Pretending to be Nomads in the Thar Desert

The light was starting to soften and the breeze picked up as we zipped up our jackets and tucked in our scarves. Although Summer was just around the corner, it was still definitely wintery as we strode across the ochre sand of the Thar Desert.

We had driven about 40km further west out of Jaisalmer, and 40km closer to Pakistan, to enjoy a night in a ‘luxury’ desert camp and the obligatory sunset camel ride. This was all part of our Webjet package tour and would prove to be one of the more memorable activities during our visit to India.

A cameleer leads two camels in the Thar desert
And we are off…

Yes, there was a little voice inside of me niggling away, berating myself for being such a ‘tourist’, but isn’t that what travel is all about? Opening yourself up to unusual experiences?

We could see our steeds waiting patiently for us outside the yard of our ‘luxury’ camp. They looked completely nonplussed by the whole experience, and in reality, were probably bored out of their brains. They didn’t blink as we approached and our cameleer jumped to attention to get us mounted up and away. He obviously had places to go and people to see, even if we didn’t.

Our camels were a tad moth-eaten which was the perfect complement to our saddles – layers and layers of old faded saris and patchwork blankets. The whole ensemble had seen plenty of tourist butts over the years, but that was the least of our worries. Getting up and staying on were far more immediate concerns.

A camel heads for the sand dunes in the Thar DesertNone too elegantly I hopefully flung a leg skywards and standing on tippy toes on the other leg, I could just push off to launch myself into the saddle. It had been a long time since I had ridden a horse and I could already imagine my sore muscles waiting for me the next day.

The cameleer checked we were all firmly ensconced before warning us (yet again) to lean back and hang on. We really didn’t need to be told twice. With a great lurch and stretch our camel clambered to his feet, threatening to tip us off as we reached death-defying angles. But No, there was no dislodging our vice-like grip.

With a ‘here-we-go-again’ attitude, our camels automatically turned to the path and started to pad softly over the shifting sand and tussocky grass. As we rocked and rolled along, I marvelled at Evolution cum natural selection and how well-suited camels are to their environment. Their flat, padded hooves splay neatly over the sand to provide maximum purchase to push off into the next stride.

Foot steps on the sand dunes - Thar desertOnce we were on our way, I could turn my thoughts away from the necessity of maintaining my death grip and let my eyes and thoughts roam across the landscape. At first it was a bit hard to exclude the polluted and ramshackle workers’ camps from view, but once over the small range of hills it was easier to forget modernity and imagine what it must have been like to travel like a true nomad.

Time would slow and be measured by rhythmic steps and the rise and set of the sun.

Days would dawn with the early morning dew on your skin or the sting of sand whipped up by relentless winds.

Life would be measured by the successful delivery of valuable goods on trade routes or the arrival at new and lush pastures.

But not for us…

After about 20 minutes of gentle sway we were out of sight of ‘civilisation’ and the majestic dunes of the Thar Desert stretched out in front of us. They truly are a work of nature and a work of art. Their shapes are graceful and crisp with a subtle ripple as the wind picks up layers of sand and drops it again to make endless new shapes and angles.

Sand dunes in the Thar DesertMy reverie was shattered by high-pitched squeals of excitement – or was that fear? With roaring engines, two 4WD jeeps lurched across neighbouring sand dunes, careering over the edge and disappearing into the gullies on the other side, only to emerge on a distant dune to repeat the process. Apparently some tourists prefer a much more adrenaline-packed visit to the Thar Desert than camels can provide.

My reverie dissolved further when I looked closer at the sand below and was disappointed to find a sprinkle of beer bottles, chip/crisp packets and soft drinks cans. Even out here in the regal desert, there is little respect for the environment. So much for my dreams of being a ye olde nomad making my way to the Silk Road. Reality and ‘civilisation’ were only a gear change away.

A shadow of a camel on sand dunes
Heading for home

As the temperature plummeted, we turned for home, passing an outbound camel train with their tourist cargo. Those folk must have been made of tougher stuff to see the sun set over the chilly dunes as we beat a hasty retreat to be warm and snug (or that was the plan) back at camp.

So, our ‘luxury’ accommodation turned out to be a rustic row of motley tents. On closer inspection the tents revealed two simple beds of questionable cleanliness and an ensuite with plumbing that shot all the liquid output out the back of the tent and into a shallow hole. No heating, no hot water and dodgy wiring with intermittent power supply to match. I am no princess, but if anyone tries to book you into the Seven Palms Desert Camp, don’t do it!

A cameleer in the Thar DesertBut perhaps that is all part of the desert and nomad experience and maybe ye olde nomads had a different definition of ‘luxury’? They certainly would not have been phased by bored camels and disgruntled cameleers!

What strange animal have you ridden lately?

February 2019

The Basics

What: A 19-day package tour of India, taking in the highlights of Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur and then onto Agra.

Where: Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, India.

When: February 2019.

Why: The desert experience was part of our itinerary and was a small respite from the hustle and bustle of main street India.

How: We had an amazing driver called Asif who took great care of us and took us off the beaten track!

Who: Three hardy Aussie ladies who learned and laughed every day of our Indian adventure.

Related Posts: to find out whether a Webjet tour to India is for you, have a read of my review.

Related Blogs: To continue a love affair with India, check out this blog complete with tips and tricks and some nice stunning photography.

Read About it: To learn more about the realities of living in India, have a look at the novels by Rohinton Mistry. They are beautifully written, an eye-opener and can be quite sobering, but a fabulous insight into Indian society. His novels are available from Book Depository.

Two people ride a camel in the Thar Desert
Fun? Of course we are having fun!

#nomadlife, #camelriding, #thardesert #rajasthan

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5 thoughts on “Pretending to be Nomads in the Thar Desert

  1. When I visited Jaisalmer, I steered clear of desert camps purely because it is a touristy experience. Even though my friends wanted to stay there for that “authentic” experience. We did visit Sam sand for a few hours and when we explored some of these tented accommodations, my assumption was right. never recommend staying in tents unless it is a luxury tent away from touristy areas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no doubt there are ‘camps’ and then there are ‘camps’, but I feel like I have done it now with no need to repeat the experience. I also wouldn’t recommend this activity as there are so many other wonderful places in Jaisalmer to see, stay and enjoy. I am officially in love with India! Mel

      Like

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