There are two ways to visit any place - the first is by seeing the place and glancing through its attractions from the comfort of a car and the other way is by actually experiencing the place and getting into its skin to appreciate how life is lived here. To truly experience Rajasthan, explore deep into its iconic desert and get an idea of how life goes on in these extreme conditions; this experience may not exactly be luxurious, but it’s definitely exciting and rich in value.
A desert safari in Rajasthan is not just about traveling miles and miles of sand on a camel; it’s about discovering culture and fun in the desert in villages located in the middle of nowhere, it’s about sleeping under the vast skies and counting the stars that seem more brighter here than anywhere else in the world, it’s about understanding the different faces of a desert habitat and finding out how colorful it can be and it’s about basking in the sunset, resting after a long journey, savoring freshly cooked food made on coal fire and enjoying a fascinating cultural performance by local dancers.
Your safari could be done in just 4 hours or take 4 weeks; the choice is yours to make; but to get the best out of your holiday, at least a day’s stay at the desert is a must.
Most safaris operate from Jaisalmer though there are options to take camel safaris from Bikaner too. There are plenty of travel operators offering camel safaris in Jaisalmer; in fact, if you visit this town, you’ll notice that everyone from the local tea vendor to the travel desk operator at your hotel offers “the best desert experience”. For this reason, it’s important to select a reliable operator who has enough experience in conducting desert safaris; avoid inexpensive deals that seem to have a lot thrown in, for these often end up in sore backs and cheated travelers.
Before you start inquiring about the safari packages, it’s important to determine a few factors regarding the journey else it’s easy to get carried away by offers thrown in by operators and end up with something you don’t want. For instance, decide the duration of the package, whether you want to sleep in a tent or in the open; check with the package operator to see if you have a camel all to yourself, find out how many people will travel with you, how the food is to be arranged, places you may visit in the desert, entertainment options and what amenities are included in the package.
The best time to visit Rajasthan and take a camel safari would be in the winter months between October and March. Summer can be terribly hot to try a tryst in the desert. Even in these months, the actual safari ride is done early in the morning and after 4 PM in the evening. Breaks are scheduled in the afternoon to avoid the Sun. Pack a hat, sunscreen, toilet paper, flash lights and enough warm clothing for though the desert is warm during the day, it can get extremely cold at night.
An aspect of fun is thrown in the safari when the drivers make the camels run and race with each other across the sand. This can be quite thrilling when you’re hanging on for dear life. At night, a small fire is lit up and the camel driver enthralls guests with spooky and funny tales from the desert.
Strong desert winds blow across the dry terrain of the desert and create unbelievably beautiful sand dunes, which keeps shifting and altering in shape. The Sand Dunes of the Thar Desert are a major attraction that draws plenty of tourists who find the experience of watching the Sun set over an ocean of sand mesmerizing. Plenty of desert camps have cropped up near famous Sand dunes like the Sam Sand Dunes and Khuri Sand Dunes.
From luxury tents in desert camps to regular tented accommodation to homestays and hotels, there are plenty of accommodation options close to famous sand dunes. Staying in these tents or mud houses can be a memorable experience too; most camps have entertainment options for the evening with traditional Rajasthani dance and music.
The journey begins with a jeep ride from your hotel to the base camp in the desert where your camel awaits. Learn from your guide how to ride a camel without falling off, when it does its jerky moves of standing up or walking. From here your desert safari begins; ride the camel through the desert passing through ruins of royal Rajasthan and isolated villages.
Though the ride can be bumpy and can get a little painful at times, you wouldn’t be riding your camel for long stretches; most often the ride will be only for a couple of hours before you take a break for eating or a short nap in a shaded place. It’s interesting to watch guides who double up as cooks, source up fresh ingredients from local villages and prepare food from scratch. After a long day of riding in the desert, you start looking forward to eating the tasty chapathi (flat bread) and subji (vegetables) cooked in coal-wood fire with its smoky taste intact.
Some safari operators schedule a visit to the Desert National Park, one of the largest national parks in India; covering a vast area of over 3100 square kms, the park depicts the desert ecosystem perfectly. The Desert National Park has plenty of resident birds throughout the year and sees the addition of migratory birds during season every year; there are also plenty of desert animals and reptiles. Fossils dating back to over 180 million years have been discovered in this park.
The Desert Festival
If you plan to be in Rajasthan towards the end of January or beginning of February, check out the dates for Jaisalmer’s Desert Festival and plan your holiday to coincide with that. This is an extremely colorful celebration, especially fun for tourists. For three days, locals here participate in plenty of bizarre events like camel decorating, fur cutting, best mustache competition, turban tying etc. If you wish to see the true Indian in literate sense with its snake charmers, fire dancers and rope walkers, then this is THE place for you. The camel polo competition held during this festival is one of the highlights of this festival.
Camel Safari Operators
The operator you opt for can make all the difference between a holiday and a nightmare, at least as far as camel safari in Rajasthan is concerned. It’s important to take the safari through a reliable and experienced operator who can give you a unique experience. Hence, see to it that you book yourself a trusted operator.