So long as you don't mind a little bit of sand in your knickers, a night in the Thar Desert under a star lit sky is an experience unlike anything you've experienced in your entire life.
We rode out into the desert on ill-tempered camels, bouncing and bopping so hard I thought I would crash back to earth at any moment. Our guides tossed a few bedrolls and pillows onto the sand and told us to enjoy ourselves - and watch out for scorpions (though I well and truly believe that they were only kidding).
We wrapped ourselves in blankets and marveled at the constellations overhead - The Stooges, Mel Gibson, and the Flying Camel being my favorites - and marveled at the quiet of the night. Though India is home to well over a billion people, it felt as if we were alone out there in the desert. And then our camel farted, and we knew we were not alone.
Just about every taxi driver or hotel operator in Delhi or nearby Jaisalmer can put together a camel tour for you - and I suggest you do it. At roughly $20, it's a steal of an experience.
Photo Note: I put my camera on a tripod for this frame, opened the shutter for about a minute and a half, and popped off a few quick flashes with a handheld speedlight to illuminate the cart and our guide. A large aperture helped expose the stars, while a shutter speed of roughly 30 seconds helped keep them in place.
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Watering Hole, Thar Desert, Rajasthan State, India.
Camels spit, but they don't suck - at least not when they're thundering across the golden sand of the Thar Desert toward the Pakistan border.
We organized a tour/camping trip through the Tokyo Hotel in Jaisalmer (yes, Tokyo Hotel. Awesome little joint if you ever get a chance to visit), and set out on our camels for 24 hours of fun. We asked our jockeys to stop at this watering hole for a few minutes so that we could photograph the locals and their animals - it's not every day that you come across a pond in the desert, you know? We watched this young man fill his camel's packs with gallons of water and marveled when local ladies came out of the sand in their beautiful saris and filled their own steel containers with water before hoisting them above their heads and carrying on.
Then we were off - to spend a night rolling in the sand.
4x4 Thar Desert Night Safari, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
On a recent trip to Jaisalmer, we camped overnight in tents at Pal Rajah in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. A local friend with a connection got access to one of the 4x4 jeeps used for village trips and safaris. He said the locals do safaris differently—they like to go late at night, for hours. So at half past midnight on a moonless night, we went four-wheeling through desert swales and 80-foot dunes, spotting wildlife. Some small herds of chinkara (Indian gazelles) scattered in the dust-diffused glow of the headlights. Suddenly, as we were heading back to camp, we braked. Dust settled. A camel stood about 20 feet in front of us.
“Get the big camel!” That’s what the man said when asked if he or one of his compatriots would take me into the Thar Desert on a camel to watch the sunset. I immediately determined to go on a diet once I got home.
On the border of Pakistan in Northwest Rajasthan, the Thar is home to numerous tribes of nomadic people who traverse the arid land on camels. A helpful local in Jaisalmer told me where to find them, and after that slightly embarrassing exchange described above, I found myself astride the most magnificent, gentle beast, headed into the vast dunes, riding double in front of the camel’s young owner and driver. He spoke no English, but we managed to communicate—or at least, I thought we did, until he took me to a gathering of other desert folk in the dunes, where a kindly older gentleman offered me an orange Fanta and tried to pierce my nose with a leather punch. Unsure whether I was more concerned about the unsanitary implement, or that allowing it might result in me being married to someone in the group afterward, I managed to dissuade him.
As evening approached, the happily chattering group of nomads slowly quieted, settled their Dromedary steeds in the warm sand, and we all sat in a row, like birds on a wire, facing the horizon to watch the tangerine sun descend and disappear together.