Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Wed July 06 2016

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | July 6, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    Camel Riding in the Desert: A Cautionary Tale

    Camel Riding in the Desert: A Cautionary Tale

    PHOTO: Waking up in the early morning over Masala Chai was one of the highlights of the camel safari. (photos by Shannon Wolf)

    Other than a brief encounter in Pushkar, I had never touched a camel, let alone ridden one.

    Because of this, I instantly added camel-riding through the desert to my bucket list and boarded a general class train for a six-hour ride to the small town of Jaisalmer. 

    The next day we headed out in search of the best (budget) camel safari and found Ganesh Travels. Sebastian (the owner) promised it would be an experience of a lifetime: “The jeep will pick you up at 3 p.m. and stop at a gypsy village and my Uncle’s village to taste camel milk. You’ll each have your own camel to ride through the desert into the sunset in an area far from the tourist trail.

    READ MORE: You Can Thank the Camels For Google Desert View

    “You’ll spend the evening under the stars where our experienced guides will make a wonderful home-cooked meal over the fire, singing traditional local songs while teaching you all how to make chapattis. In the morning, you’ll wake to an impressive sunrise while sipping on Masala Chai along with home-cooked omelets, fruits, bread and jam, then hop back onto your camels and back to my uncle’s village where the jeep will pick you up and bring you back to town.”

    PHOTO: Hanging out with my camel pal before heading off to the desert

    Although the Lonely Planet guide quoted 750 Rupees a day, Sebastian wouldn’t budge on 1,050 Rupees up front. The next day at 3 p.m., the jeep drove us off for our one-and-a-half day safari.

    And things started to diverge from the promised itinerary.

    There was no gypsy village, no singing (let alone talking), no learning how to make chapatti, the camel milk was a lie and his uncle’s village consisted of a single hut. 

    After hopping onto our camels and trotting for nearly two hours through a cactus- filled desert, our guides led us silently along. On reaching our destination, they told us to get off the camels and we sat on the sand in darkness for a good hour without further explanation.

    When the group asked about making a fire, the guides said no, making an excuse that it would attract animals. When we finally convinced them to make one they disappeared as soon as it was lit. The meal they prepared (somewhere besides the fire) was terribly bland and accompanied by plenty of sand.

    As we got ready to sleep on our laid-out blankets, they stated they could only wake us up for sunrise if they woke up. No guarantees.  The breakfast consisted of hard boiled eggs, one banana, two oranges, mini toast and a container of questionable mixed-berry jam before heading back onto our camels, being dropped off in the middle of a desert to wait under a single dying tree in mid-day heat for our jeep instead of at his uncle’s “village.”

    All in all, to say I rode a camel through the desert is now checked off my bucket list and I will completely agree with the owner of Ganesh Travels: It was a “lifetime experience,” but a poor one.

    Best Camel Safari: Sahara Travel or Trotters

    Many Jaisalmer camel safari tour companies promise gold but deliver brass.

    If you are looking for a legitimate company that will provide a top-quality experience, do yourself a favor and pay a little more to go with Sahara Travel or Trotters, both of which have received glowing reviews from fellow travelers.

    Cheapest Accommodation: Abu Safari (150 Rupees a dorm)

    The place itself is large, relatively clean for the price and has a great rooftop terrace and masala chai. The only thing to note is that if you are a female, stay at arm’s length from the owner, Abu, as his intentions may not always be what you’d expect or enjoy.   

    The facility offers female and male dorms with comfortable beds (only fan); a large, cozy rooftop terrace overlooking the fort; free pickup and drop-off from the train station; friendly and helpful staff and great Wi-Fi.

    READ MORE: Iran's Desert Oasis of Garmeh

    Best Eats

    Riddhi Siddhi Restaurant: We stumbled across this little gem just outside the fort and ate here every day. All of its thalis are mouthwatering and unlimited for a mere 100 Rupees.

    Bahrat Juice Center & Restaurant: By far the best lassi shop I’ve been to in all of India. Be sure to try the Mango Lassi.

    Bhang Shop: Famous for its marijuana “bang” lassies and space cookies (all of which are completely legal in Rajasthan).

    PHOTO: The view at sunset overlooking the fort!

    Things to Do:

    After the camel safari there is not much else to do in this small town. Your options include watching a music and dance performance around 8-10 p.m. at Desert Boy’s Dhani; wander around the fort or the nearby Gadsisar Lake; watch the sunset over the city along the fort walls or rent a motorcycle and explore the abandoned village of Kuldhara.

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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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