a fallow field.  An hour later we were near a road and our party split.  Annu and I went one way and the family went another.

The family gone, we went on to visit a gypsy village.  I was surprised to hear the word gypsy - I doubt that is the word they use in Rajasthani language.  The village was mostly filled with kids and older people - the odd woman.  Apparently this village is nomadic but has been here for months because of a lucrative road building contract near by.  The men and many women were out working and the children (and there were lots) were left at the camp.  The kids, while obviously poor, understanding digital cameras.  From a childs perspect, digital cameras work thus:  First you stand in front, as cute as possible, and say picture.  Then you run behind to see your picture on the back of the camera.  After seeing the image on the back of the camera (and smiling) you say "rupees".  Sometimes alot.  If you don't get rupees, try running in front again and posing for a second time.  If that doesn't work, the digital camera must be broken.

Girl With GoatKid In Red ScarfBoy With Pierced Ears

Kids Not Posing
The reality is that these kids are very very poor.  Most will not see the inside of a school (there are schools in the area, just no teachers).  Almost all of them had runny noses.  Many didn't have pants.  Most live in what would be called "tents" and I really didn't want to understand how sanitation works.  Because these people are generally mobile the state provides very little for them - other villages we saw did have state provided water services and sometimes buildings - these people really had nothing.

Hunter With Camp Fire
While I was entertaining the village kids, my guide had arranged for some of the members of the village to come by and perform traditional music and dancing.  We made our camp perhaps a kilometer away.  While my guide was out setting up (gathering firewood) an older gentlemen with long gun walked into the camp.  I was without guide and a little surprised (mostly by his very clean Adidas cap) but a quick namaste from me and his eyes showed he was friendly.  When Annu, my guide, got back they chatted for a while and then started making a fire.  The man was a hunter explained Annu and had had a good day.  He was going to hang out with us for a while.

Shortly after dinner the rest of the guides from the trip (who went with the family) showed up.  Moments after that an older gypsy and two younger women from the village showed up.  Somewhere two bottles of desert whiskey were produced (it tasted like a citrus mixed with whiskey - it was far from the worst fluid I've drunk) and we started drinking a little.  Annu explained that the booze helps the performers, but it really seemed to be helping my guides.

GuidesMusic GroupPlaying Instrument

After a bit of a warm up, on of the women got up to dance while the other sang and the gentlemen played his traditional instrument.  After one song, I was tugged up and danced a song with her (in my hiking boots).  She had a very firm hand on mine and did a pretty good job of leading.

Dancing StartDancing Stepping ForwardDancing Twirling Skirt

After that, it got depressing.  She danced another song while Annu explained the words - basically it was about a boy getting high before he went off to fight against the Pakastani's and he was getting high because he knew he wasn't coming back.  The woman dancing (I'm told was 19 but she looked to me about 30) was recently married to a 5 year old.  This kind of thing, while illegal, isn't that rare.  The family with the daughter looses a mouth to feed (daughters are effectively borrowed property from the family she will marry into), and the family with the son gains more domestic labour.  Never mind that this woman will probably never have children with her husband.  And then the kicker - if I wanted to sleep with this woman, it could be arranged - these kinds of things happen in the desert.  Welcome to the real India.
Two Boys On Donkey
The next day we made up a plan for the rest of the trip.  I basically had two choices - I could either go to more sand dunes, or I could go to more villages.  Given that sand dunes all look the same after a while, I chose villages.   We headed off over the range land and found our way to a Muslim village.

Girls In Muslim VillageTwo Buildings In Village

This was much more similar to the Hindu village (permanent) that the Gypsy village (mobile).  There were differences in architecture and the kids behaved a little different (the boys were more pushy to get in front of the camera but less concerned about rupees).  We kept on going.  After a while I figured out we were actually going to my guides family home.   His home is a large number (like 15) kilometers away from the closest road.
Goat HerderWoman Separating Seeds
As we got close (it was after when we normally have lunch) we happened upon a large group of people working.  Turns out they were threshing some sort of desert plant to extract the seed.  A group of perhaps 20 people yielded no more 20 kilograms of seed (which I believe is a food item) so I hardly saw how this was economical. 

