Desert Safari in Jaisalmer – Sand, Stars and Solitude

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I lay under the surreal blanket, of brightly glittering stars, shining like beacons in the sea of emptiness, the gentle cold breeze whispering in my ears and the velvet sand covering the landscape. With no light and no sound, feeling my heart beat, leaving behind all my problems, insecurities and enjoying the present not caring about what the next day will bring, I close my eyes in peace, tranquility and a deep sense of wellbeing in this eternal desert night….

…. Is how I imagined my “Night Under the Stars” be like…

Having experienced a rustic camel ride in a village of Osian, I now wanted to witness the cultural extravaganza, the enchanting experience Jaisalmer is best known for. We choose the Real Desert Man Safari for a Night Under the Stars coupled with the music and dance.

Geared up for the Desert Safari on our 2nd day in Jaisalmer

The ball of flame had risen cheerfully again, right from behind the fort. Morning was spent lazing around at the roof-top cafe, enjoying the soft winter sun while the crisp breeze whizzed pass my hair, leaving behind a trail of sheer happiness. As the day progressed, we got decked up to immerse ourselves into experiencing the life in the desert and we set off for an exotic escape in the mighty Thar desert to indulge in the Camel and Jeep Safari amidst the beautiful Khuri Dunes. Our guide and driver Michael picked us up at 2.00pm from our hotel and we hopped on the jeep to be driven about an hour from the city for the safari.

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oasis

Whizzing through the vast landscape, at one point we could see our jeep approaching an oasis, yes! Right in the middle of the deserted Thar land, a small pond of water, reflecting the sky-blue color of the sky was welcoming us. Excitedly we capped the remaining distance and got off the jeep walking aimlessly around the oasis for a while, absorbing the aura, a symbol of hope and duality in life.

Out next stop was the majestic Amar Sagar Jain Temple, located right next to the famous Amar Sagar lake. Amar Sagar was once a water reservoir but is largely dry now. Dedicated to Lord Parshwanath, Amar Sagar temple has a captivating architecture, the elegance of which is further enhanced with the intricate design cravings all across its walls and ceilings. Stepping into the courtyard with water fountains, surrounded by trees, an air of royalty, grace and serenity surrounded us, symbolic of this place’s splendor. Breezing through its delicately carved archways, and majestic stairs, we felt as if we were transported to a different era altogether! And the photographs! This place was indeed a photographer’s delight. The dark blue sky was in perfect contrast, yet harmony with the temple’s ivory marble structure and made for breathtakingly beautiful pictures on the camera!

Ahead of the much-anticipated desert safari, we took a last stop at Kuldhara, the abandoned village in the Jaisalmer, which is now a mere collection of decadent houses, shrines and schools. And oh! It has rumored that it is haunted!

When I asked my friend Sakina if she believed that the place was indeed haunted, her reply was a prompt “Of course”; but something in me wasn’t convinced. I asked the same question to Michael, who chose a mysterious silence, accompanied by a i-don’t-want-to-answer-this- look on his face, as a response to my question!

Legend has it that over 200 years ago, Salim Singh, the Diwan of Jaisalmer set his eyes on the young and beautiful daughter of the village chief and threatened anyone who came in his way with heavy taxes. Fearing the consequences, one night, all residents flew the village, leave their houses and everything else behind, along with a curse that no one would ever be able to settle in Kuldhara.

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posing at kuldhara
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Taikhana

Touring the ruins of Kuldhara, we entered one of the rooms of an abandoned house, and guess what caught my attention!

“Taikhaana” (An underground Dungeon) I said excitedly.

Sakina nodded in acknowledgment and walked towards it, before saying “I wonder what’s there inside” and she bent to peep in.

To add to the air of eeriness, I said, “What if someone just comes out of there suddenly and attacks us!”

Ha-ha! I was acting as if we were the protagonists from the 1986 horror film by Shyam Ramsay, Tahkhana; slightly scared and uncertain about what lies ahead.

A while later, in another room of another abandoned house, I asked Sakina to click the obligatory picture, as I sit on the window that had background of the decadent houses. All set with my pose to get clicked, all of a sudden Sakina interrupted

“Did you hear that”

“What?” I asked.

“The creaky sound from the ceiling”

And I could feel goosebumps! I told Sakina to quickly get done with the picture, but we being spooked out was evident in the not-so-great outcome of the picture!

As we explored the place further, our goosebumps subsided and we found ourselves getting at ease with the area, with just occasional spikes of spookiness!

Embarking on the Sunset Safari

A long yet captivating drive had landed us at the camp site where the camels awaited us. We were welcomed by the crew with some refreshments before making the headway for the desert caravan on the camel back.

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raju, my camel

Khaitan, my guide for the safari introduced me to my camel Raju who would take me out to witness the magical desert sunset. Raju was tied to another camel. Quizzed, I asked Khaitan, “Why do we have two camels with us”

“They are lovers, and always travel together” he quipped!

One by one, Khaitan coerced the camels to lay down and helped me hop into Raju’s saddle while he hoped on another one and we began our thrilling ride through the desert grassland sprawling towards the distant horizon, glowing under the mid-afternoon sun with barely a soul in sight! As we went deeper into the heart of the Thar Desert, with the wind whistling around us, I was overwhelmed by the stillness around, while gazing into nothingness. Taking a ride through the rippling, windswept desert on camel back, enjoying the romance of solitude in the middle of nowhere, Ah! Absolute joy and bliss!

