The first day of our 3-day camel trek in the Thar Desert was a blast! We met Punja and Madan our guides; Laloo, Papoo, and Big Kona, our camels for the trek. We visited local villages, where we learned about the desert village life. In the afternoon we hiked on sand dunes and slept our first night under the desert sky. What a first day and night! Hopefully, Day 2 would be as thrilling as Day 1!
Waking up with Moon and Sun
The camp was still very peaceful, as I woke up as the nights slowly disappeared and made way to the first lights of the rising sun. While the sun was still well hidden, the glow of the white and yellow rays started to fill in the horizon. The moon stood lower in the sky and was a nice contrast with the upcoming sun. I sat watching for a while, wrapping myself in the blankets as a light cool breeze blew across the camp. Bruno slowly woke up and we both quietly enjoyed the glowing red rays of the sunrise.
Soon I heard Punja calling “Chai, chai” – the now-familiar rallying cry. We dressed up quickly – easy to do when it’s just a matter of putting the shoes on – and rejoined him by the open fire. Hot water boiled while we exchanged our morning chit chat. Our breakfast came shortly after, porridge, banana, bread, butter, and jam – plenty to fill our stomach and warm up our body.
As the temperatures rose, we broke down camp after another great breakfast. We were back on the camels in no time and made our way towards the mid-day meeting point.
Indeed the other couple in our party would leave that day. We passed through more sand dunes and rocky fields. We crossed a larger sand dune area, the Pukhar dunes, which was pretty impressive.
We passed by herders’ huts and herds of goats and even spotted several chinkaras, the Indian gazelle.
We reached the meeting point in the late morning and farewelled to our new traveling companions. As we departed from the jeeps, we followed several camels and guides. It was an impressive sight, about 20 camels, and their masters all trotting together through the desert! The reason of the gathering was simple – the camels needed water.
We passed by a village and reached the water cistern and a long tank. About half a dozen camels spread around the well to drink their stomach full. Another memorable moment, standing among the gentle beasts sucking the water in sync.
The guides checked quickly on the animals and gear and chatted up with friends and fellow guides. On our end, we relished in the village scene unfolding in front of us. Camels, guides, kids playing, women wrapped in the colorful saris filling their water pots…
After sending off Madan back to his village and school starting the next day, we continued our route through the same routine than the day prior.
Our lunch stop was yet another great spot – a nearby Lokhri dune where we rested under the shades of the acacia trees. The camels stretched their long necks to reach the upper branches.
Herds of goats stopped by and munched on the occasional bushes. A woman and a young girl carried water back to her nearby village. A kid on his donkey. Lunch was an intimate setting since we were just the two of us together with Punja. That did not prevent him from preparing a full Indian meal, again with chapati and dhal. The subsequent siesta under the acacia trees was more than welcome!
Going Deeper into the Thar Desert
The afternoon ride took us deeper into the desert, further away from the windmills and the villages. The three of us wandered slowly through the arid landscape, passing more sand dunes and rocky plateaux. As the afternoon passed toward its end, we reached our camp for the night – the Khaba sand dunes. A small dune was facing a lower open valley stretching miles, a few acacias scattered here and there. No one in sight. Just a few cows.
With our now well-established routine, Punja set up the kitchen camp while Bruno and I searched for our spot for the night. We settled on a higher vantage on the dune, though Punja did not want us to go too far. He worried we would get lost during the night if we wanted to go for a bathroom break. He preferred to keep us at shouting distance. We compromised and went far enough we did not see the campfire but sufficiently close to keep Punja reassured.
Shortly after we were drinking the chai, we spotted camels further out camp. I thought these were our camels, but Punja mentioned he saw a few females with young calves ten days old. He suggested we went to check in case these were the same animals. Off we went, and lucky us, these were indeed the females accompanied by two cute calves. One was black, the other white. The two appeared to enjoy their time together, playing while following the mothers. Bruno and I watched for a while, soaking in the quiet of the desert, basked in the soft lights of the late afternoon, breathing in the earthy scents.
Sunset over the Khaba Sand Dunes
Learning about Village Life in Rajasthan
The quiet continued through the evening as we dined on another freshly cooked meal from Punja. The three of us discussed culture and traditions in Rajasthan, and Punja did not mind our rolling questions about the life in the village, how the cast system was still pretty much in effect, the hardship due to the lack of water, and anything in between. We discussed the differences between women and men relationships in India compared to the rest of the West world.
Punja told us about his family, from which he was separated, lived about 25 km from Jaisalmer. A father of four boys aged from 2 to 10, he started to work as a guide for Trotters Travel and Tours at 16 following his uncle’s footsteps and worked for them ever since. He could write and read in his native language, but could only speak English which he learned to work in the tourism industry. Punja was profoundly thankful for his work and to Delboy, the founder of the company, who came from the same village Damundra. He stressed how Delboy made sure to hire people and camels from the local communities. He also mentioned several times how Delboy and the company helped these villages financially during rough times, for example when the drought would prevent the fields to yield any harvest.
Once again we were appreciative of Punja’s good English as we could converse and talk nuances as we compared Western and Indian ways of life. As I apologized for all these inquiries, he laughed it out and replied he rather had questions and learned on his end, than sitting in silence with people showing no interest about Rajasthan and the desert. That reassured us a little though we tried to be mindful about our questions.
Sleeping under the Stars
Tired from a hard day rocking on my camel, I left Bruno and Punja and headed to our blankets. Not before veering a little further away for a short bathroom break. As I stood alone in the dark, hidden between bushes, I understood why Punja has been insistent for us to stay close. No sound, no light, no sense of direction – it would be so easy to get disorientated and lost. Luckily the glow of the campfire pierced through the night and guided me back to camp. I probably wouldn’t benefit from this light in the later hours, and made sure to stay close if I had to wander again.
I slipped into my sleeping bag and wrapped myself in the blanket, laying down comfortably. The dark sky was my entire world, scintillating of billions of stars. The moon was still quite full but hadn’t risen yet. Bruno rejoined me moments later, and we cuddled together as we admired the night. No sound, no light, just the perfect night sleeping under the stars. Too soon the night passed. We woke up early to enjoy our last sunrise in the desert. Our sleepy eyes slowly opened as the dark sky made way to the pink and orange rays of the sun. We soaked in again in the fantastic scenery, trying to memorize the moments as much as we could.
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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.