Jaisalmer – Do you want a Camel Safari?

I should’ve known better… We got a free ride from the Hotel Rajdhani from the rail station into town when we arrived at around 05:00. Their rooms were incredibly cheap at 150 rupees for a double with attached bathroom and the owners of the Cosy Guesthouse in Jodhpur recommended it. After a nice long nap I went up to the rooftop restaurant for breakfast. As I was eating the manager came by and asked if we wanted to book a camel safari and laid out some of the basic details. I told him I’d stop sometime after I finished my breakfast. Rhiannon joined me as I started eating and not long after she sat down the manager came by again to pitch the camel safari but brought a photo album this time. We flipped thru the photos and he started going into more detail but his quote of 2400 rupees per person seemed like a ripoff despite how great his safari sounded so we declined. He dropped the price further to 2200 then 2000 but still we said we wouldn’t commit and would shop around. He said we should let him know by 12:00 because he had to go buy the permits from the government office by then. It was now 11:00.

After breakfast we went downstairs to collect a few things before shopping around for a camel safari. As we were walking out he again pushed the safari and dropped the price to 1800 and said we could leave a fully refundable deposit of 500 each. He encouraged us to shop around. We went to a couple of places to compare and settled on Thar Safari, who provided a good package at a good price. But before signing anything we went back to collect our deposit from Rajdhani. It was a major mistake to leave a deposit…

The manager was in his office when we got back and we politely asked for a refund of our camel safari deposit. His attitude immediately went sour and he wanted to know why and with what company we booked with. We were reluctant to give out that information since it really wasn’t relevant in getting a refund of our fully refundable deposit. He pretty much expressly refused to give us back our deposit despite my threats of getting the tourist police. His idiotic logic was that his safari was the best so it didn’t make sense for us to book with anyone else. He must’ve said “my safari is the best” about 30 times. Finally we handed him the business card of Thar Safari with a summary of our package written on the back of it. He looked at it in disgust, shouted Thar sucks and threw the card at us. The card slid under the couch we were sitting on. I should also mention that I wrote on the receipt that the deposit of 1000 (500 each) is 100% fully refundable, which he acknowledged when I wrote it, but somehow he hoodwinked me and it didn’t show up on his carbon copy. He acted as if I was trying to scam him with the receipt and this really got me worked up. Rhiannon tried running out in tears but it had no effect on the bastard. I tried lifting the couch a bit so I could retrieve the card he threw and he quickly came around his desk and shoved me away. I nearly punched him at that point but held back and instead lectured him on how to do business. He could’ve put the card back on the desk or handed it to one of us rather than throwing it back at us, his customers. He tried playing the race card by saying that I thought I was so smart cause I was American etc, etc.

Since nothing was resolved at that point we said we were all going to walk down to Thar and get the tourist police. As I walked out of his office 2 other hotel guests were walking into their room so I attempted to talk to them but I was too late. Their door was closing as I said “hello”. He saw me reaching out to them and quickly got in my face and asked what I was saying. I responded that I wasn’t speaking to him so it was none of his business. His next move shocked me. He pulled out his wallet, gave us back our money and kicked us out! The threat of me exposing his crooked ways to his other guests proved to be the winning tactic. He went on and on pointing his finger at me and playing the race card but at that point I didn’t care what he said because we got our money back. Then he made up some shit about how he lost 850 because of us as if we were going to give him some pity. In the end we came out on top; we got a free ride from the rail station, free place to sleep for a few hours, and free showers.

The guy at Thar smiled when he saw us walk in with all our stuff. We had told him about trying to get our deposits backs before we left and he knew immediately upon our return that we got kicked out. After booking the safari (1100 per person) we got a room at Hotel Swastika, a quiet and laid back place in Gandhi Chowk recommended by our guidebooks. The owner only mentioned the camel safari once, which was refreshing. The rest of the day was spent eating, exploring the old city inside the fort, and making onward travel plans. The inside of the fort was for the most part beautifully restored. Meandering alleyway led into more meandering alleyways, an occasional viewpoint and many lovely havelis. Despite the grandeur of the fort there wasn’t much to do inside.

In hindsight, I should’ve listened to my gut and not handed over any money to that bastard at Rajdhani. He had a terrible bowl haircut and beady little eyes. And his persistent sales pitches should’ve been a sign that it was a bad idea to do business with him.

The next morning we left for the 2 day / 1 night camel safari. There turned out to be 7 other people who were going as well – 5 French and 2 Germans. Of the 5 French, 3 were doing a 1.5 day safari. After breakfast (toast, jam, and chai), we drove out west about 30-40 min and met our camels and camel drivers on the side of the road. From there we rode (1 person per camel) for about an hour or 2 before stopping for lunch (chapatti, rice, curried potatoes and tomatoes) and siesta under a tree. From here we rode another couple of hours to the campsite atop a sand dune somewhere in the Thar Desert, about 25km from the Pakistan border. Unfortunately the sky wasn’t clear so the sunset was so-so but it was a 3 quarter moon so the night sky was lovely. After dinner (same selection as lunch) we played a drinking game but didn’t have any alcohol. There was a guy selling beer earlier but he’d left our camp hours ago. He walked a few km from the nearest village carrying the beer in a sack and amazingly the beer was not warm. We slept under the stars in the tranquil desert night.

We bid adieu to some of the group after breakfast (toast, jam, biscuits, chai, and dry porridge) and then rode for about 2 hours before stopping for lunch(same as yesterday) and siesta. Riding a camel begins to wear on your inner thighs after a while. Unlike a horse, a camel is much wider and has a higher arched back. The result is that your inner thighs become incredibly sore from pressing on the back of the camel. Dismounting the camel is when you really feel it; it’s really difficult to lift your legs. After lunch we had the camels job along for a while. It can best be described as pain and pleasure. It was cool to be on a fast moving camel but with each step I was bouncing up and down on the animal hard so my bum, my inner thighs, and my crown jewels were in a lot of pain. All in all, I really enjoyed the camel safari but I can’t imagine going on a really long one. It’s possible to book a safari for lengths of days or weeks.

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