Camel Safari - Bikaner to Phalodi - 180km - 5 days
Nov 3, 2007
|It seems that plans changed quickly from a 2 night safari to a 5 day safari - 180km across the desert towards Jaisalmer. After all, the further into the desert you go, the more remote villages you are able to see. The reason we chose to do our camel safari from Bikaner as opposed to Jaisalmer was because Jaisalmer is known for its abundance of tourists - and having completed the safari and seen what Jaisalmer is like, I am 100% glad of our decision and have no regrets.
So after just one night in Bikaner, we packed off early in the morning (driven by our guest house host, Vino) to a near-by temple (Karni Mata temple) that is famous for the sacred rats. The story goes that Karni Mata once tried to restore the dead child of a storyteller back to life but failed because Yama, the god of death, had already accepted his soul and re-incarnated him in human form. Karni Mata, famed for her legendary temper, was so inflamed by her failure that she announced that no one from her tribe would fall into Yama's hands again. Instead, when they died, all of them would temporarily inhabit the body of a rat before being reborn into the tribe. Therefore, the rats are considered to be incarnations of relatives and storytellers. Apparently, if anyone sees a white rat, its considered good luck and any wish may be granted.
By the time that we were done at the Karni Mata temple, it was almost 10am and Vino drove us further out away from town to meet our camel driver (Ramnarang) and the two camels (unnamed) that were to be our companions for the next 5 days. I forgot to mention that the morning that we were heading out, an English girl by the name of Anne decided to join us for a 2 day safari. So as we boarded the camels and the cart, there were now four of us.
The order of our caravan was as so. One camel in front which hauls a cart filled with blankets, mineral water for us to drink, food, basic cooking and eating dishes, and some bananas. In addition it also lugged Ramnarang, and two other passengers. The last passenger was on top of another camel that was pulled from behind. At first I was a little miffed at the fact that we wouldn't all be riding the camels all the time... but just an hour on board the jerky camel put a quick end to my dismay (as my butt soon needed a rest!)
Instead of a daily recount of what we did (as many of the days has a basic order), I will simply explain the highlights of the safari. The basic order of the day went as so: mornings we would wake up around 6:30 and just a few minutes later, Ramanrang would hand us each a cup of hot tea. Breakfast would consist of some toast with jam (cooked over a tiny fire) and a banana. By 8am the caravan was packed up and we were on our way for the next 3 hours. At approx noon, we would stop near a village, have lunch cooked for us (rice, chapatti, dal and some other basic veg curry) as we napped or read in the shade. At 3pm we were off again until about sunset. While we laid out the blankets on the sand and under the stars for bedtime (and as the big black beetles crawled and made their way under them), chai and dinner was cooked for us. Note: we didn't use a spoon but once the whole 5 days - it was just chapatti and our hands. By 9pm, after doing some star gazing and wishing, we were asleep.
The nights were generally fairly chilly - cold enough that you would want two blankets on top, but definitely bearable. The mornings would already be warm by 8:30am and temps averaged in the high 80's when you were in the shade. There was no shade on top of the camel or the caravan but Brett and I were well advised by the guide from Bikaner to purchase some scarves that would cover our head, neck and face. At the beginning of the second day we were joined by Ramnarang's son who was to serve as our official cook. Both men were really nice and friendly and we were even lucky enough to have them speak a little English! It was great to heard Ramnarangs' threats to the camel to move faster. Although it was in Rajathani, the tone in which he would say things, I could imagine it being something of the following - "camel, you better get your lazy no good self moving faster then this. If you don't, when we get home, I'm going to shave all the hair off the back if your butt so that you look like a naked rat!" Then a THWACK with a stick on the side of his leg would send us trotting off for the next 10 meters before it was another repeat of the whole scene.
Our first day we stopped off for lunch at Ramnarangs family's 'home'. This, as almost all the others were along the way, a mud hut. All that consisted inside was a small area for cooking and beds (that were placed outside during the day) that were made of four wooden posts and a series of intricate weavings across to create a surface to lie on. After our lunch he pointed to our aluminum plate and said 'wash'. So automatically (and embarrassingly) we handed it to him. He simply shook his head and said 'no, you wash'. This is how the washing was done in the desert to spare any water that they could. Water was contained in a large plastic canister. It was tipped to the side to allow water to pour out for filling pots for food, washing hands etc. The amount that spilled over and onto the sand (making some wet sand - duh) was used for the first round of cleaning. So we took our plate, picked up some wet sand, put it in the plate and cups and began to scrub. After this stage, we would throw the wet sand back on the ground and pick up some dry sand to scrub with for the last stage of cleaning. Turns out that this actually works pretty well!
Along our hours on the camels the scenery was mainly flat deserty scrub - not really dune-y like you would imagine, but this was fine with us for it provided shade under a few thorny trees which we could during the food prep. When we would pass by scattered huts children would run outside and yell their greeting of 'ta ta'. Almost guaranteed that just a few seconds later we would hear the words 'bottle doh' which means, give me a bottle. Apparently this is a scarce resource out hear where families could use these old mineral water bottles for storing water, oil, milk etc. On that note, we got our milk for chai along the way when Ramnarang's son would jump off the cart and milk a nearby goat or sheep and that would be a done deal.
Creeping along the caravan route was an abundance of watermelon and what they refer to as cucumber - which basically tasted like a mix between cucumber and catelope. Let me tell you, fruit is something that you crave so much when you're in India. Its not even the right season for a lot of the fruit that we like - no mangos! But generally speaking, we've been eating a lot of bananas and then the occasional apple, papaya and guava. So on the camel, in the sweltering heat, seeing and cracking open a fresh watermelon as we tromped along was like a blessing from god. We just tore into it like savages with our hands spilling juice everywhere!
Other sights we saw were some large lizards and many 'antelopes' that looked identical to what we call Thompson gazelles in Kenya. There were beautiful red sunrises and sunsets, water troughs where the camels would refill their humps etc. On a note about camels: they are far more poopy and farty then anyone would expect - and I wouldn't say its their body that smells - its more just their butt! I would begin to describe the smell that we got so familiar with, but I think my dad might disapprove! It was sour smelling, lets just leave it at that.
Turns out that Ramnarang was quite the popular man along the route. He had family and friends every which way and we would often stay on their land during the night. This resulting in the extremely tiring attention and stares that we would receive. The children were mostly curious, but Ramnarang loved to tell the grownups that my dad was Indian. One incident: we were seated under a tree waiting for lunch when a very old man (an old friend of ramnarangs) came up and sat beside us and began to chat with him. After he learnt about my being half Indian, he came and used his broken English to basically say that I should stay in the village with him and that I would be a good woman in rajasthan as I am strong and I should get married there. Next he grabbed Bretts arm and felt it and said - no he is weak, no good! It was a rather amusing incident!
On a different night Brett proceeded to play a hopping around game with some of the family's children and then the whole family (about 12 people) became infatuated with his digital camera. Of course they all wanted their picture taken... together, separately, in the house, outside the house, with us, with the cat etc. I think we have promised to mail some 20 pictures!
Over all, amazing time, but after 5 days, although you begin to get your body used to it, I'm glad im not on a camel anymore! Now to continue our adventures through Rajasthan (land of the kings).