A night in the desert under the Stars

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August 23rd 2015
Published: November 15th 2015
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No chapatti no Chai: No woman, no cry.

Chicken curry don't worry.

Life's long, you don't have to worry.

These are the words spoken by our guide Papu who sat in front of a crackling fire, making chapati and had us all laughing by his funny rhymes and wise words.

Deep in the majestic Thar Desert we all sat in near darkness apart from the light created from the flickering orange flames (from our camp fire) and the glow from the night stars.

In the distance there was nothing but sand dunes, vegetation and the occasional wild animals. The location was very tranquil.

When we took note of what we could hear there was nothing. Nothing but the crackling fire, the low hums and high whistles of the wind. No traffic noise or signs of life apart from the noises created by our group; The relaxed chatter between us all, the clapping noises from the chapati making and the sounds of the camp dogs chasing each other.

Paying attention to our other senses we felt the cool breeze of the wind as it created a cooling relaxing blow over our faces.

We all were relaxed. Content by our wonderful day spent camel riding. Camels now in resting, the group was chatting easily, while our guides were making the final food preparations for our evening meal. We were awaiting a night full of singing, laughter and satisfying silence gazing up at the stars.

It’s experiences like these that we will never forget. The night we spent in the Thar desert.

Our night was purely magical and we felt nothing but happiness and contentment. No worries, no pondering over the past or the future. Just living in the moment. Just our group, camels and the Thar desert. It was a night of perfect simplicity.

Let’s take it back however.

Arriving in Jaisalmer after an early morning train from Jodhpur we were picked up from the hectic station from our cheaply booked guest house, located not too far from the station itself.

Our guest house was located outside of the fort walls with wonderful views of the magnificent fort that lay in front of us. A huge sandy golden fort perched on top of the hill.

With its colour and texture we likened it to a giant version of a sand castle. Infact the whole town looked like a sandcastle city.

What made this fort stand out from many of the other forts we had visited was its golden like appearance, but mainly that this fort (like Chittorgarh) was inhabited. It had a population of around 3000 people.

Looking up at the fort from our balcony, you could see a mismatch of tightly squeezed buildings all brought together by their sandy colour and their square-ish designs.

As a result of the over populated numbers in the fort, the lack of a good drainage system and the fragile sand it stands upon, you can see clear signs of wear and tear. Water damage, signs of the wall movement and the various attempts to reconstruct it. Despite all of this, we still could not help but stare up at it and be amazed.

You do have the age old argument of whether to stay inside or outside of the fort. We stayed outside the fort as we liked gawping up at it. You know the kind where you stare mouths wide open looking amazed. Many travellers who we met always asked us why we were staying on the outside when you could stay inside the fort. Well for us staying in the fort would still mean staying in a similar guesthouse, with no indication that you were in staying in a fort apart from the views below of the golden city. That is if you were lucky to be based near the wall. Guess it’s a personal choice.

One of the first things that hit us in Jaisalmer was the heat. With temperatures hovering around 35 degrees and clear blue skies the strength of the sun would make our skin prickle. It was unbearable. When we made comments that it was too hot the locals would always reply that it gets a lot hotter than this in the months of May and June, just before monsoon. Wow. It was already unbearable. Glad we missed those months. You would think all this travel makes adjusting to the heat easier. Well it didn't. Jaisalmer was unbearably hot.

On our day of arrival we said to ourselves first things first… a fruit lassi. We sought out a fruit lassi from a very reputable shop, also selling the popular bhang lassi's (lassi with marijuana). It was located just outside the fort. We would rate the fruit lassi's here to be in joint top position to the Lassi shop in Jodhpur. Thick and yoghurty in texture, not too sweet and with yummy small pieces of apple in Chris's and pomegranate in P's. They were delicious.

After comparing a few tour agencies for a camel safari (one of the most popular activities here) we settled on the Sahara travels for a tour over 2 and a half days and one night. One reason we chose them is because they had a futon like bed. This came highly recommended from other travellers we met in order to avoid being kept awake by the sandy winds hitting your face and to stay above the creepy crawlies that lay below. One girl we spoke with beforehand said she had even seen a scorpion!!

Before the tour we took our time to explore some of the city and the fort. We meandered around the lanes of the fort, the outer walls that you could explore (dodging the cow dung) and after a while ended up sitting on a round platform with amazing views over the city. This city is known as the golden city due to all of the sandy golden buildings like the colour of the sand castle ahem fort.

In time for sunset we returned to our guesthouse and sat on our balcony, enjoying the perfect views of the sun setting, over a lovely cashew nut curry for P and a West meets Indian blend of chapati and chips for Chris. His stomach continued to unsettle him so that was the best he could do plus having stomach troubles on a camel didn’t sound like fun.

