I spent a whole week trotting through the Thar Desert in Rajasthan at the back of a camel. It was a rewarding experience but the realities of the desert turned out to be completely different from what I’d imagined. I had imagined a sandy path leading into vast open spaces of sand and sand dunes where nothing could survive. As it turned out, there’s plenty of flora, fauna and people living in the desert.
To start with, please make sure that you choose a reputed tour operator and have a humble guide accompanying you through your journey. The guide doubles up as your cook. An indecent guide can make life hell! We were lucky to have a fantastic guide. But on the last afternoon, we were sent off with a lad whose attitude pissed us off. Insist on speaking to the guide over the telephone before booking the trip.
Bishnoi is corruption of Bis meaning twenty and noi meaning nine. Bishnoi people are followers of Guru Jambheshwar. He laid down 29 principles for his followers. These 29 principles emphasise on the conservation of flora & fauna, personal hygiene and good health habits. And in keeping these principles, non-vegetarian food is neither cooked nor consumed on Bishnoi land.
Our camel-men came from Bishnoi villages. They would collect firewood as we moved along.
We got going from a village 36km away from Bikaner in the direction of Jodhpur.
Camel paths are paved throughout the desert. You’ll come upon shrubs and trees on either side of these paths. Look around and you’ll find antelopes, blackbucks, foxes and a wide variety of birds such as vultures, eagles, Indian rollers, desert sparrows and lapwings etc.
The villages are rich in livestock such as cows, buffalos and goats etc. Peacocks and peahens are found in large numbers in some of the Bishnoi villages. I had never seen so many peacocks before. It makes me want to go back there during the monsoons to photograph them dancing in all their glory.
It’s really up to you to decide how many hours in a day you’d like to spend travelling through the desert. We kept our total travel time to less than 4 hours, 2 hours during the mornings and 2 in the evening. Instead, we focused our energies on exploring the turf and all it’s flora, fauna and the villages rather than just trotting past them.
My day would begin at the break of dawn, as I wanted to make the most of the morning light for my photography. An hour later, our guide would serve us tea and aloo parathas.
Don’t worry about it, there’s plenty of food in the Thar Desert. I have done a detailed blog post about the food served to us during this safari. After breakfast, we would trot on for a couple of hours before camping for lunch in the shade.
On one occasion, an abandoned school provided us shelter from the blazing afternoon sun. Children stopped coming to school because of irregularities on the part of its teachers. That’s an unfortunate tale.
An hour-long siesta followed lunch.
And then later, after a couple of hours of trotting, we’d camp for the night. Carry your own tent and sleeping bag if possible.
I found that no matter how far into the desert you go, you’re never too far off from a tar road made for vehicles.
One night we camped on sand dunes. But these sand dunes are a lot different from some of the photos I’ve seen in that it’s full of small shrubs and the odd tree. Electric poles lined 270° of the horizon.
INTERESTING FACT: A couple of weeks after returning home, I came upon photographs of vast and intense sand dunes online. I emailed our Fix asking him about it. Apparently the Thar Desert that I had imagined does exist at a village called Karnisar Bhatian near the Pakistan border. I’d like to go there soon.
The desert is alive. Plants, animals, birds and people thrive along the routes of these camel safaris.
Choose your tour operator and guide wisely.
DEFINITELY CARRY A TORCH.
Carry your own tent/sleeping bag, toilet paper and some dry fruits, biscuits & chocolates etc.
Bottled mineral water is provided.
There’s plenty of food and milk in the desert. Don’t worry about it.
Purchase a storm cover for your DSLR camera. It will prevent sand from clinging onto your camera and lens.
Children will come up to you asking for pens. I don’t understand why! You can always purchase some locally made sweets at the village provision store to keep them satisfied.
The quality of hotels near the railway station at Bikaner is very average. Some have geysers and showers installed in every room, others don’t. Check before checking-in!
_ BE HAPPY!