Separating Seed

A few km further we set up camp and Annu prepared lunch.  I felt a bit useless (it's hard to help cook when you can't even name the ingredients) so I read for a bit.  After an always good lunch, we went for a walk to his families home.

The Fridge
Annu might see his family once a month when he is working (perhaps 8 months of the year - about 1200 rupees a month before tips, which could increase the total to 2000 rupees - $50CDN).  He was quite happy to see them.  His parents home was very simple (no electricity, no running water) but very clean. 


I noticed there were no photos so I offered to take some photos of his family.   His grandparents had no problem but I believe his mother (hidden in the corner above - photo taken with permission) didn't even get asked. 

Annus GrandfatherAnnus GrandmotherBoy In Abandoned Village

Annu's family live in what was once a village - they occupy the only home left.  The broken remnants of older homes are now used as pens for animals not yet old enough to graze.   After a bit of touring and nice glass of chai, we went back to camp.  After dinner (an Egg curry) I told Annu to spend the night with his parents.  It took some convincing (bad feedback from a tourist can lose him his job) but I believe he was quite happy to go.
Tent In The MorningMe On ACamel

The next morning I got up alone and felt lots of useless.  I finished my book and Annu came back with the camels.  He made me breakfast and we got on with our day.  We walked back the way we came the day before and sat down in a field for lunch.  We watched the human life go by - a goat herder came through with a large flock of animals grazing on what little grew.  The desert really does have it's own sound.

Lunch On Camel JourneyCamel Resting

We got to the road, Annu pulled out a cell phone and 15 minutes later I was in a Jeep heading back to the hotel.  I had a really nice long shower.
Orangy Sunset
I like India food, but at this point (perhaps a week of nothing but), I was time for a change.  The guide book suggested a nice little Italian place just under the walls of the fort and after buying a book in the marketplace, I had dinner on the patio while the sun set.  The colours and food were both amazing. 

Wall From Little ItalyVeggie Lasagna

  My train the next day didn't leave until about 4pm so I had some time to spend.  I took a taxi into town (30 rupies - about 75 cents) and found a photo development place.  The night before I had made a CD of desert images to so I could give prints to Annu.  Turns out there is no digital lab in Jaislamer (there isn't even power until 11am) so I prepaid for the developing (7 rupies each - about 18 cents a print) and the prints would be ready in 4 days.  I later gave the slip to the hotel manager (who also runs the Safari's) explained the situation and hope that it all worked out.
Unlike the other other forts on my trip, Jaisalmers fort is still occupied.  It's the center of city life (many tourist hotels are inside) so there is lots to see if you walk around inside.
Purple DoorYellow DoorTextiles With Guide WarningBlind Busker

Puppets On Wall Of FortMemory Cards And Film For Sale
Just below the fort gate is an active vegetable market and a winding street of Markets.  At the same time in Canada my family were having there Christmas get together and since I would be on a train for some 19 hours starting the next day, now was the best time to call.  I found a booth and called Canada - almost reasonable prices - I was amazed. 

Vegetable Stand Under FortVeggie Sellers At Side Of The RoadFrying In ALarge WokMaking Up Balls

Mobile Vegetable StandBag Of Peas Full To Bursting

The market areas in India were lovely to wander.  People were friendly, smiled and didn't seem to care I was there.  I believe this city really understands how important the tourist dollars are and you are probably pretty safe.  A good time had.

