That’s right, 45 Degrees C, or 113F for those of you still stuck in the stone age. Either way, not many people will argue that it’s pretty darn hot!
Was it really a good idea to go on a 3 day camel trek near Jaisalmer, in the deserts of Rajasthan, Western India, near the Pakistan border, at the hottest time of year?
Well, that’s debatable. What I am sure of is that I had an awesome time! I had always wanted to trek across the desert on a camel, ever since reading one of my favourite inspirational travel books, The Alchemist. In the book it takes months for the main character to cross the deserts of Northern Africa on a camel and he seemed to do it just fine, so I figured that I could manage 3 days. It gets up to 45 degrees in my homeland of South Australia a couple of times a year, so I figured I would be ready for it.
I originally only wanted to do an overnight trip, head out in the afternoon, sleep on the dunes, come back the next morning before it gets too hot.
Sounds nice right?
Well the thing about travelling is that you often meet people who you want to hang out with and they don’t always have the same idea as you. Since it’s so hot, it is low season in Rajasthan. This means there are not as many travellers as usual to connect with. I met up with a couple of Germans in Udaipur a few days before, and they headed to Jaisalmer a day before me. We agreed to meet up the day after and then head out on an overnight safari.
On arrival in Udaipur, they decided to book a 3 day camel safari instead of an overnight and it was leaving at 9am the morning I arrive from Udaipur on a 12 hour night bus. So straight off a 12 hour night bus and onto the back of a hot sweaty, hairy, smelly camel. I decided to join them. Whenever I am faced with a dilemma like this when travelling, I find it’s always best to just say “oh well” and do it. I am a firm believer that you should usually just say YES when travelling. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be that great, it’s always an adventure, and always a good story.
Did I mention it was about 45 degrees??
Anyway, I slept pretty well on the bus so when I arrived I was feeling refreshed and I couldn’t wait to get onto the back of that camel. The safari cost 3000 Rupees for 3 days (approx $20/day) including all meals, water and anything else you could need in the middle of the desert (which really isn’t much).
We had a group of 4 people and we got a camel each. There was the local guide and his young helper who shared a camel. I would not go on a camel safari where I had to share a camel with someone simply because it’s too much weight for the camels. I am always sensitive about animal treatment when I travel. The guide and his helper were both tiny and they were on the biggest, strongest camel so I don’t think it was overloaded like others I have seen. I think the camels would definitely have a better life living in the wild than carrying tourists around but they are not mistreated any worse than domestic horses in my opinion.
A basic day consists of this:
Day 1 only – 1 hour jeep ride from Jaisalmer further out into the middle of the desert.
9:30am – Approximately 2 hour morning camel ride though the desert to find the lunch spot. On the way you just sit back and check out the barren landscape and the sparse wildlife. You can see deer, antelope and gazelle as well as a lot of domestic cows, camels and goats that seem to just wander around.
11:30am – Stop for lunch. The lunch spot is basically a tree with limited shade. There are not many trees so the guide takes us around to a pre-determined spot which he knows about already and we can all fit in the shade. The tree’s don’t exactly have what I would refer to as ‘dense foliage’ so the sun still dapples through the leaves and, as I discovered on the first day, still burns you. You also have to constantly move to stay in the shade. It’s treacherous at best. You stay here until about 4pm when it is cool enough to move on. BRING A BOOK. Trust me.
4pm – It’s another hour or two on the camels until you come to some big sand dunes, a.k.a. your accommodation for the night. This is the best part. It’s getting cooler by this stage so you can relax, read some more, go exploring, roll down the sand hills, take photo’s of the camels and when night falls you can sit around the cooking fire or just lay down and look up at the stars, and I can tell you there are a LOT of stars. It’s a novelty to see so many stars in India which is a country where air pollution is always limiting what you can see of the night sky.
At bed time you simply lay down on one of the camel blankets and go to sleep right under the night sky. Generally people use a cover to keep the insects away. I had a silk sleeping bag liner which was perfect for the job.This was my favourite part of the whole experience. It’s usually calm and warm with hardly any breeze. Literally the only sounds are the camels chewing.
After 3 days of this I was definitely ready to go home. The worst part was the sitting around in the intense heat in the middle of the day. The good thing about this was that you really got a feel for what it must be like to live out here in this heat, with no escape. We visited a village and even our guide’s house. They certainly didn’t have electricity and they only source of water for the whole village was a well which was a couple hundred meters away. This is also the only source of water for the camels and other animals for miles around. They rely on villagers drawing water up in buckets and then using it for washing or other things and leaving it for the animals to drink in concrete troughs.
It was another world, and one I was grateful to be able to experience first hand. What I wasn’t grateful for was how sunburnt I was after the first day! To say I have fair skin is an understatement, but a lifetime of this whilst living in Australia has made me very sun-smart. I was ruthless with my sunscreen application throughout the trek but I still got ferociously burnt. The bright pink lightweight turbans that I was given for sun protection was not adequate for my head or face. Wear long sleeves and long pants if you have fair skin and bring a big floppy hat. Next time I know I will.
It took me a couple of days of relaxing and staying out of the sun until I felt normal again. In the end I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the desert and it’s definitely something I would do again in Northern Africa or the Middle East or anywhere else it’s on offer when my travels take me there. I recommend everyone gives this a go and even though it was really hot, it was really worth it.