It’s unimaginable to skip the thrill of a camel safari when touring the majestic state of Rajasthan. At least that’s what I told my female travel partner and friend of several years when she joined me for her second India adventure, this time cutting straight through the middle of Rajasthan. I’d already ridden on a camel safari in Osian (albeit a brief experience) years earlier on my very first trip to India. What was supposed to be a 4 hour ride into the sandy landscape surrounding my luxury resort ended after just 2 short hours. I’d had enough, opting for the jeep ride straight back to the resort.
I’ve dreamt of taking another camel safari ever since that regrettable decision in 2005. A missed opportunity came in 2009, when I returned for a second tour of Rajasthan. Forts and palaces off the beaten path were my focus then. Camels would have to wait.
So in 2012, on what would be my third and final time in Rajasthan for the next few foreseeable years, I was determined to get me and my friend out on a camel safari. And as much as she denied her interest in hopping onto the back of a camel my friend was secretly thrilled at the prospect.
Pushkar is second only to Jaisalmer, another city of Rajasthan, in it’s wide array of local camel safari operators. Booking a camel safari in Pushkar has become as streamlined as ordering a pizza. Journeys can last as short as a few hours to as long as a few weeks camping overnight in the desert.
Time was of the essence arriving with just 24 hours to tour Pushkar and take a camel safari. Fortunately good luck was on my side as the two of us neared our hotel. I spotted an outfitter just two blocks down the road advertising “Short safari here, 2 hours, 3 hours, 1 day…”
The cling clang cling clang of bells jingling from one of the camels arrived right at the promised time of 6AM in front of our hotel. I indulged a bit (knowing this would be my friend’s only camel safari) by spending an extra Rs 100 to have her camel outfitted with the traditional “fancy”dress. This amounts to a colorful assortment of braided Rajasthani clothes and bells dangled from the saddle. A small price to pay for some fun.
We were out to the edges of sand dunes and back to the hotel right around the four hour mark. The relaxing pace along a sandy trail was made even more comfortable by our personable and knowledgeable guide who’d worked this business for more than a decade.
I heard a lot of excuses from my friend leading up to our arrival in Pushkar on why she wouldn’t join me on a camel safari. But as the two extremely calm and cooperative camels were led down the road away from our hotel, all her nervous laughter had been replaced with a giant smile.
“That was good,” she said, “that was very good.”
How to Book A Camel Safari
-Don’t book a camel safari package through a hotel. Most hotels in Jaisalmer and many in Pushkar will offer “in-house” services, essentially bundling the cost of the room with a camel safari to give the impression of saving you money. What it actually does is make you beholden to your hotel for everything as soon as you hand over a hotel voucher or a credit card.
-Wait until you gather your bearings in each city, walk the market and take the time to discover the independent agencies and their packages. Ask for recommendations for non-biased sources if possible. Remember, everyone’s cousin/brother/father owns a business in India.
-Don’t be in a rush to book a camel safari. Look at all your options. Compare pricing with services. Ask questions:
|1.Do you need to make a reservation? If so, how long is the waiting list?|
2.What packages are available? What are the costs? Cost differences between agencies for similar routes may contain extra services so be sure to compare the fine print closely.
3. If a short ride, how far and where? What will I see?
4. If a longer ride, what accommodations will be made for meals and overnight comfort? Shorter rides are accompanied by one driver/trainer. Longer rides may also include a cook and baggage handlers.
5. What type of bedding is provided? Do you need to bring anything not included? Reputable agencies will provide beds, sleeping bags, blankets, etc. More expensive packages can include overnight stops at tents with indoor plumbing.
6. Will your reservation be added with others to form a larger group or will you be able to travel individually based on the number of people in your party?
7. If you fall ill or something happens that requires medical attention, how can you get back quickly?
8. Will the agent bring the camels to your hotel or do you need to arrange a ride to the office, and consequently back to your hotel afterward?
How Comfortable is Riding a Camel?
Opinions on the comfort of riding a camel vary wildly. It’s not like what you think it will be. Imagine yourself sitting slightly further forward than you would comfortably situate yourself on a seat that has no back rest and no front restraint other than a small knob for your hands to hold. Now picture yourself several feet off the ground moving at ascending and descending angles which require you to hold steady yet relaxed.
Many tourists make a classic mistake when first setting out on a camel safari. Listen to your guide. He will instruct you to hold on tightly as the camel begins to stand. Immediately you will feel thrust forward unless you lean back in the opposite direction of the camel’s movements. This motion balances out the forward motion of the camel and you avoid the problem of almost falling off. As the camel moves into a more upright position, you can sit straight up. Once the camel is standing at attention you can relax and even begin to let your hands free to use a camera or sip on water.
When is the Best Time For a Camel Safari
The best time to go on a camel safari coordinates perfectly with India’s tourist season. From September to March, cooler day time temps spread through the desert giving way to brisk evenings. December and January can be downright chilly at night so proper winter clothing is advisable.
Expect an early morning start anywhere between 5AM and 7AM. Shorter half day or several hour safaris are out and back in time for lunch giving tour operators a chance to run another safari in the afternoon. Longer tours must cover a preplanned distance before dusk allowing for lunch and toilet breaks along the route.
What Should You Take on a Camel Safari?
Camel saddles can hold an amazing amount of items, however, you want to be smart about how much luggage is carried. Bring the essentials like bottled water, snacks such as dried fruit or biscuits, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, toilet paper (if preferred) and hand wipes. A small first aid kit could be brought for longer trips.
Long pants are ideal as camel fur is nothing short of scratchy on bare legs. T-shirts, polos or long sleeve shifts are great for guys; Loose fitting lightweight blouses or t-shirts work well for ladies.
Wear comfortable closed toe shoes. Flip flops are best packed for use during breaks or at night. Slim line shoes are recommended as stirrups can be quite narrow and awkward for thick soled, rugged boots or shoes.
Bring a hoodie, gloves, and jacket depending on the time of year. Winter nights can be downright bitter.
Tips to Make a Camel Safari More Enjoyable
-Never give a 100% deposit. It’s common to be asked for up to 50% of the package cost to cover any up-front expenses incurred by the safari agent as well as to ensure your participation. Anything more is questionable.
-Always take at least one business card for the safari operator. Leave one with friends or a hotel contact if possible while carrying another on your person should you be separated.
-Check the weather before departing. A chance of rain can be a buzz kill if you’re not prepared.
-Rates are often discounted up to 50% off during the shoulder parts of tourist season. Same camel safari, better pricing, and usually no reservations needed. It’s possible to book a safari for the very next day as late as closing time the night before!
-Female riders have reported being inappropriately touched by guides who may choose to sit behind them in the camel saddle. Be sure to address any uncomfortable behavior right away. Travel in a group, preferably with at least one male guest included if possible. Keep in mind, this isn’t an automatic warning against all guides who need to legitimately position themselves as a co-rider of a camel at times.
What is the Cost for a Camel Safari?
Prices vary by city. Off season rates can start as low as Rs 300 for a few hours, raising to well above Rs 2000 and more per day per person during peak season depending on the type of package chosen. Extra services slowly add up and aren’t always needed.
Don’t forget to tip your guide and any other ancillary persons who make your camel safari memorable.