After our few days in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, Bruno and I were keen on renewing the desert experience. This time we decided to go on a camel trek in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. We reached Jaisalmer for the Desert Festival (highly recommended!), making the “Golden City” the perfect starting point for this adventure. Since camels are the traditional means of transport, we decided to explore on the desert animals.

The arid region of the Thar Desert mostly sits in India though a smaller portion stands in Pakistan. Composed of sand dunes, rocky valleys, and thorny bushes, the Thar is one of the most densely populated deserts on the planet. Local villages support themselves through livestock and agriculture, though the latter part is made hard by the limited rainfalls.

India, Rajasthan. Rising sun over the Thar desert windmills

Rising sun over the Thar desert windmills

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. First morning sunrise.

First desert sunrise (Bruno hates this blurry photo, but it reminds me how special the moment felt)

Knowledge of the desert is, of course, the key to ensuring that the environment and local culture are respected. We also wanted to make sure animals were treated well. After a quick research, we signed up for a 3-Day Camel Trek with Trotters Independent Tours and Travel. The local tour operator had raving reviews about their organization and the respect to their staff included the four-legged ones. One important element was that Delboy, the founder of the company, came himself a village and was supportive of the local community.

Day 1 – Starting our Camel Trek

We met our pickup at the Trotters Tours and Travels office by the Jaisalmer Fort entrance, centrally located and easy to find. We left our bigger backpacks with them and kept the small ones for the trip. Given we would sleep under the stars in the Desert in February, we packed a few jackets, beanies, and scarves for the colder temperatures. The company offered us to take a tent, but we passed on the option. Blankets were at our disposal, but I knew I would get cold easily and took our sleeping bags. Nothing could prevent us from that night-under-the-stars experience!

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Our pickup 4WD.

Our pickup 4WD bringing us to the Thar Desert

We left town quickly with our driver in the 4WD and everything still quiet at the wee hours. After about 30 minutes we reached a small village. Our driver picked up some supplies from our trip while we sipped hot cups of fresh chai offered while waiting. Upon resuming our journey, we soon reached a small dune where we met Punja and Madan, our guide and cook for the trip. Punja was a senior guide, Madan a high school student replacing his father for the weekend.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Our guide Punja and cook assistant Madan

Our guide Punja and assistant cook Madan

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Meeting the crew.

Meeting the crew

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Our camels under the sunrise lights

Our camels under the sunrise lights

Close by stood Big Kona, Lalou, and Papou – my camel, Bruno’s and the pack camel. Another couple from Brazil was with us and would be our partners for the next day. Madan was already busy gathering the wood for the boiling the water for another chai and preparing our breakfast. As it would be the case for the rest of the trip, Punja made everything from scratch, the dough of the chapati, the dhal, the vegetables – everything!

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Crunching fresh cardamon for the chai

Crunching fresh cardamon for the chai

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. The art of preparing chai

The art of preparing chai

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Bruno enjoying his fresh cup of chai

Bruno enjoying his fresh cup of chai

We ate under the rising sun, enjoying the scenery tremendously and appreciating the silence after the town street noise. Punja went on gathering the cooking set and utensils and packing the camels with our food for the next two days. And then it was time. Time to go on our camels.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. First moments on Big Kona

Punja helping me on Big Kona

Approaching Big Kona from the left side like a horse, I tried to jump on the saddle. It was somewhat harder than expected because of the lack of stirrups. Punja held onto my camel, and said, “Lean back. Hold strong”. I would hear these words many times over in the coming days! Big Kona’s head would rise first and give a gentle nudge. But when his back would raise, and you better be holding tight indeed! Imagine a sharp push up as if you were standing vertically instead seating. Up, back, and sharp. Then the final front push where the camel finally stands up.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Ready to ride out our camel trek

Ready to ride out our camel trek

Punja attached Lalou, Bruno’s camel, to mine, and grabbed the rope to lead my camel. I asked whether we could manage our camels by ourselves. Punja shook his head in an energic no, half-kind laughing, half-serious, as in “you don’t know what you would get yourself into.” I was somewhat disappointed, being an experienced horse rider, but I quickly realized how wise for Punja lead the way. The camel neck is completely flexible and trying to put any pressure to navigate pointlessly. At some point we would see Punja trying to make his camel turn – the whole neck and head twisted and bent, but the camel did not turn.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Working on that selfie angle.

