One night in the desert

The next destination on our journey was Jaisalmer, which we’d both been looking forward to since we discovered that the camel treks existed earlier this year.

We left the hostel in Jodhpur around 4:30am to begin our journey west. Having celebrated Diwali just a few hours before walking to the train station with heavy bags, only to wait an extra hour for a delayed train, we were pretty glad to get into our bunks when it finally arrived. Our little 1A cabin was a bit run down with the train being quite old but it didn’t stop us sleeping for nearly five hours.

When we arrived in Jaisalmer we tried booking our next journey back to Jodhpur but discovered there were no tickets available for the date we needed. As I mentioned in a previous post we’ve been in a rush to get around ever since we booked our flight down to Cochin so any setback is worrying. All was good though when the hotel owner we were staying with picked us up from the station and assured us we’d be able to get a bus easily enough.

When we got to the hotel we bumped into some French tourists who we’d spoken to when waiting at New Delhi station trying to get tickets at the International Tourist Bureau. It was a nice coincidence and we were able to ask them about the camel treks the hotel arranged. We spoke with Jamin too and let him know we’d be interested in booking through him for the following day. For the remainder of the evening we took a walk around Jaisalmer Fort and watched the sunset from above the city.

The next morning we were up early to head into the desert and meet up with Jamin’s cousin Hussein who would be our guide for the trip. On the way we stopped at an abandoned village called Kuldhara on the outskirts of Jaisalmer. Legends say the village was abandoned because of a lecherous minister who wanted to steal a beautiful young girl from them, so they all got up and left overnight. The village was really interesting to see though it wasn’t without a couple of Indian tourists asking for selfies with me.

The temperature in the desert was around 37°C but there was a breeze too so it was bearable. Jamin had let us borrow some turbans for the trip as we didn’t have hats and Hussein helped us by fitting them to our heads. It wasn’t long before we were on our way on the backs of Michael Jackson, Johnny Rocket and Papaya. Soon we were chatting away with Hussein about all sorts and trying not to fall off sideways onto the sand. It was really interesting talking to Hussein about his life living in the desert and how very different it is to our own lives. We talked about everything from how young his family get married to how it’s difficult the desert can be, but also that he couldn’t live within the city even if he tried.

After a couple of hours on the camels we stopped for lunch and Hussein cooked us a tasty mix of vegetables and noodles, along with some chapati and colourful far-far chips. We chopped some of the vegetables and enjoyed one of my favourite cups of chai so far. We took a break after lunch as the sun was too high to move on so we all had a nap on the sand and when I woke up I finally used my sketchbook to draw Hussein sleeping. The quiet break in the desert was such a huge contrast to how we’ve been travelling recently and it was so refreshing to just take it slowly.

Once we were moving again the discomfort of riding a camel was kicking in and I ended up crossing my legs in front to relieve the pain on my thighs. If there’s one unexpected thing I didn’t work out enough in my 12 week run up to travelling, it’s definitely my thighs. I was thankful we hadn’t booked a four day trek instead as I could hardly bear it after just a few hours. A bit of discomfort was worth it though to see the desert and experience the calm of it all.

We made a second stop on the way to the dunes where the camels could take a drink and we got to see a local village. We opted to not go see the village up close as it didn’t look like anything special and instead continued on towards our camping are for the night.

Hussein took us to the spot he takes all of his treks, right next to a big dune which was perfect to watch the sunset on top of. As the sun went down Hussein cooked us another meal and showed me his methods of cooking both chai and chapati. The food was delicious again and he sang us a song we think he’d made up himself about the meal, which he had also sang to us at lunch. I loved that he was singing songs as he went as it reminded me of myself at home when I’m happily cooking away and making up a song to go with it.

When the sun was down and our bellies were full it was time to set up our bed for the night before the last light was gone. Made from just a few blankets we had a bed on top of the dune out in the open underneath the stars. Hussein went to find the camels who had wandered off while we ate and we were left to admire the stunning views of the night sky. So far out from the city there was hardly any light pollution and we could see so much above us. It was amazing and well worth any leg pain I might have suffered through to get there. After a long day and with no light to keep me awake, it wasn’t long before I was drifting off to sleep and dreaming of home. Strangely both Mark and I woke in the night at different times thinking we were back home and having to readjust as we realised we were very far from it. Maybe it was the silence and lack of unfamiliar sounds that did it, or maybe we felt safer out in the desert than we had elsewhere.

For those who haven’t tried sleeping on sand I’ll tell you it’s a huge leap from a memory foam mattress. Every lump can be flattened but this only creates more lumps, equally as hard as the first. The desert also gets very cold at night so I’d recommend you don’t sleep next to Mark if you ever try it because he tends to hog all the warm blankets.

After a lumpy sleep under the stars we were woken early by Hussein calling for chai and breakfast which he’d been up since 6am preparing for us. As we were leaving him earlier than guests usually do he cooked a massive breakfast to make up for the lack of lunchtime meal. Again the food was delicious and Hussein prepared it with a smile and a song. By this point I felt a lot more comfortable chatting and asking questions so there was a lot more conversation between us. It helped that he had called us ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ the whole time, but maybe you just subconsciously have nothing left to worry about when you’ve trusted someone enough to lead you into the desert and watch over you during the night.

Another pro tip for camel safaris is to stretch your muscles every time you get on and off the camel. I made the mistake of not doing this and had to suffer the pain of overworked muscles aching for an hour and a half camel ride. Hussein told me to sit side saddle after a while though which made it a far more enjoyable trip.

It wasn’t long before we reached the jeep which was going to take us back to Jaisalmer and when we had to say goodbye to Hussein I was genuinely sad to be leaving him. I really wish we’d had more time in the desert and hope one day we’ll go back and see how things are with him and Jamin’s camels. Hussein has a dream to buy his own camel one day so maybe he’ll even have his own safari tours by the time we eventually come back.

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