Caravan to Pakistan

The extreme western sliver of the Indian state of Rajasthan is the Thar Desert. The desert forms a natural barrier of sorts between India and Pakistan and provides a sparsely populated buffer between the two nations. From the Indian city of Jaisalmer you can book an excursion in the desert, riding out into the empty desert with a guide on camels and camping for a night (or two or 30) in nature. Tori, Kelsi, and I booked a one night adventure and rode our camels off towards (but not all the way to!) Pakistan to see what the desert held for us.

Kelsi and her camel Dragon

A jeep ride out of Jaisalmer dropped us off with two guides and four camels for our journey into the desert. We set off mid morning with the goal of reaching some beautiful dunes by nightfall. We would spend the night there before a choice of camel or jeep ride back past a ruined city on our way to Jaisalmer where we had a train the following evening. It was a very long day of riding in the warm sun as we passed through arid pastures for sheep and goats, scrub land, and enormous dunes. 

Kelsi was the only one of the three of us who had ridden camels before and wisely asked that we have the option to take jeeps on the second day instead of riding camels again. Camels are indeed awesome, but can make the inexperienced rider a fair bit sore after several hours. We enjoyed our many hours of camel riding before enjoying the jeep ride back on the second day, saving our sore bums and thighs.

Tori and her camel Jed

Like any self-respecting tourist of the desert would do, we named the camels in our party. Tori christened her camel "Jed." Kelsi's was "Dragon," named for the smoke that came from her mouth when she belched, which happened frequently. (We also learned later that Dragon, like all our camels, was actually a he.) Our lead camel carrying our guides was named Jantar Mantar after one of my favorite sites in India. I named my camel "Camel 17," a joke I found so clever I kept cracking myself up over it.

I sit atop my steed, Camel 17. Despite the heat, I wore my jacket to shield me from the sun and, I'm happy to report, stayed clear of any sunburns.

Our guides, Mula and Maloo, were pretty amazing fellows. They both grew up and lived in one of the few small villages in the Thar Desert. The furthest either have been from their town is Jaisalmer, the city we came from. They said they make regular living leading tourists like us through the desert. One of the guides said that he could not read or write, but from his guiding picked up enough English, French, Russian, and Korean to guide tourists that spoke any of those languages.

Whenever we stopped for a meal or to rest, the camels were unloaded and allowed to wander as they liked. To ensure that they didn't wander off too far, our guides tied their front legs together, like you can see here.

For the evening, we camped out at a particularly large section of  sand dunes. The sand at the dunes was much different than what we've previously experienced at beaches, particularly in the US, where sand is gravely and hard. Instead, in the Thar Desert, the sand was cool and powdery, almost clean to the touch. It created beautiful hues when we clamored on top of the dunes to watch the sunset. 

Aside from the colors of the evening sky and giggling each time one of our camels belched, the highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the vast field of stars we saw as we laid out in blankets in the open air at night. The desert did get incredibly cold at night, but our guides had blanket after blanket after blanket that we piled on top of ourselves. I have been in the country and at camps where I could see stars, but never near as many as I saw that night. I wish I could have captured it in a photo... The sky was bright from the starlight alone.

Breakfast tea in the morning. Our guides made hot milk chai tea at every stop and it was always wonderful.

One sad aspect of the adventure was the litter we saw at some spot in the desert. The dunes we visited are pretty popular among desert excursions and we saw a fair number of empty bottles near our camp site. It wasn't everywhere, but it was noticeable. That said, we saw very few other visitors during our time in the desert and we enjoyed the eerie calm of alone-ness in the desert.

The meals we had in the desert were basic and filling, if not the most tasty we had in India. Dhal and chapatis with rice were what we had most of the time. We have had more flavorful versions of every item at one time or another earlier in our Indian time. That said, it felt like the food we had tasted more like what many Indians would have as everyday food at home and we appreciated that aspect of it. For the evening meal, we paid extra for goat meat, half of which was charred almost beyond recognition in "barbecue style" and the other half boiled and almost too chewy to eat. Still, we were grateful to be in such a beautiful, remote location for our evening adventure and for the work of our safari guides after a long, hard day.

We captured some video of our time in the desert. I think that it gives you a feel for several aspects of the adventure, specifically how the world looks on top of a camel.