Working on that selfie angle…

My small bag hung from the front of the saddle, and I tugged my legs to the side, trying to find a way to stabilize my position. Talking about bags, the smaller, the better. Too big and it might not allow you to get your legs in position or stretch time to time. Some items like our sleeping bags traveled with the rest of the groceries and food on the back of the camels.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Windmills from the army & old tomb stone.

Windmills from the army & old tombstone

Village Life in the Desert

The next two hours passed quickly as we familiarized ourselves with our camels, asked Punja questions after questions about village life. The landscape reflected some urban developments: windmill set by the Army, dirt roads, herds of goats, electrical posts, plowed fields, and scattered villages. We stopped by one of these. A cluster of small houses, livestock parks, kids running around, women carrying water on their head or their hips.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Desert village

Desert village

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Old lady by her summer house.

Old lady by her summer house

Several of the women invited us to their homes – plural – as most of the families have a summer and a winter house. The winter houses are built of our stones or concrete, the summer houses of mud-walls and breezy thatched roofs. Neat ochre and white designs decorated the outside walls of the summer houses. The one-room small building contained an earth oven as well as a gas stove, a couple of utensils, and a niche for a few produce and grains.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Neat house and entrance yard

Neat house and entrance yard

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Inside the front courtyard

Inside the front courtyard

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Old lady in the village

Old lady in the village – many stories to tell

Kids and women were giggling and eager to show us around. We shared small contributions to the houses we visited though the kids were insistent in getting money as well. In retrospect, I would have loved to share with the village elders instead of the individual persons as to make sure the whole village benefits and not just the ones with the brightest houses that clearly knew how to interact with foreigners.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Inside the summer house kitchen

Inside the summer house kitchen

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Inside the summer house - thatched roof.

Inside the summerhouse – thatched roof

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Playing with the kids

Playing with the kids

Camel Heritage

We soon stopped for lunch in an open field. Punja tied the legs of the camels to prevent them from disappearing. This shocked me at first, but then I saw the camels wandering around, snacking as they went, laying down and resting. Yes, the ropes limit their movements and they had a weird hop, but they could roam as they wished. Too often the animals are just tied to a tree or branch with such a short rope that they can’t move their heads, feed on the grass, or rest properly.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Punja tying up the camels

Punja tying up the camels

This gave me pause. Granted tying an animal is never great, and one can think about animal abuse like we see unfortunately too often in animal tourism. Now I saw Punja treat his animals with respect. They were well fed and showed no sign physical abuse. We carried feed for them for the evenings and stopped on the second day to water them. He checked on each animal before saddling them, cleaning and clearing around the stomp before putting the blankets and saddles.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Lunch break for everyone - it's camel time too!

Lunch break for everyone – it’s camel time too!

Camels have been part of the desert life for centuries if not millennia. While these animals are exotic for Westerners, they are part of the desert life like dogs and horses are for us. And we do tie up our dogs and horses to some extent. Camels are a source of revenue through breeding and tourism. Each animal costs a small fortune for the villagers – between 30,000 to 40,000 INR (460 to 620 US$) for a 2 or 3-year-old animal – and owners usually take care of them accordingly.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Wandering around searching for the best branches

