At 1:30pm on Saturday 31st March 2018 we got the bus to Jaisalmer which is probably the furthest west that we, or the majority of travellers, would go when travelling India as it is on the border with Pakistan. We reached Jaisalmer at 7pm and had booked to stay at Toffu Safari Guesthouse which had been rated highly on hostelworld. They upgraded us from a dorm to a private room for free which was nice but also expected as every single person reviewing the guesthouse had the same happen to them which left us questioning whether there was actually a dorm at all. In total the room for the night only ended up costing us £2 so we certainly had no complaints in that respect. Saying that, I didn’t get a great vibe from the place and I don’t think it would be somewhere I’d stay at again.
Unlike Amritsar, which also lies on the border with Pakistan but much further north giving us cool temperatures to walk around in, Jaisalmer is in the Thar Desert and by midday reached temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius. These were the hottest temperature we had faced during our trip and it was exhausting! Even by 9:30am when we left the hostel the next morning it was already 35 degrees, rising fast, so was already hot, sweaty and slightly unbearable. Jaisalmer doesn’t really have an awful lot to see with the main attraction in the city being the fort. Rajasthan is full of forts but Jaisalmer’s is slightly different as it’s still lived in by locals and is full of stalls, activity and people generally going about living their lives. This was cool to see and also was helpful as it had small cafes and stalls to buy cold drinks and rest in some shade in the early afternoon. This fort had a few temples you could go in but we didn’t bother as you had to pay for them all. Instead, we chose to walk around the streets and see the shops and architecture from the outside.
The fort stood high over the rest of the city and had a number of cannons and embankments that gave you views over the surrounding areas and the edge of the Thar Desert. Really, you didn’t need too long here which was a good thing seeing as it was just getting hotter and hotter. I hadn’t slept well and the heat coupled with my exhaustion from a bad nights sleep was not a good combination so I was quite pleased when we’d seen all we wanted and could have a bit of a rest with a cold bottle of coke!The main thing that people come to Jaisalmer to do it a camel desert safari through the Thar Desert. There are trips to suit any budget from camping under the stars in a simple setting like we did to luxury ‘glamping’ sites with nice beds, tents, air conditioning and toilet complexes. Of course, with us being on a budget, we chose to go with the tour ran by our hostel which had good reviews on TripAdvisor and Hostelworld. It cost us 1,500 rupees (£16) each and involved camel rides, tea and breakfast and spending the night under the stars.
At 3pm we were picked up from our hostel and we were all given colourful turbans made from wrapping long sheets of cloth around our head to wear for the day to protect us from the sun. This was pretty cool and it actually did keep you cool which I hadn’t expected. There were four of us on the tour, another couple with the girl being from Poland and a guy from India who were both living in India. We had been told when we booked the tour that there would be around 5 or 6 of us staying out in the desert that night and this couple weren’t sleeping over so it was a bit disappointing to know we would be staying over night alone particularly as we had heard that a part of what makes the desert safaris so good is the social aspect of them. Alas, this is India and misrepresentation of your product isn’t a thing here so we just made the most of it and got on with the tour.Our first stop on the tour was to a gypsy village as we headed further into the desert. We didn’t really enjoy this as it’s strange to be told to walk around a village just to see how a few poor people live. It’s completely different when you’re shown around by someone living there who tells you how they cook food, collect water in the desert, make money or build their houses but our driver/guide didn’t even get out of the car and so it was really just us looking the at houses and trying to ignore the children of the village asking us for money.
The village consisted of a handful of huts that were made of stone, mud and dried branches for the roof. Later I asked how they made money and our guide told us that they worked as labourers in the nearby quarries but that they made a lot of their money through tourists. Aside from asking you for money, the children were inquisitive and friendly and one girl took particular interest in some of my piercings and pale skin.
Our next stop was to a deserted village. This was quite interesting as the village was pretty much still in tact despite being empty for 400 years. The guide didn’t have the best English (baffling considering his job) and as there was an Indian guy in our group he chose to just speak to him in Hindi which then led to him having to translate any information to us, I found this frustrating but thankfully having the Indian guy in our group meant that we at least got all of the information he was saying. The guide told us that the village had been deserted because a boy and a girl from different castes had wanted to get married. The girl’s family then left the village as well as everyone else living there so that the wedding wouldn’t take place and the village has remained empty ever since. I couldn’t believe that this was the reason as I would have assumed it was due to there being no access to water or a insect infestation or something over something to us that would be so trivial – particularly for an ENTIRE village to leave. The caste system in India ranks people based of their blood lines, income, professions and skin shade giving some people the view that they have more rights or are entitled to more things than others. There are a lot of rules that try and stop the caste discrimination as this went as far as certain people not drinking from the same glass, going into certain places or using certain entrances and exits at temples. It’s ridiculous but won’t even change as the new generations are brought up into that world and so pick up the same views and hierarchical roles.Before heading to the camels that we would be riding for the rest of the afternoon we were shown a small lake in the desert which was used by all of the animals in the area. The lake contained drinking water and the limited amount in the lake when we were there was said to have been in there for around a year. Each monsoon season the Thar Desert gets around one month of solidly falling rain that then fills up the lake and also brings precious water to the entire desert. We hadn’t known that the desert would get any rain but I guess it makes sense considering the extensive rainfall the rest of the country receives.The main part of our tour was riding camels through the desert. Our guide whilst we were riding the camels was called Rojya (pronounced Rosa) and he was also who would be cooking our meals that night and the following morning as well as who would be looking after us at camp that night. We all got given our camel with mine being called Rocket and Niall’s being called Johnny Boko.
