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Camel Safari

Spending some time in the desert on camelback is touted as one of Jaisalmer's must-do activities and almost every hotel and innumerable agents offer camel trips in various locations. Don't book one just outside of town, where there are no dunes but a semi-desert rocky terrain surrounded by wind farm turbines and mobile network base stations. Hardcore travelers may opt to spend a night or even two "camping" out in the desert (some outfitters have semipermanent camps, with en-suite tents), trekking to sites of interest during the day and enjoy meals around bonfires under the stars (pack warm sleepwear for this) but most people choose to spend only a few hours in the desert, usually watching the sun set from Sam Dunes, about an hour from town by car. Keep in mind that the popularity of these short trips means you will more than likely be surrounded by noisy travelers in areas that are looking increasingly degraded -- with discarded bottles and cigarette packages, and kids cajoling you to buy warm colas and make "donations." The whole experience can be unbearable if you value solitude and want a unique experience that doesn't feel like an overhyped tourist trap. If the idea of a communally enjoyed sunset doesn't ruin the romance for you, you can take a camel ride at sunset from Khuhri, which lies almost 2 hours away by car. The latter is obviously less popular, so it's not as busy, but it is no longer the unspoiled experience it was 15 years ago.

Should you wish to saddle up with the masses, the most reliable camel safari agent is Royal Desert Safaris (Nachana Haveli; tel. 02992/252-538; rsafari@sancharnet.in). Expect an all-inclusive late-afternoon camel ride, with dinner and jeep transfers, to cost Rs 1,050 per head. The camel ride without food and transfers is Rs 250; also offered are overnight packages for camping out in the desert in Swiss cottages (Rs 4,500 double, including rides, entertainment, and meals). Alternatively you can drive out yourself and negotiate directly with one of the camel drivers who line the road with camels -- the state of the saddle is a good indication of which one to choose. In any case, your backside is likely to start aching after a while -- the best part of the ride might be getting out of the saddle and strolling over a dune or two; or, if you're feeling adventurous, ask your camel-wallah to climb up behind you and take you for a canter.

If you'd rather escape the tedium of done-to-death camel safaris, contact Shakti Singh of Nachana Haveli; he'll arrange a unique, tailor-made, and totally private desert experience that will combine a camel safari with visits to remote villages, perhaps a meal on the dunes, and a delightfully intimate knowledge of the environment. Shakti, the unassuming son of a maharaja, lived in the desert for 2 years getting to grips with a way of life most sophisticated urbanites could hardly conceive. He's knowledgeable about the flora and fauna that you come across as you traverse the dunes; although young and modest, he knows the region better than the multitude of "professionals" offering camel safaris.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.