Wandering around searching for the best branches

Punja told us a story about a customer wanting to try camel meat one of the evenings on safari. No beef or sheep – camel. Punja sought to discourage the client but following the customer’s insistence and a show of knife, he contacted the tour management who interrupted the customer’s journey, away from the camels. As I asked him whether he never ate camels, Punja looked shocked, shook his head and said “never!”. So while we Westerners might not agree with the whole treatment of the camels, and unfortunately not all guides or tour operators treat their animals properly, I was glad we chose Trotters Tours and Travels.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Punja preparing the campfire for our lunch

Punja preparing the campfire for our lunch

Desert Cuisine

Back to our lunch preparation, Punja fixed everything from scratch. Cutting fresh produce, working the dough for the chapati, crunching the fresh cardamom before preparing the hot chai. All cooked on an open fire, desert-style. It was incredible to watch him create the delicious meal out of simple items and with a limited kitchen. As trekkers, we use freeze-dried meals, so we don’t have to cook on the trail. Kudos to our desert chef!

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Team work preparing lunch

Team work preparing lunch

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Vegetable dish

Vegetable dish

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Spicy!

Spicy!

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Desert chapati

Desert chapati

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Rajasthani Lunch in the Thar Desert

Rajasthani Lunch in the Thar Desert

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Kitchen cleanup - desert style: with the sand!

Kitchen cleanup – desert style: with the sand!

We rested for another hour or so after lunch – a welcome break and an excellent way to stay in the cool shades during the hot noon sun.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Lunch break - human version

Lunch break – human version

Thar Desert Sand Dunes

Following a routine similar to the morning, we were back in the saddle in no time. Our journey continued through the rocky plains and by military windmills until we reached the first sand dunes. Trotters warned us that the Thar Desert is no Sahara with endless sand dunes. As I kept this in mind, the numbers of sand dunes I saw during our three-day trek surprised me. We stopped and went for a walk through the Kadar dunes, admiring the scenery and feeling the hot sand. The afternoon sun shaped the dunes shadows and gave a warm glow to the horizon.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Our first sand dunes, the Kadar dunes

Our first sand dunes, the Kadar dunes

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. The Kadar dunes under the afternoon sun

The Kadar dunes under the afternoon sun

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Enjoying the peace and quiet of the Thar Desert

Enjoying the peace and quiet of the Thar Desert

Our camp for the night at the Digi sand dunes came soon after, where we joined other groups from Trotters. Punja set his kitchen corner close to a thatched cabana, where we could spend the night if we so chose. In the meantime, Bruno and I set to watch our first Thar Desert sunset. The colors reddened, the sun glowing starkly against the darkened sky. We felt so small and at the same time, in unity with our environment. Very special moments…

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Sunset over the Kadar dunes

Sunset over the Kadar dunes

Dinner was another perfect desert meal, even complete with sweet rice for dessert. We enjoyed the evening campfire and even got Punja and Madan to sing a few traditional desert songs – really lovely. The presence of the other tourist groups nearby took away some of the remote feels though, as the bigger groups rejoiced around jokes and music.

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Evening campfire.

Evening campfire

Bruno and I set our blankets further up the sand dunes, soon alone in the world. The noise of the group fainted away, apart from the occasional burst of laughter. We settled for the night, nestled under a pile of blankets. Our warm sleeping bags made the night even cozier. We had watched the sunset before dinner and watched as the full moon rose shortly after, illuminating the camp the whole night. It was still visible as the sunrise caught up in the early hours – a full cycle of sun and moon!

India. Rajasthan Thar Desert Camel Trek. Full moon over the Kadar sand dunes, Thar Desert

Full moon over the Kadar sand dunes, Thar Desert

How was our first night in the Thar Desert, you wonder? Well, stay tuned for the next post on our 3-day camel trek adventure!To receive our next adventures directly in your mailbox, sign up for our newsletter!

This 3-day camel trek was in partnership with Trotters Independent Tours & Travels Thank you for the terrific opportunity! Our opinion is our own and is not impacted by this partnership.

 A Fantastic 3-Day Camel Trek in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan