We left the Golden city in the cold early morning and aimed south into the desert with a quick stop en route for supplies for our 3 day camel safari. I had never been on a camel or anywhere near one in my life so I was excited and slightly nervous as to what to expect as they are much bigger than horses with a much more of a unknown and unpredictable personality to go with them. A small but adventurous group of Marie, Chris and I, we ready to face the anything the desert could throw at us which in the end was mostly sand, heat and blisters.
We drove for around hour to meet our guides and camels where we met them all sat by the dusty barren roadside. We were introduced to our 3 guides Suresh, Abdul and “the boy” (as we nicknamed him as we could pronounce his name!). We were then introduced to our arrogant looking camels chewing away on some straw. After a gentle pat on the head it became apparent she had bad very breath and her flatulence wasn’t much better. All the arm we kind of bonded as you can for meeting a camel for the first time. Preparing ourselves for the desert we all donned some turbans to protect ourselves from the glaring sun and of course emulate Lawrence of Arabia. We were then told to name our camels and at that point an ex girlfriends’ name came to mind but I decided on something a bit less harsh and named her Candy as that was her original name!
The camels were already loaded with tents, blankets, water and food so all that was left to do was to hop on and start the motor up as they say. Leaning back in the saddle I prepared myself for take off but still I almost head butted the back of her head as she lurched forward and got her back legs up then her front. Feeling quite high up I was going to have to hold on tight as to not fall off as the ground below looked particularly hard and there were numerous cacti everywhere. Typically (like most women, joke!) she would not obey any of my commands however a few short hash words from the Suresh and we were off at a gentle walking pace. Some training whilst we were gliding along and I was soon getting the hang of turning left and right but stopping was a different matter. You almost had to pull their head back into your saddle to make her stop.
Camel riding is definitely not like horse riding as there is a lot more lurching forward with each step. After an hour of walking, patting and some tender words in her ear, Candy and I were soon gelling pretty well but I was determined to show her who was boss! After an hour or so we stopped at small village to give the camels a drink and we were shown into a house and given Chai by the ladies of the modest house.
After a short chat and drink we were greeted outside by a number of kids from the village all proudly displaying their goats. After numerous photo sessions with them all it was time to saddle up again and head further into the desert. It was getting a lot hotter as the morning sun broke through the cold and after another hour or so it was time to stop for lunch, a modest veggie Thali of cauliflower and Dahl and roti. A short nap and it was back onto the camels. We were now heading for the first of the dunes and our guides had decided that we had gained enough experience to try a little trotting with our trusty steeds. Walking was fine, but trotting was a little scary as the camels loped into second gear then after a order by Suresh the camels broke into top gear and started running which seemed downright dangerous.
Holding on with all might through both my legs and arms we speed through cacti, thorny bushes and very hard rocky ground. Luckily for us this was only a short taster and within 10 mins we were back to walking pace and already starting to feel a little saddle sore. By late afternoon we reached the first of the sand dunes which were a beautiful orange and red colour as we came in under the late afternoon sun.
At this point Suresh asked us whether we wanted any meat for our dinner which he could arrange at a small price. We all agreed a little meat would boost our energy levels for some heavy riding the next day. As we passed a goat herd he asked us which one we wanted! At that point it seemed all the goats looked away as they knew what was about to happen, but we pointed out our dinner and next Abdul was pulling our goat back to camp. Before the sun set we set about turning the scared looking thing into something that could fit into the pot. Under the commands “Allah is good, Allah is great” Abdul quickly went about his work (while we all watched) and within 20 mins the goat was skinned and chopped up into bite sized pieces aided by me as his second in command.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset over our camp and the dunes and soon after we had a beer in hand and a goat curry on the plate. I must say it was a very good goat curry and we even had enough goat left for the 3 meals. We had set up a small campfire and after a number of hours catching and drinking Chai it was soon time for bed. Bed was out under the stars under around 4 blankets each. It was very warm under the blankets as the temperature dropped but the most amazing thing was looking up at the stars as we feel asleep. There was no moon or light pollution which helped to give the stars even more intensity as they shone fiercely in the sky above us. You even managed to see the colours in the milky way and feeling very insignificant in the universe I drifted off to sleep with the gentle sound of the camel bells and the occasional camel fart to interrupt the beauty above.
We arose by the chai being stirred and the sun just beginning to appear on the horizon. A cuppa or 2 later and a feast of goat curry for breakfast we saddled our camels up and began the long march towards the next set of dunes. Feeling slightly saddle sore from the previous days short running experience we were a little subdued as to what the day would have to offer in soreness but eager to press on Abdul and Suresh led the way. After an hour of gentle walking we watered the camels in the small town of Dani where a funeral was taking place not stopping for long we headed out at a canter back into the wilderness.
An hour of trotting and the limbs and body was starting to ache! Lunch was a light relief as we had been going for 4 hours both trotting and running. Secretly I think out guides took great delight in watching us hold on for dear mercy. Chris and I being competitive lads decided that we would test which of our camels was best and have a race!! A short 100m distance was chosen and we were off, trying to look as professional as possible but hanging on for life we sped off whipping our camels to extra speed and bouncing up and down like maniacs. Victorious I took the prize of Rajastan camel king!!
Racing and riding over for the day we reached the largest of the dunes where we settled for the afternoon and the evening. The dunes provided entertainment for the afternoon and evening as we aimless wandered around the dune valleys taking many photos along the way. We were treated to another beautiful sunset which changed the skies before many shades of red and orange which finally mixed in with the black of the night. Dinner was the last of the goat curry before we settle around the campfire for a few stories and songs from our guides. We spent our last night star gazing and endless counting shooting stars and satellites whizzing before us, whilst listening to the camels chewing and farting behind us!
Another early start and it was our final day on our camels. Everything was now either sore or aching but our guides told us we had the greatest distance to cover so we sped off back towards where we had started off. I don’t think we walked once that day as we cantered and ran all the way back in great pain. The desert never changed much throughout or 3 days out, arid scrub land jotted with a few cacti and thorny bushes. Wildlife was sparse as we saw a few other camels, the odd peacock, some rabbits and one or two desert rats. It was with great joy when we reached the finish line, not before one final race between Chris and I where I retained the crown of King of the Desert though through much pain, discomfort and bleeding!! It was a sad farewell to the guides and the camels who had given us 3 days of great fun and joy but back to Jaisalmer we had to go. Once showered and changed we all had one last meal together in front of the mighty fort before an early night before we all caught our trains / buses the next day. It was sad to say goodbye to Marie who was off to Delhi then home and me onto Mumbai and the last leg of my trip. Mumbai famed as the financial powerhouse of India and home to Slumdog Millionaire and the epic book Shantaram.