When the camel seeker thinks of India, he thinks of Jaisalmer and its surrounding desert. Camel safaris are in abundance there, and the town is swarming with touts all trying to get the seeker’s business.
As much as J. and I wanted to head that way and spend some time in the desert, we also wanted to avoid the hassles. We heard mixed reviews of the camel safaris and had no idea how to pick a good one. A recommended area of beautiful desert called Sam was another 42km outside of town. Plus, our long train ride had been booked in a lousy class. Instead, we decided to go in search of camels in an ancient Thar Desert town called Osiyan. It’s only 65km north of Jodhpur, so it would save a lot of transit time. Our trustworthy host at the guesthouse booked us a two day tour for 750Rs($17) each, per day. A little steep, but the cost included all meals, water, accommodation, plus farting camels and desert ambiance. It did not include transportation.
On Tuesday morning, we woke up bright and early and got a rickshaw(40Rs) to the bus station. The driver helped us book tickets(33Rs each) as all the signs were in Hindi. We got on the bus, a blunt and rickety contraption with soot smeared windows and some of the most damaged seats I’ve seen on a functioning vehicle. The seat backs were torn off or cracked, the vinyl was chipping, the arm rests flopped around like flaccid dicks. My seat back wouldn’t return to its full upright and locked position.
The ride took an hour and a half and was pleasant enough. The driver followed the typical Indian style of honking and merging nearly into oncoming trucks, swerving to avoid cows and potholes, and stopping nearly every kilometer to let people on and off. At one bump in the road, everyone flew off their seats.
We arrived at the “bus stop” in Osiyan at 9:30AM. We were supposed to meet a man from the tour. A man approached us who, under grilling, turned out not to be the man for us. Another man approached. He looked liked John Stamos playing Uncle Jessie’s greasy cousin Stavros. All slick and smiling. We weren’t sure we trusted him, but we followed him through town, across a field, and to two camels waiting under a tree. I guess he was legit. A man don’t lie about no two camels, no sir.
Our guide: Mr. NanSuk, son of Gangaram.
I hopped on one camel; J. hopped on the other. Our guides hopped in back. When the camels got up, I was surprised how high we were. It could have been the doobies, or it could have been the height of the humped beasts. We began our camel safari through the dry and sparsely populated land. Our destination was NanSuk’s family home 8km from town.
Nothing but camel.
Along the way we saw golden hills of millet, scrub, and farms. All over, sorry looking watermelons and cucumbers were being grown. Lone ladies herded grazing goats and cows. Kids would run down hills to greet us. People were carrying buckets of milk and water on their heads. It felt like a place time forgot.
As luck would have it, we passed through a village that was at the tail end of a ten day annual camel fair. I have never seen so many camels in one place before. It was magical.
A man and his camel. The white turban is traditional head wear for this region.
More camels for sale.
Lady herding cows.
After a long, bumpy ride we approached the homestead.
One of many goats.
The doorway into the open air courtyard of the house.
Clockwise: watermelon, hut door, camel, spiked plant.
Tombstone on a hill.
After the long ride, we pulled some chairs into the shade and rested with waters until the mother had finished preparing lunch. The little brothers climbed around and stared at us. There were about 8 family members that lived in the house, and other extended family over the hills. Despite 16 years of being visited by tourists, only the two eldest brothers and one younger brother knew much English.
The air smelled of grass, dust, and dung. It was bright and sunny, but cool in the shade. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves and millet. Birds were everywhere. We were given cups of chai. Relaxed, I closed my eyes and waited until called inside for lunch.
Shrine wall inside the house with pictures Hindu gods.
Our first meal. it was cooked by the mother using the crudest of methods. The bread was cooked on wood fire.
After lunch, we rested for a bit before taking a two hour camel ride to a sand dune for sunset.
Passing through by the neighbors.
J. and her guide climbing a hill.
Me and my guide.
Posing for the camera.
We and he.
We headed back. Along the way, the camels stopped at a watering hole and drank from the habitat of hundreds of small frogs. Back at camp, we set up beds outside for sleeping. At 8PM, I was already tired, so I pulled the covers up and looked at the stars with J. before falling asleep. It would have been a wonderful sleep had not a pack of dogs come by and howled for hours. I awoke at the cacophony and gazed at the stars a while longer while trying to calm my desire to snap dog necks. I fell asleep again, only to be awoken by peacocks calling to each other in the early morning. Oh well, it was time to get up.
The mother going out to milk a cow.
We ate a breakfast of warm grains served with milk and sugar alongside sweat bread with onion. It was very good. Afterward, it was back onto the humps for a bumpy ride into a nearby village.
Kids harvesting something.
Deer crossing the road.
Man making pots.
When we got back from the village, our butts were very sore. It’s surprising how exhausting it is to ride a camel. Beyond camel butt syndrome, the rider’s legs and core get sore from balancing. Plus, the sun and heat are fatiguing. We decided to take the jeep back to town and catch an earlier bus.
Kids saying goodbye.
The rally style jeep ride back.
The seats on the bus go “crack, crack, crack.”
It was a satisfying and memorable trip. It felt like forever for only two days. The family was friendly and the camel rides were novel. I would do it again, certainly. But for me, I had as much fun being in the middle of nowhere as I did riding the humps.
Onwards to Udaipur!