Thar Desert: Camel Trekking On The Silk Road

Group of camels sitting in the Thar Desert, India

The camel edged nearer and nearer until it was peering over my shoulder, a little too close for comfort. It smiled at me, baring its perfect yellow teeth before leaning in and clamping its jaws around my arm. It chewed thoughtfully as we plodded along until I finally managed to wrestle my now somewhat soggy limb from the camel's grasp.  Undeterred, the camel quickly found a new target, my camel's juicy rump.

“Charlie Brown is a very naughty camel” our guide exclaimed as he reordered the camel train. He wasn't wrong there. With Charlie Brown now just in front of my extremely docile, well behaved mount, I could see just how often he tried to bite anything within reach, not to mention the nearly constant farting and pooping as he walked along.

Camel train stretching in front across the Thar Desert, India

Our Camel Train

The Silk Road

In Roman times, caravans traversed the Thar Desert laden with luxurious silks, exotic spices and expensive perfumes. In the hope of making their fortunes, the traders risked the harsh conditions, bandits and disease on their arduous journey along the Silk Road, the trade route linking the Mediterranean with the Far East. As a safe place to rest and resupply, the desert town of Jaisalmer was a popular stop.

Passing travellers still rest in Jaisalmer for a day or two before mounting camels and heading off across the desert. However, these visitors are more likely to be tourists exploring Rajasthan and enjoying a couple of days camel trekking in the desert.

Camel Trekking into the Thar Desert

Mounting our camels, we sat wedged between the blankets, bags and packages of food and water that we'd need over the coming days. The back legs straightened first and we lurched forward trying not to fall off before the front legs followed suit. When all 3 dromedaries were standing, our guide, David, tethered them together and our camel train lurched into action.

We crossed flat sandy plains dotted with dry grass, coarse shrubs and small prickly trees. Barren patches of terracotta rock broke up the terrain, crunching underfoot as our camels, spurred into a run, jerked along in a comical fashion with us bouncing around on top.

Camel sitting in the Thar Desert, India

Lucky the Camel

Life in the Thar Desert

Tiny settlements, collections of simple sandstone houses, appeared frequently. The smallest children would run towards us waving and chattering excitedly as we rode by. One young boy, clearly deemed old enough to wield a stick, was gainfully employed herding goats through his village. Not much taller than the goats himself, he was surprisingly adept at keeping them in line.

Although well equipped with water pumps, one village also had a large concrete pool, the perfect watering hole for our thirsty camels. They gulped and slurped down gallons of water, the only drink they needed in the couple of days we were with them.

Camels drinking from pool in Thar Desert village, India

The Watering Hole

Before starting our trek, metres of garish orange fabric had been carefully wrapped around our heads, men and women both sporting suitably different styles. We had laughed heartily at our turbans wondering if they had been provided so our guides wouldn't lose us in the desert. However, trekking along with the hot sun beating down on us, the purpose of the turbans became clear and we really began to appreciate our new head wear.

A lengthy lunch break in the shade of a tree offered us some well need respite from the heat. With just one pot, a spoon and a tiny fire constructed from a few dry twigs, David managed to prepare quite a feast. We eagerly devoured our fresh vegetable curry with handmade chapatti and washed it all down with a good cup of chai. The pan was then buffed clean with sand, a surprisingly effective alternative to water.  We were joined by an extremely patient feral dog that watched over us, moving in as we departed to search for tid bits and crumbs.

Feral Dog in the Thar Desert, India

Feral Dog

White-eared bulbul sitting on apple of sodom plant in Thar Desert, India

White-eared Bulbul

The dog wasn't our only animal encounter in the desert.  Herds of deer bounded across the flat plains and goats grazed, perched up on their hind legs to reach the most succulent leaves.  White beetles scuttled across the sand and small birds sang from the bushes.  Here and there we saw the tell tale ripples marking a snake's recent path.  Sadly the snakes themselves were nowhere to be seen.

Late afternoon we arrived at a photogenic patch of sand dunes, where we set up camp for the night.  Our camels, hobbled with a thin rope, grazed on nearby shrubs as we enjoyed yet another hearty meal.  As night fell, we wrapped ourselves in blankets on the sand and slept under the stars.  The clear skies criss-crossed with shooting stars were a spectacular end to our day.

Sunset behind sand dunes and trees in the Thar Desert, India

Sunset Over the Sand Dunes

Where Can I Try Camel Trekking?

There are plenty of operators in Jaisalmer offering 2 and 3 day camel trekking safaris. It's easiest to arrange a trip through your hotel or guest house, although you may find slightly cheaper prices elsewhere. You do tend to get what you pay for so be sure to check what's included. It's worth paying a little extra to have better food, a camel to yourself and more than one blanket to sleep under.
We paid around 1100 rupees per day. We were given 2 blankets each. The food was good. We had freshly prepared curries for lunch and dinner, porridge for breakfast and bananas and oranges to snack on. Bottled water was readily available for drinking and cooking.
Camel trekking past green fields in Thar Desert, India

Green Fields in the Desert

Camel Trekking Travel Tips

If your legs get sore sitting astride a camel, try riding side saddle for instant relief.
Toilet paper is not provided so bring your own.
It's hot and dusty in the desert and there's nowhere to wash. Wet wipes are a useful alternative.

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