The following day we had a little bit of time to waste before going on our camel safari. We opted for the 3pm start and not the 11am start. The idea of 5 hours on a camel in this sun was just too much. 2 hours the first day and 2 hours the second day would do us just fine.

We therefore decided to explore the winding narrow lanes of the city. Chris purchased a much needed belt (his pants now nearly falling off him) and we stopped for another lassi. We could not get enough of them.

We also stopped by a group of Havelis. Havelis are buildings that are beautiful in architectural designs and were once upon a time private mansions. Don’t know if some still exist. They say they’re houses but from the outside you would be more inclined to thinking that it was an expensive hotel.

There were a few Havelis right next to each other so we decided to visit the one without a fee to enter. All appear very grand and intricately carved from the outside with curved doorways and windows. Because of the gold like colour they all looked like some intricately carved houses made out of gold.

Inside there were multiple murals on the walls. All still brightly coloured. Many ceilings had been restored well keeping the original styles and designs. Some of the rooms were really fancy with a mosaic tiled mirrored ceiling that surprised us with how grand it must have been. We went into a room for entertaining guests and the adjoining kitchen. The kitchen resembled something you would likely see in Harry Potter a small room filled with shelves on shelves, designed in a mismatch pattern. Overall it was pleasant exploring if only to see how the rich once lived in these very grand buildings.

On the way back we encountered a small walkway whereby you could easily stand on one side and touch the other. We needed to get down it to get to the tour agency and begin our camel safari. Only problem was that a huge cow stood in the middle of it looking at us like if to say “I will not budge”.
Chris said we could squeeze past it but P wouldn’t dare, rather not risk upsetting or irritating this cow. Instead we waited for the cow to walk through. Yes tourists we were indeed.

Back at the tourism office we met Tamir (a traveller from Israel) on this tour and our driver. We were looking forward to our safari jeep ride and our driver did not spare any expenses on the drive through the sandy desert paths with no caution.

The breeze that this created was wonderful. Within 5 minutes we were out of town, the Barbie girl song on blast and in the middle of a desert. This amazed us – the desert that is. After a half an hour or so we visited our first stop. An ancient abandoned city. To enter this abandoned area we passed a gated area where we met the gate-keeper; a marijuana smoking holy-man. Our driver passed him a little bhang collected from town and we sat with him and his friends for a while in which he contently smoked his bang.

The abandoned town was nice to see but we lacked a bit of a history lesson from it. One thing our driver did share however was that many beautiful women lived here and so the maharaja's would frequently visit these villages to be serenaded by these women, often sleep with them but never marry them. Due to the custom, you can only marry worthy partners from your caste not the lower castes.

After this 15 minute stop we were back in our jeep cruising the desert once more. It was fascinating to see life out here. We considered the difficulties people faced out here in such hazardous environments. We saw many goat and sheep herders, both men and women. It was an interesting sight to see many women herding sheep in the middle of the desert wearing a sari. We are India after all but I guess it just wasn't an image I conjured up beforehand. It would have been great to capture some great photos but our driver was on a mission to drive faster than the speed of light.

We passed many traditional round houses made from cow dung (that we later learnt are still occupied without any power and electric). On the way we also stopped by a natural oasis that has never dried up in this intense heat. Now that is impressive. We were told the locals drink from this lake!

We also got stuck behind a farmer truck that had broken down. There were various men trying to restart it. Our driver got out to try and help followed by Chris and Tamil who attempted to push it in the hope it would restart.

This was very amusing to see for P. Looking around she noticed seemingly wild camels in the distance beautiful sandy hilly terrains. It was beautiful. She switched between admiring the views, being amused by the guys (all exhausted and sweating may I add) and also amused by the music selection in the jeep. It jumped from 'Barbie girl’, ‘Lonely by Akon, some Indian music and Celine Dion'.

Back on the road we all sang along to some of the really corny English songs whilst falling in love with some Indian music.

An hour later we arrived at our village to start our camel safari. Before we knew it, we were stretching our legs across the camels and being rocked and jerked high off the ground.

This is the first time either of us had been on Camels. The movement on the camel’s back was hard to get used to at first but we both settled into it in no time. The first part of the ride through the desert was very flat and we rode past many ‘gypsy’ goat herders pointed out by our guide Papu.

As we did, the sun slowly set in the distance which was a really nice experience. Our camels were well trained I guess they had to be as they were all attached by rope from one nose to another. This kept them all walking together in a linear form.

It unsettled P when we started going up and down slopes. For one her camel’s feet sank and moved unsteadily and secondly they were all attached at the nose so if one went down too fast the other would need to or risk having their nose torn. P didn’t like that thought at all.

Unlike the camels we all were riding, the camel our guide and his younger cousin were riding at the front had a mind of its own. Luckily is was not attached to our 3 so when it started behaving wildly (jumping on it back legs twisting and turning trying to get the guides off) our camels carried on walking. Being in front of P this camel made her a little nervous. It was in the process of being trained and did not want to be rode at all. Our guide explained the training can be a very dangerous job and you need a lot of balance. We could tell. Our 3 camels were content. Not this one however. Poor camel it was so distressed.

