June 23. Our next destination was our desert safari and after the long and nauseating car ride, I was less than thrilled about hopping on the back of a camel in the blazing heat. On the way, Khan had tried to take us to a restaurant for lunch that was at least three times as expensive as we were used to. We got all the way in, sat down and took one look at the menu and got right back up. The guy pleaded with us and offered us a 30% discount. Even that wasn’t enough to make the price something we would pay. We waited around for Khan to, we assume, finish eating then asked him to take us somewhere else. We think he might have gotten a commission if we ate there, so he wasn’t super pleased about taking us somewhere else. We ate at the only other place that was open and were surprised when there was a family from Europe there as well. We smiled and wondered where they were going.
The rest of the drive was murder on my stomach as we swerved all over the road missing cows and goats. There were several times where the pavement just ended and for about 20-30 feet the road was gravel. Each of those times Khan would have to slam on the brakes and go around a barrier and I wanted to hurl. It was awful and it lasted for almost 3 hours. When we finally got to the safari place the family we had seen was there too. Apparently, we were all going on the safari together and they were waiting on us.
Turns out they are from Norway and we would later learn that they endured the very same ordeal that we had when we landed in Delhi. We truly felt for them, but they were excited to be seeing more of the country than they planned. So we waited and chatted with them until it got a bit cooler outside. Around 5:30 the guides ushered us to the camels. Leading up to doing this safari, I was under the impression that we would be sleeping in tents. I was wrong. We would be sleeping “under the stars.” This is gonna be interesting.
We greeted our camels and their drivers and they hoisted us up and told us to lean back while the camel stood up. It was terrifying, but once the camel was up, it was like being on a very tall horse. All our beds and sleeping mats were piled on the camels too, along with bottles of water and our overnight bags. Our desert trek was beautiful and peaceful – a welcome relief for the ears from the noisy streets of the city. The Thar Desert is in north west India and is only 55km from the border of Pakistan. It’s not what you’d imagine when you think of a desert in India. It’s more hard, dusty sand with sprinklings of desert shrubs and trees, rather than huge waves of sand. There are dunes though and we were trekking up one of the biggest ones. Once we got up it, they led the camels through the sand almost to the other side, where we would camp for the night.
There were already some bigger, two person cots out there, so we piled all our stuff on one and sat around chatting with the the Norweigan family. This is when we learned about their arrival ordeal. After we commiserated over our similar mistakes, we headed to the top of the dune to watch the sunset. For me, it was the best part of the safari. As the sun sank behind some clouds we turned to head back a noticed the sky darkening in the distance. We couldn’t tell what it was at first, maybe just some fog, though that seemed strange in the desert. As we walked back toward camp and toward the “fog” I realized that it was probably a sand or dust storm and it was huge and headed right for us. Great. When we reached camp we asked our guides about it and they said “Oh yea. Dust. Wind. Won’t last long.” Totally unconcerned. In a few minutes it was much darker and the wind picked up as the dust storm engulfed us. It was like being on another planet, if it’s anything like it seems in the movies. Very eery and creepy. It wasn’t as dusty as I expected but I got plenty in my eyes and mouth as we tried to eat dinner in the dark. Dinner was dal, potatoes, rice and bread that had all been cooked over the fire. I didn’t eat much and gave most of mine to Ethan. I was already ready to get the heck out of there and it was only 8pm.
We brought more cots over to sleep on and filled them up with mats to make them more comfortable. The guide had is move our beds to a “cleaner” area that maybe wasn’t as windy. I’m not sure what his plan was, but we went with it. There was no where to change or go to the bathroom, though all my water was coming out of my pores so I really didn’t even need to go. I couldn’t sleep in my sopping wet pants though so I took them off and hoped none of the guides really noticed. I covered up with my scarf, but it’s pretty sheer. Oh well! Doing my nightly routine standing in the sand, covered in sand, and in the dark was not fun, but I figured it out and laid down to sleep.
I was sweating all night and after a few hours was startled from my half asleep state by the obnoxious braying of a goat. This goat had lost its herd earlier and was following us around for safety I think until the morning. So somehow it decided that our spot was the best and had come over the sleep next to us. Well, it scared the crap out of me and I think I woke up the whole camp with my startled yell. I shooed the goat away, but he wanted to stay. All night long this friendly goat hung around, sleeping basically under Emily’s head. At one point, I opened my eyes and he was standing only a few inches from my face. I smacked him with my headband, but that little turd just stood there. Ugh. It was so creepy.
Needless to say, I did not sleep. I dozed in and out of consciousness, but never really slept. There were so many noises. Camels farting, the goat, people moving around, camels grunting and gurgling, birds, peacocks. And all the while, the dust storm prevented us from seeing the stars. Then the moon rose and was so bright you didn’t even need a flashlight. It was a long night.
June 24. Sometime in the early morning a guy came over to shoo the goat away. He stayed away the rest of the morning. I was kind of sad I didn’t say goodbye! Not long after, the guides came around to wake us up with tea. I still didn’t have any pants on and Emily was in her bra – it was real awkward. A little while later they brought us breakfast; toast and chapati with jam. Real hardy stuff! Just kidding. We scarfed down some chapati and tried to wake up. It was barely 7am and it was already getting hot.
Our trek back was a lot less exciting and my butt was still sore from the day before. It’s safe to say that I’ve had my fair share of camel riding. I think I’ll skip the next one if it’s ever an option again! We strolled back into town and after taking a few more pictures, I went straight to the bathroom to wash my hands and face. Khan told us our next destination wasn’t far, and while I wanted to shower there so badly I decided it could wait til Jaisalmer.
We are about to head to bed after a sleepy and hot day in Jaislamer. We didn’t do much here except sleep, eat and check out the view from the crumbling fort. I’m ready to get out of the desert and get to the beach. Only a few more days in India!