On the left is Rocket and on the right is Johnny Boko
We rode through the desert for two hours until we reached our camp which was essentially just a fire place (the fire wood we collected on the way there) and a few beds that we would be sleeping on that night. I had expected slightly more particularly somewhere to go to the toilet so it looked like it would be a night of going back to nature for us both! The ride was nice but two hours is a long time to be on a camel and it wasn’t the most comfortable ride. What I did find funny is that we would occasionally pass a few female camels out in the desert and my camel, Rocket, would get very vocal and would try to veer towards the female! He obviously was particularly desperate for a mate and even lost his footing slightly a few times from not paying attention to where he was walking!
At 6:30pm we reached camp after travelling through dry, arid plains and soft sand dunes as the sun began to sink lower into the sky. We didn’t see anyone as we walked around the desert which was pretty cool and it was nice seeing the odd camel as well as the many goats and cows that we passed. I imagine life out in the desert would be incredibly peaceful as well as unbearably hot!
After we reached camp we just chilled whilst the fire was made and we were given some chai to drink. Me and Niall are big fans of chai so we enjoyed this and we also were given Indian crisps to eat while we waited for our tea to be made. We went up to the top of the nearby sand dunes to watch the sun set which was pretty but saw a few more camps from up there including there being music played from a village wedding nearby which did slightly take away from the ‘being in the middle of the desert’ vibe.
We got to know the couple that was also on the tour with us a bit better. The Indian guy had gone to university in the UK as well as travelling extensively so he was interesting to talk to to gain a westernised Indian’s perspective on the stark differences in their culture and food etc. We all had a reasonably nice evening and the food of roti, dhal, curried vegetables and rice was tasty even if it was a challenge to each it with our hands in the dark.
The moon was full that night and it had been cool to see the mood rising over the horizon after the sun had set as it was a beautiful orange colour at first. After the moon had fully risen you’d have thought there was a streetlight over your head it was that bright which meant that we didn’t see as many stars as we had expected.
At around 10pm the other couple left to go back to Jaisalmer and we were left to settle in for the night. There were a lot of bugs in the desert and we didn’t have mosquito nets so they were a slight issue throughout the night and we both got bitten quite a bit. Neither of us got a good nights sleep and I even had a desert dog jump onto of my bed whilst I was asleep as it wanted some attention which gave me the fright of my life! One cool thing about waking up during the night was that I got to see the moon moving through the night sky and I guess it was never likely that we would be sleeping soundly when on a hard bed in the open air in the desert anyway.
Niall ended up getting up before me and so did Rojya so breakfast was already being made when a herd of cows walked through our camp, waking me up. Rojya has six camels when we had gone to sleep that night and woke up to their only being three and so he would be spending the rest of his day once we left searching the desert for his wandering camels! He told us that Niall’s camel, Johnny Boko, had once been missing for four months before he had found him which is crazy!
After a breakfast of toast, jam, biscuits, chai and a type of porridge, we packed up and got back on the camels for a last ride to the car that would be taking us back to Jaisalmer. We could have gone on a long ride if we had wanted but our bums still hurt a bit from the day before and it only interested us for so long so we option for a short half an hour walk and also asked if we could get the camels to run for a bit as well. Rojya told us that every year camel races happen in the desert and that camels can run very quickly. It was fun to run with them particularly as you would bounce very high in the air which I found very amusing! It definitely wasn’t the most comfy but I’m glad he let us have a go.
It was around 9am when we got picked up by the car to be taken back to our hostel. We had enjoyed riding the camel even if it was for slightly too long a time and the food hadn’t been bad but I think, overall, we hadn’t thought too much of the whole experience. I think a bit part of this was that it was just us and so we missed out on their social side we had heard about when a good group of you all go out into the desert together. So that’s was slightly disappointing but we both agreed that we never thought this would be a highlight of our time in India and so it not being as good as we expected wasn’t the end of the world.
Once we got back to the hostel we were given a room to relax in and take a shower etc. We had decided that we would be getting a bus back to Jodhpur the same day and then spend a couple of nights at the hostel to rest and plan before heading on to Udaipur. Jaisalmer to Udaipur was around a 12 hour bus journey at night which is another reason why we chose to return to Jodhpur to break up the journey as well as the hostel having been so comfy and relaxing. We had aimed to get an air-conditioned bus at 11:30am to Jodhpur but when we arrived at the pick up point the bus wasn’t there and so we ended up haggling for cheap tickets on a bus without air-conditioning instead. By this point we were already very sweaty and so having a five hour journey without air conditioning no longer was an issue and we just wanted to get to Jodhpur. The journey ended up being fine and our next two nights in Jodhpur involved planning and relaxing. Two of the people who had been there before we left for Jaisalmer (Lollie and Kieran) were still there when we arrived back and then another guy (Gary) who we met before we left arrived back from his Jaisalmer trip the next day so we all went out for Thali that night to a nearby restaurant which was really nice. Thali is a set of a range of dishes such as dhal, curry, raita, rice, roti and popadoms, we had been meaning to try it for a while and it was very nice. It had been really nice to come back to somewhere familiar with people we knew (the staff were also great there – can’t fault the hostel at all) and it was just what we needed after the heat and lack of sleep in Jaisalmer.
I’m glad we went to Jaisalmer as it was good to see the Thar desert and ride some camels but it won’t be getting rated as a highlight of our time in India. I’m sure having more people or going with a different company would have made a difference but, then again, maybe it wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter though, everything can’t be an epic highlight and we are still glad to have seen it so that’s all that matters.
Sending Love x