If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into limitlessness, which we all yearn for, or you can do the beauty of minutiae, the scrimshaw of tiny and precise. The sky is your ocean, and the crystal silence will uplift you like great gospel music, or Neil Young.” – Anne Lamott
As all the best trips do, this one started with a smile and a handshake. The Trotters staff member working the office greeted me enthusiasitcally, and we sat down to wait for the others. The two Dutch couples were partway through a package tour and had stopped in Jaisalmer for the same reason I had: to go on a camel safari in the Thar Desert. After meeting our guide and driver, Sagan, we piled into an all-terrain vehicle and set off to our first destination, but not before being joined by another group member, Anjit.
It was an oasis, accessed by a dirt track and sunken out of view of the main road. Local herders watched their livestock drink, and the steady breeze rippled the water as frogs floated beneath its surface. The contrast between the surrounding terrain and the lush of the oasis was stark — a world within a world.
The crumbling outpost of Khaba Fort was next, a dying sentinel overlooking an abandoned village. According to the stories, when the men of a nearby ruler came to the area over 200 years ago, they liked the look of the local Paliwal Brahmin women. Unfortunately for them, Brahmin women were forbidden from marrying outsiders. To sway the villagers, the Maharajas delivered an ultimatum: give us your single ladies, or face punishments. By nightfall, the village was empty.
After a brief walk through the diminutive fort museum, we set off once more to begin our safari in earnest. Just off the road, we pulled into a dusty parking lot and found our camels waiting.
We also met the locals who would be our guides for the duration of the camel safari. The guide leading my beastie was Doga. A young boy from the desert around Jaisalmer, he’s been working with camels for much of his life.
We started off riding through flat scrubland, slowly moving away from the road as we skirted homes and fenced in pastures. A herds of goats grazed under a tree, nervously shying away as our camels drew near.
Eventually, we came to the dunes. Mixed in with the scrub, they stretched off into the distance, but not to the horizon. The broad craters left by the feet of camels dotted the sand, breaking up and all but wiping out the ripples in certain places.
We came to a stop at the base of a large dune where another group of tourists already waited, and the guides made our camels kneel. After we dismounted and were trying to get our thighs to stay together (riding animals hurts!), the guides began setting up for dinner.
As they cooked, we wandered the nearby dunes. Huge dung beetles skittered to and fro, making strange tracks in the sand and occasionally burrowing frantically beneath the surface. Doves perched in the cool shelter of foliage and cooed softly as, all the while, the sun sank towards the horizon.
Despite being miles away from Jaisalmer, the sky was choked by a thick haze. The effect on the sun was striking, however, as its brightness seemed to diminish with each minute, and its color spectrum shed hues until it was a glowing, monochromatic orb hanging like a ripe fruit in the filthy sky.
After dinner, most of the group headed back with the jeeps, their tour finished. Two of us stayed, myself and a young traveler from China named Cary. We sat by a small fire as the temperature dropped and the waning moon rose in the sky. The lunar light drowned out that of the stars.
Finally, it was time to sleep. A pad was laid out for each of us next to a bush in a shallow depression below the dune. The blanket provided was thick and, combined with my thermal clothing, managed to keep me reasonably warm during the chill night.
At some point, I awoke — groggy and disoriented — and noticed the sky above me. The moon had set, and the sky was lit up with tiny pinpricks of light. The stars had come out.
We woke with the rising sun, moving stiffly and wiping the sleep from our eyes. Breakfast was already on its way, a humble combination of biscuits, fruit, and chai. It was still cold, and I found myself clutching the mug of tea tightly to absorb as much of its heat as possible.
Soon, it was time to leave our home in the sands. The camels were saddled and ready, shifting and belching as they waited for us to mount up. Have you ever heard a camel burp before? It’s amazing. You can hear it coming as the air bubbles up the throat — just don’t find yourself in front of the camel when the belch is birthed. The smell is truly horrific.
The ride back seemed to pass quickly, though the distance we traveled was the same as the day before. The line of camels bunched and stretched with the terrain. At one point, the lead camel broke into a trot at the insistence of Mula, one of the staff. The rest followed suit, and I spent the next few minutes making sure I was leaning back far enough to prevent irreparable physical damage from spoiling a good trip.
After a while, the buildings and parking lot we’d started from came into view. They lurked in the distance, partially obscured by the haze and the heat shimmer. When we arrived, I dismounted for the last time and bid farewell to my trusty steed, the legendary Johnnie Walker.
Sagan was waiting for us with the jeep. Cary and I piled in and waved as we rattled away from our guides.
“Do you want to stop in the village?” Sagan asked.
Cary and I looked at each other as we shrugged. “Sure!”
It was a short ways up the road, just off the main strip. Squat houses lined narrow, crooked streets, and the villagers looked our way with varying degrees of interest. We came to a stop outside a place with a group of kids playing in front. As we got out, it became clear these weren’t just any people. This was Sagan’s family. As his wife and mother made us some tea, Cary and I got to hang out with the kids.
It had been a great trip. We’d done our camel safari in the Thar Desert, but, for now, it was back to civilization.
*DISCLAIMER* I was a guest of Trotters for this camel safari, but the views and opinions of the service provided are my own. I researched companies providing these safaris beforehand and believed Trotters to be the best option, which is why I approached them to see about working together. I hope you enjoyed reading!