Monday, November 7, 2011

Riding a Camel in Jaiselmer

Riding a camel is not quite as easy as it looks when you see Lawrence of Arabia loping across the sands in a movie.

When we were in Jaiselmer, our tour included a late afternoon ride across the sand dunes on a camel.  We had been in the Thar Desert for some time now, the third largest desert in the world after the Sahara and the Simpson in Australia.  Most of the desert has been rocky desert and, after the best monsoon in years, it has been uncharacteristically green. However, there is a small area just outside Jaiselmer with dunes. 

Jaiselmer is a major tourist magnet. Jaiselmer itself boasts a huge fort on the hill, like many places we've visited, still populated by 5,000 people inside that fort. It had many havelis (mansions) with richly carved ornamentation. It was the first place we really felt the press of tourists, as we met many tour buses on the road to and from Jaiselmer, intermingled with the many army vehicles (Jaiselmeer is only 100 miles from the Pakistan border and the military is quite beefed up here).  Many of the tours were domestic tourists.  Jaiselmer is the setting for many Bollywood movies, and that draws Indian tourists the way Salzburg draws fans of The Sound of Music.

So, you've been waiting to hear about that camel ride. We had seen camels beside and on the road for a few days as we headed west in Rajasthan, but at the Sam Dunes, as they're known, there were hordes of camels, with their brightly colored saddles and streams of people setting off single file to the dunes.

Our guide picked out a camel for me and then led me around the left side to mount the camel, which is sitting low on the ground with his knees folded under him. Suddenly the camel jumped up, much to the dismay of the guy holding the reins, not to mention me!!!!! So, on to choose another, hopefully calmer, camel. I gingerly sat in the saddle, and the camel straightened his back legs. At this point, one is perched precariously at about a 70 degree angle pitched forward toward the ground. The camel then rockily gets off his knees and stands up straight and you breathe a sigh of relief that you haven't pitched forward off the beast. 

The most uncomfortable thing is that the camel is very wide, and the saddle holds you in a tight position, so your legs are spread very wide, resulting in a lot of pressure on your hips if you're built like me. Anyway, we got off to a lumbering walk, accompanied by two guys, one young and one ancient, holding the reins. 

Except for when the camel was going downhill, or when he lowered his head to crop some brush, it was relatively comfortable swaying ride, except for those darned spread legs.  So I decided to call it a day and head back to the 'camel parking lot'. Immediately, the two guys, both the young and the old, whipped out their mobiles to call back to our driver who came out partway to meet us and put me out of my misery - quite literally. Quite an experience all in all.

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