2 hours after we started we were at camp, greeted by another guide and 2 Italian girls. We all soon got talking.

Sat next to the atmospheric camp fire in the dessert as darkness overtook the skies and our memorable night began.

The surrounding was just perfect. Seeing the clarity of the stars was amazing and just relaxing here without a care in the world. Sand dunes in every direction. What more can you ask for.
Our guides prepared dinner for us, a spicy thali set with rice and chapati. It surprised us with how flavoursome it was as we had begun to get bored of thali sets and dahl.

Afterwards we enjoyed a few hours of laughter & chatter before the guides got us all singing around the fire. They initially sang us various songs sung at different occasions. One song that stood out from us was a song sung by the bride and women at a wedding. This was to symbolise the saying of goodbye by the bride as she would move to live with the groom and his family from this point onwards and would no longer see her family and friends. Very sad.

I think the guys really got into singing the female roles which ended in a lot of laughing as they attempted to imitate the crying at the end of the song. Trying to bring light to a sad song I guess.

It surprised us by how many Israeli song the guides knew. One of the Italian girls also proceeded to sing an Italian song which was very well sung.

Once we were ready for bed the 4 of us lay alone on the top of some sand dunes gazing up at the sky. It may sound like an exaggerated perfect experience when we try to describe how we felt but it was really an amazing experience to remember. Shortly after, we were wrapped ourselves in our sheets and fell asleep under the stars. Unlike the two of us, the two Italian girls woke up to see many shooting stars. We were fast asleep and did not get to witness the many they had seen. Another time maybe.

After a filling breakfast it was another hour and a half on our camel’s back to the village. Chris was brave taking his hand off the saddle as he drunk some water, Tamil even smoked on his Camel. Not P though, despite becoming more relaxed she still held on tight.

One funny moment on our camels; all male camels may I add (as it is too dangerous for females to have straps around them especially if they are pregnant) was when our camels spotted a few females camels. Chris's camel obviously ready to mate became very distracted and bored by the journey and starting to make what we can only describe as unusual sounds. Maybe they were mating sounds as his eyes were clearly on the females. Unfortunately for him, his rope had to be tightened to prevent him attempting to wander off.

Afterwards we were more than happy to get off the camels. It proved to be a little painful riding them. Despite the pain it proved to be a wonderful experience riding the camels and relaxing in the Thar desert under the stars. A night we will never forget we’re sure.

Jaislamer; Nomads

Transportation: Jaisalmer to Jaipur. 1016 rupees per person sleeping class AC3, 13hrs overnight.

Additional photos below
Photos: 42, Displayed: 33


15th November 2015
At the hostel with a view

Your peaceful night in the desert was much earned after some of your other days in wild India. I completely agree with you that it's better to stay outside a picturesque fort or walled city. I used to love walking over a bridge and through the city walls of Avignon, France. Love the architecture here--the golden, carved houses and your hostel alcove. Congrats on surviving the camel ride!
15th November 2015
At the hostel with a view

Avignon looks beautiful 😊 Glad to hear you also can apprectiate the outer areas of walled cities. Sitting in that alcove appreciatong our views was a great pastime. Yes camel riding was an experience but the once was enough for me (p) 😕 sleeping in the desert under the stars was however one I would love to repeat.
15th November 2015

Camels abound
Nice looking camel
15th November 2015

nice looking camel.
This one was nice and calm too 😊
16th November 2015

Camel eyes
I think he's being Joey from Friends and giving you a 'how you doin?' look :)
16th November 2015

Camel eyes
Classic. He was certainly after something with that face 😆
16th November 2015

Camels :)
Your night in the desert sounds fantastic! But I honestly don’t know how you guys coped for so long in that camel saddle…it was uncomfortable enough after just a two hour round trip! :)
16th November 2015

On the first day we were all itching to get off after more than an hour. On the second day I wanted to walk but was told it was not really possible so jumped back on 😞. I didn't realise how uncomfortable it would be. All apart of the experience I guess and it was worth it for the night in the desert.
16th November 2015

On the first day we were all itching to get off after more than an hour. On the second day I wanted to walk but was told it was not really possible so jumped back on 😞. I didn't realise how uncomfortable it would be. All apart of the experience I guess and it was worth it for the night in the desert.
18th November 2015

I can hear starry, starry night....
Tranquil locations free of traffic noise and hard to find in India...well a good part of India. What an experience. Walled cities always have so much more character than those without. Travel safe and be cautious of mating camels.
18th November 2015

Starry night
We had a lovely time exploring the areas both in and out of the fort here. Yes we will certainly maintain a level of caution around wild animals. Had our fair share of scares.

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