India is a place that holds surprises around every corner. So vast is its land, so rich its history and so varied it culture that each new state, each new city, can often feel like a whole other country. After traveling this incredible land for 2 months I was nearing the end of my trip.
I’d been to over populated cities, to beautiful deserted beaches, I’d climbed mountains and was suffering a serious case of temple overload. Looking for something different I rocked up in the desert state of Rhajistan and headed straight for a town called Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer is a vibrant city built up around an impressive yellow sandstone fort. The fort is still inhabited to this day, with many businesses operating from inside its walls. It’s worth a trip to Jaisalmer just to see this marvel, however, there’s another reason many backpackers come to visit, and that’s for the camel safaris. What would the desert be without camels? Well just a lot of sand probably, but these magnificent creatures have been used for years as a method of transportation in this area and are worshiped by the locals, as many animals are in India. So I decided to find someone to help me ride one.
Choosing a Camel Safari Operator
Jaisalmer is famous for guided camel safari treks, and these can last anything from a day to a week if you feel so inclined. I personally figured a week might be a bit much and opted for a simple overnight trip. There are many operators running treks out of the city, so it pays to do your homework to make sure you’re not getting ripped off. I headed to Sahara Travels, run by the son of a local hero, Emeritus Jaisalmer, winner of the popular ‘Mr. Desert’ competition for many years running. (For those curious as to what Mr. Desert is, you can check it out here)
Whenever traveling you should always find out as much as possible about any adventure involving animals. Often animals in this industry are treated poorly and don’t get to live very satisfying lives, so I quizzed Sahara Travels about the welfare of their camels. They told me the camels were all family owned, had been raised well and were rotated on the treks so they wouldn’t have to work every day. As the son of Mr. Desert, he seemed like a trustworthy kinda guy, so I booked in with them.
Tip: If you are planning your trip online, make sure that you look into how to get a tourist visa before hand. I usually wait until the visa is secured, then I can go ahead with booking tours that I want to do along the way.
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The Camel Safari Trek Experience
We began our trek with a bumpy 4×4 ride away from the city it was a big difference from traveling around India in a tuk tuk. After about an hours driving we pulled up at a tiny little town and were introduced to our camels. My guy, Norman, seemed chirpy and sprightly and kept sticking his tongue out at me which I took as a sign of affection. We were hoisted up onto our new friend’s backs and we were off.
The trek took us away from the town and into the desert wilderness. The scenery became more and more remote as the day went on, remaining varied enough that it never became dull. The opulent beasts we rode atop did a great job transporting us and were given regular breaks throughout. As were we, it got pretty hot up there, so the excellent crew would pull us over wherever they could find shade, ply us with water and cook up a feast while we chilled out.
Even though there were many companies running the same trek throughout the day you never really caught anything more than a glimpse of another tour group. Whether this was intentionally planned I’ve no idea, but it certainly gave a good sense of isolation and peaceful serenity which was a world away from the major Indian cities that just seem to ooze people out of every pore. While there are so many places to visit in India, the desert of Jaisalmer was proving to be a great getaway choice
After a full days riding we arrived at a huge sand dune, our camp for the night, a few hours before sundown. We jumped off the camels, they had done enough for the day and ran around the dunes like excited little children. Our guides had been gathering wood for our evening bonfire and just before it got dark asked if we’d like to buy some beer or wine to go with dinner. Naturally, we said yes, thinking the clever guide had bought some along in his bag. He hadn’t though, instead he jumped back on his own camel and rode off into the sunset to the nearest town. He came back around 45 mins later with a few large beers and some questionable looking wine. The beers were warm, but it didn’t matter, it was the first time I’d ever had a drink delivery by a man on a camel.
We had dinner, tucked into the booze and lit the fire. We each took it in turns to go around the fire and sing songs from our native homeland. I chose a song by the Wurzels, which unless you’re from England, and specifically from the Westcountry, you probably won’t find funny, but our guides found it hilarious.
After all the revelry was over we retired to our beds for the night. There were no tents, just a mattress led on the sand and a very thick blanket to crawl underneath. We led there, in a row staring up at the stars in the night sky. It was a beautiful moment and almost felt like the stars were spinning around us. That might have been as a result of that questionable wine though.
We were awakened with some classic Indian grub, curry for breakfast never gets boring in this country, and we were back on our camels and away. The journey back was much shorter on the 2nd day, but it was still a different route so the scenery remained interesting. We got back to the town, said goodbye to our camel friends and our very accommodating guides. It was a short but sweet little trip, and an amazing opportunity to see another side of India that would have otherwise been difficult to reach.
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The Cost of this Camel Safari:
This is India, so nothing really has a fixed price. The cost of this tour totally depends on who you book with, how many days you go for, the size of your group booking and the type of tour you want. For something similar to my trip you are only looking at about $20 a day, including all your food and ‘accommodation’ under the stars.
Insider Tip: No need to pre-book anything. Your best bet is to book when you get there so you’re sure you get the best deal! Much like countries in Southeast Asia, haggling here is an art form.
However, if you do want to book before you go or just want to look at the packages you can get, check out Rajasthan Tour Packages. They have some pretty sweet tours on offer.
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What to Bring for a Camel Safari I hear you ask:
Leave your backpack in the town and travel light. All food and water is provided, but remember to bring;
- Suitable clothing: Dress for the weather, it’ll be hot in the day and cold at night. Women should respect local cultures and try to cover up as much skin as possible.
- A hat
- Some money (for beer/questionable wine)
Oh, don’t feed the camels! The guides have that covered!
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