Fully laden camels sitting in the desert near Jaisalmer, India
India Nature

Jaisalmer: Camel Trekking On The Silk Road

The camel edged nearer and nearer until it was peering over my shoulder, a little too close for comfort. It smiled at me, bearing its perfect yellow teeth before leaning in and clamping down on my arm. It chewed thoughtfully as we plodded along until I managed to wrestle my arm away.  I had thought camel trekking in India would be a lot of fun.  I hadn't expected to be nibbled by a camel as soon as we started moving.  Undeterred however, the mischievous 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 camel, 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 resting in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India

Lucky the Camel

Jaisalmer And The Silk Road

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

Jaisalmer is still favoured by passing visitors resting for a day or two before they mount camels and head off across the desert. However, these visitors are more likely to be tourists enjoying a couple of days camel trekking in the desert, following in the footsteps of the merchants of old.

The Camel Trekking Begins

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 so we clung on tightly as we were thrown forward, trying not to fall off before the front legs followed suit. When all three camels were standing, our guide, David, tethered them together and our camel train set off.

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

Camel trekking in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India

Our Camel Train

Villages In The 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 slightly larger 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 and made the task look easy.

Camels drinking water in village near Jaisalmer, India

The Watering Hole

As well as the water pumps, one village 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.

Camel Trekking In Style

Before departing, metres of garish orange fabric been carefully wrapped around our heads, men and women both sporting suitably different styles. We had laughed heartily at our turbans wondering if they were needed 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 turban became clear.  We really began to appreciate our new headwear.

Wild dog in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India

Our New Friend

David cooked for us on a tiny open fire when we stopped for lunch.  We indulged in fresh vegetable curry and handmade chapatti while under the watchful eye of a dog.  It circled us quietly, keeping a respectable distance until we left.  Then it quickly moved in to search for scraps.  Our camels meanwhile had shed their loads and been hobbled so they didn't wander too far.  They mooched around eating leaves while we relaxed in the shade of a tree.

Bird sitting on a bush in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India

White-Eared Bulbul

Wildlife In The Thar Desert

Back on our camels, we passed herds of cows grazing and goats rearing up on their hind legs trying to reach the higher branches.  A few small deer bounded past us and raced towards the ever present wind turbines in the distance.  We saw our fair share of beetles and birds too but sadly no snakes.  Their tiny tracks wiggled across the sand but the snakes themselves remained elusive.

Reaching a small patch of sand dunes, we dismounted and set up our camp for the evening.  We hadn't seen anyone for hours but no sooner had we arrived than a local villager appeared with a cooler of beer, keen to peddle his wares.  He didn't stay long.  We drank warm masala chai and filled up on another freshly cooked curry.  After a spectacular sunset over the sand dunes, we wrapped ourselves in blankets and settled down by the fire.  We lay on the sand watching shooting stars until we finally drifted off to sleep.

Sunset over the sand dunes in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India

Sunset Over The Sand Dunes

What Is Riding A Camel Like?

Camels are not the most comfortable mode of transport but they are a lot of fun. As we bounced along we realised we were stretching muscles that were not normally used. We certainly felt it the following day.  On the second day, we found it easier to sit sidesaddle, which gave our aching muscles a rest.

Arranging Camel Trekking In Jaisalmer

There are plenty of operators in Jaisalmer offering 2 and 3 day camel 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 though so be sure to check what's included. It's worth paying a little extra to have a camel to yourself, get more than one blanket to sleep under and better food.

We paid around 1100 rupees per day. There were only 3 people in our group and we had 2 guides looking after us.  We were given 2 blankets each. The food was good too. We had porridge for breakfast, freshly prepared curries for lunch and dinner and fresh fruit snacks. Bottled water was freely available.

Camel trekking through green fields in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India

More Greenery Than We Expected In The Desert

Thar Desert Camel Trekking Tips

If your legs get sore sitting astride a camel, try riding sidesaddle for instant relief.

It's hot and dusty in the desert and there's nowhere to wash. Wet wipes are a useful alternative.

Toilet paper is not provided so bring your own.

Even with a couple of blankets each, we still found it chilly at night in the desert.  Bring some extra layers or a light sleeping bag to keep warm.

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