Kid In Red Scarf
Tags: India, portrait
Boy With Pierced Ears
Tags: India, portrait
Mobile Vegetable Stand
Tags: India, market, produce
Dancing Stepping Forward
Tags: dancing, India, performance
Veggie Sellers At Side Of The Road
Tags: India, market, produce
Music Group
Tags: fire, India, performance
Bag Of Peas Full To Bursting
Tags: India, market, produce
Two Boys On Donkey
Tags: India, safari
Textiles With Guide Warning
Tags: India, market, sign
Boy In Abandoned Village
Tags: architectural decoration, derelict
Sand Ahead
Tags: camel, India, safari, sand dune
Kids Not Posing
Loading Onto Saddle
Tags: camel, India, safari
Wall From Little Italy
Tags: fort, India
Annus Grandmother
Tags: India, portrait
Making Up Balls
Tags: cooking, India
Me On ACamel
Person: John
Sand Dunes In Sunset
Tags: India, sand dune, sunset
Tags: India, performance
Camel Resting
Tags: camel, India
Girl Leading Camel
Tags: camel, India
Purple Door
Tags: architectural decoration, door, India
Tags: house, India
Vegetable Stand Under Fort
Tags: fort, India, market, produce
Two Fires At Night
Tags: fire
Girl With Goat
Tags: farm animal, India, portrait
Playing Instrument
Tags: fire, India, musical instrument, performance
Walking In Sand Dunes
Tags: camel, India, safari, sand dune
Me Watching Sunset In Dunes
Tags: India, sunset
Annus Grandfather
Tags: portrait
Goat Herder
Tags: farm, farm animal, India
The Fridge
Blind Busker
Tags: India, musical instrument, performance
Fort Pano
Altitude: 252m (826 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: fort, India
Dancing Twirling Skirt
Tags: costume, dancing, India, performance
Hunter With Camp Fire
Tags: fire, India, portrait
Memory Cards And Film For Sale
Tags: India, sign
Woman Separating Seeds
Altitude: 220m (721 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: farm, India
Lunch On Camel Journey
Altitude: 239m (784 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: India, lunch
Two Buildings In Village
Altitude: 255m (836 feet)
Location: Go To...
Tags: house, India
Separating Seed
Tags: farm, India
Loading Up
Tags: camel, India, safari
Group Walking In Dunes
Tags: camel, India, safari, sand dune
Dancing Start
Tags: dancing, India, performance
Tieing Saddle Down
Tags: camel, India, safari
Yellow Door
Tags: architectural decoration, door, India
Orangy Sunset
Tags: fort, sunset
Puppets On Wall Of Fort
Tags: fort, India, puppet, shopping
Veggie Lasagna
Tags: food porn, India
Frying In ALarge Wok
Tags: cooking, India
Tent In The Morning
Tags: camel, India, tent
Girls In Muslim Village
Tags: India, portrait
Tags: India(45), camel(9), portrait(7), performance(7), safari(7), fort(5)
People: John(1)
From: John Harvey Photo > India > Jaisalmer And Camel Safari
From: John Harvey Photo > Trips out of the Country > India > Jaisalmer And Camel Safari

Enjoyed your photos and the narrative from your trip. Provided a glimpse into a part of the world I will never have the occasion to visit. This part of India is very much removed from the "IT meccas" of Bangalore, etc., and your trip story gives us a chance to visit part of India's culture still living the "simple life" while dealing with the complexities of survival. Thank you !
Sunday, April 13th, 2008 at 13:51:37

Great photos and descriptions! I was wondering if you would share the name of your hotel in Jaisalmer. My boyfriend and I are going to Rajasthan and would like to go on the camel safari you went on. Hopefully you receive this comment soon. Thank you!
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 at 12:22:48

I stayed at the "Hotel Shahi Palace". I imagine every trip is unique, but I suspect they will do a good job. I gave them a copy of the photos I took - I wonder if they are still under the glass at the front desk.
John Harvey
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 at 19:44:13

I have to say thank you so much for sharing your pictures. They give a great introduction to India and allow for the mind to soar when perhaps the body can't
Sunday, December 13th, 2009 at 19:51:26

Loved your travel tale. Have been to India a few times myself and planning to go to Jaisalmer on a camel safari in December 2010. It was lovely to read the sincerity of your experience - a true traveler you are. Thank you for sharing. Safe travels.
Sunday, May 9th, 2010 at 04:38:48

What was the night sky like?
Jenny Bouchet
Sunday, May 23rd, 2010 at 06:53:03

The night sky was not great. India (when I was there) is blanketed by a low level haze - probably from all the fires - cooking, brick making etc. Jaisalmer is pretty large (light pollution source) and there is a large military base near by (also with big lights). I was hoping for stars over dunes but with the haze and nearby lights it didn't happen.
John Harvey
Saturday, September 25th, 2010 at 13:37:14

Leave a Comment

Some HTML allowed: <b>, <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>, but most isn't.  Text length is limited.  comments from first time authors will be reviewed before being posted. comments with swearing or painfully poor spelling will probably be rejected.

Last Modified Saturday, January 21st, 2023 at 23:44:41 Edit
Copyright and Contact Information.