One of the most unforgettable and enchanting experiences you can have in India is to ride through the rippling, windswept desert on camelback and camp out under the stars. Taking a camel safari will also give you the opportunity to witness the rustic, rural desert life of India. While the desert can be barren, it's also surprisingly well populated.
Where Can You Go on a Camel Safari?
The most popular place for camel safaris in India is in the desert surrounding Jaisalmer, in Rajasthan. To have the best experience, it's important to consider which sand dunes are most suitable for you. Most tourists head to the Sam Sand Dunes, which are commercial and crowded. Alternatively, the dunes near Khuri village in Desert National Park are more peaceful.
Great camel safaris can also be done around Bikaner, also in Rajasthan, and lesser-known Osian (about an hour and a half north of Jodhpur on the way to Bikaner. Stay at Osian Sand Dunes Resort and Camp). Osian has some interesting temples as well. Many companies will give you the option of choosing your route, so you can decide if you want to take the road less traveled, or the more touristy track.
If you do want to go on an offbeat sightseeing tour, Vedic Walks offers an overnight Desert Camel Safari and Camping Experience near Pushkar. It includes a safari through villages and a unique spiritual walking tour of the town.
It's also possible to go on a camel safari in the the alpine desert around Leh Ladakh, mainly in the Nubra Valley from Hundar to Diskit. The camels on these trips are the double hump Bactrian variety.
Reputable Camel Safari Companies
Be sure to take care when booking your camel safari as the business is very competitive and it's definitely a case of you get what you pay for. Cheaper deals may seem appealing initially, but you'll find that the quality of food, bedding, and other necessities is lower. Make sure you find out exactly what the arrangements will be, such as whether dinner will be provided at a nearby village or a cook will make it for you over an open fire in the desert.
Most hotels in Jaisalmer will organize safaris but it's better to go with specialist agencies such as Sahara Travels (next to the Fort gate), Trotters Independent Travel, and Real Desert Man Camel Safaris. The safaris offered by Shahi Palace and Hotel Pleasant Haveli are also good. In Bikaner, Vino Desert Safari is recommended.
If you really want to go off the beaten path and have a rustic experience, far from the tourist trail, try The Adventure Travel Agency in Jaisalmer. They'll take you a long camel safari out towards Barmer, sleeping under the stars on army bedding in the dunes.
Duration of Camel Safaris
It's possible to go on a quick camel safari and return the same day. However, most people prefer to go deeper into the desert for up to four days. Many choose the overnight option, which is sensible as it can become monotonous otherwise (and you're likely to end up with a sore bum). This consists of riding the camel into the desert, watching the sunset, having dinner, star gazing, waking up for sunrise, and then riding back.
Longer seven, 14, 21, or 30 day options are available for hardcore enthusiasts! You can get an itinerary tailored to meet your needs.
How Much Will it Cost?
The price of camel safaris varies according to the standard of food and comfort provided. Rates start from around 850 rupees per person, per day, including meals. However, this can increase up to around 2,000 rupees for top-of-the-range camping (or glamping!) facilities and jeep transport for part of the journey to go further afield.
Prices can be negotiated, so don't book anything in advance.
When to Go
The best time is during the cooler dry months, from September to March. After March, the desert becomes unbearably hot, and then the monsoon season starts. It doesn't rain much though, and temperatures remain high. Camel safaris usually depart early in the morning to allow some distance to be covered, and a suitable camping spot to be found and set up, before dusk.
What to Take with You
Riding on camelback can become surprisingly uncomfortable after a while, and many people complain of having very sore legs and bums by the end of their journey. To avoid this, do bring something comfortable and padded to sit on!
Other useful items to bring include sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, toilet paper, flashlight, water bottle, and plenty of warm clothing as it can get cold in the desert at night. Do be aware that you won't be able to bathe in the desert, so wet wipes will definitely come in handy as well.