Khaitan’s camel led the way for us into the desert. We travelled deeper into the eternal  desert and so did our conversation. He and I chatted at length about life in the desert, about his family and how his family constraints forced him to start working as a helper and then a guide at a very early age. He said he is one of their best camel guides and one day he wants to start his own Desert Camp.

It took me an hour and a half of the spectacular visual ride, with commentary by Khaitan along the way, to finally reach the clear dunes. Sakina choose to cover this distance by the Jeep.

just arrived, for the sunset

Once at the dunes, excited to see the glorious sunset amidst the golden sand, I got off my Camel and painstakingly marched towards the tallest dune, and man! The efforts were worth it. Watching the sun dip below the desert horizon, marveling at the view of the sun turning the dunes different shades of orange, was one of those pinch-yourself moments Indeed! Michael and Khaitan made sure we had the best experience and offered to take our pictures with the backdrop of this mesmerizing natural painting.

sunset

We soaked in the impressive sunset, enjoying the last light of the day, until all that was left was the chill of twilight and the promise of a cold night to come. We then started our journey back to the camp site. Sakina chose the jeep, while I mounted my Camel’s back, just that this time I took a shorter route to avoid the serious ouchies, that had infact, already set in after the 1.5 hrs long ride earlier in the day.

Time to groove

After a warm welcome with tikka dastori, upon reaching the campsite, we flocked on the charpoy right in the center and gobbled on some pakoras, chips and pipping hot chai while eagerly awaiting the cultural program to begin. Fighting the dust and sand across the Thar for the entire day, it was now time to treat ourselves to the finer pleasures of this traditional yet vibrant land.

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welcoming us at the camp
with the folk musicians

The Langa Manganiars group, dressed in black sherwanis and colourful pagdis arrived with their musical instruments and set the tone for the evening singing melodious Rajasthani folk songs, playing their kamaichas and dhoklas. The Kalbeliya women followed soon after, traditionally dressed in black and red flowing lehengas(skirts), angrakhi (blouse) and Odhani (head cover) dancing and swirling all the way.

The soulful folk music and refreshing dance moves had us swinging in our seats all the while, and in no time, we found ourselves tapping our feet to its tunes.

Fully entertained & exhausted enjoying the open-air cultural extravaganza of rustic, earthy music and folk-dance performance, we hopped back into the charpoy with rumbling tummies all set for our next course of action – Dinner!

Yass, the next portion of the night was filled with culinary delights and dinner was served. It was a line-up buffet with many local dishes from Rajasthani curry, dal baati churma, ker sangri as well as rice, chapati (bread), Rajasthani garlic chutney, pickles and salads.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

The night wrapped up with some pictures with the troop and we retreated to meet our driver to be driven to the spot in the desert oasis where we would halt for the night. We had a couple and a bag packer with us by now, and we were all looking forward to spend some time sitting around the bonfire, knowing about each other, sharing our way of lives, and exchanging a dialogue on spooky real-life experiences 😀

The view was unreal. We were in the middle of nowhere, exactly what I had signed up for! No roof, no walls, no boundaries! In this velvet darkness the only source of light was of the glitter in the sky, of the sequin-silver stars looming over us.

The sand was cold, and I rambled around barefoot treating myself to some sand therapy while our Camp guide lit up the bonfire. Soaking in the warmth of the bonfire, it wasn’t long before the ghost stories began. After several chilling tales, gradually our conversation evolved into stories about life. We all came from different backgrounds and experiences but connected in that moment under the stars. Our chatter went on till late until we called it a night, retiring to our respective charpoys, huddled under layers of blankets to cut the desert chill.

It was nearly midnight, but sleep took long to come, because I knew I was to witness magic in the perfect silence of the desert.

Zillions of Stars!

Sparkling and Shimmering, Twinkling and Dazzling. It was like every star in the galaxy wanted to be seen.

Lying on my back, gazing at the midnight blue canvas covered with a canopy of stars, glittering like diamonds, I could feel myself in the free space all around. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe how that moment felt. It took away every thought from my mind, the usual carousel of worries was simply forgotten.

That night I fell asleep with a smile on my face, not thinking, not caring, about what the next day would bring, just reminding myself that I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

The Morning Scene

That one star
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On my charpoy
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home for the night

At dawn, I woke up just in time, to witness the magical phenomenon of the sky filling with blended tones of rosy pinks and sandy yellows. Here I was, sitting on my charpoy, in the middle of this grand vista welcoming a new day, a new beginning. Gradually, the mighty sun rose like a flower over the desert horizon and the sky exploded with beautiful colors leaving me spellbound yet again.

 

Dawn in the desert

With light, also came the reality that it was time to ride back to the campsite and from there to the world that we knew. We took several photo shots of this stunning beauty of nature before proceeding to the camp. All, except myself, took the Jeep; while I chose to enjoy this ride on my Camel for one last time.

Back at the campsite, we sat down for a light yet filling breakfast, still dreaming of our time in the golden oasis. Soon, we set off to ride back to the city, bidding farewell to our camels and guides. This was also the day we were to move inside the fort.

Camping Under the Stars in Jaisalmer! Was it an incredible, life changing experience ? – Hell Yes!

I remember how excited I was the day I confirmed our Desert Safari. What a massive bucket list item to check off my list. This was truly one of those experiences which we all travel for, such moments in life are so exquisite and I feel so grateful that I got to live it. The feeling of gratitude, peace, joy, and stillness is not something that can be explained in words, leave alone being captured by the lens of a camera. You need to live it, to feel it.

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