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12 March 2015 / leggypeggy

Poor John survives two days on a camel in Rajasthan

camels and guides, That Desert

Some of our guides and camels. My guide is in purple. See the little fellow to the left of the guy in turquoise? He less than 10 years old

Poor John is never keen on riding animals. Horses are out. Bull-riding is out. Emus and ostriches are out. Donkeys are marginally okay because, as he says, it’s not that far to fall off a donkey.

So you can imagine he wasn’t at all impressed when he realised that our travels in India included two days in the Thar Desert on CAMELS.

Oh, you should have heard him grumble and grumble and grumble. But he swallowed his complaints, mounted a camel and was heaved high into the air.

He was never sure whether his camel was named Rajah or Roger—he really should have his hearing tested. Although to be fair, his confusion was compounded by the fact that two other camels on the trek were named Robert and Rocket.

camels drinking

One of two long drinks the camels had in two days

leopard camel

Robyn’s leopard camel

You might remember that I was on Baloo, who nearly dumped me in a water trough in the first 15 minutes. But once we got past that scare, we were off with our food provisions, cooking gear, bedding, luggage and many litres of water securely tied on the rumps of eight camels.

Baloo had the dressiest ‘outfit’, Rajah/Roger’s gear looked like men’s pyjamas, Robyn’s camel looked the most interesting with his naturally-occuring leopard spots and Sherry’s camel kept calling for his wife, who had apparently run away recently.

In addition to camel quirks, it was an awkward and uncomfortable start until we asked if someone could help us put our feet into the makeshift stirrups. Luckily, the guides were quick to oblige. Even though the saddles were well-cushioned and quite comfy, none of us would have survived two days on camels with our legs dangling in midair.

Thar Desert camel

Poor John’s camel with new riders. The young handler is sitting in front

Thar Desert, camels feeding

Dinner time for camels

Musa was Baloo’s camel handler. He’s grown up in the desert and is a farmer and tour guide there. He said they usually grow two crops including one that provides feed for camels, but he said drought conditions for the last few years have hampered/killed most of the farming. I’m guessing tourism keeps him and his family going.

But Musa and the others are perfect for the tourist job. Whenever we arrived at a ‘destination’, they were straight into starting the cooking or setting up the overnight camp.

And they made excellent food, given the primitive circumstances. I wouldn’t want to have to build a fire and cook a half decent meal in a windy desert.

Thar Desert cooking

Making lunch

But the handler who impressed me most was a young boy who was aged no more than 10. A couple of the handlers seemed to think he was only seven. This young boy owned one of the camels, so was allowed to join us on the expedition and be its escort. No doubt, he should have been in school.

I never caught his name, so I’ll call him Mowgli. Mowgli was fearless when it came to camels. He had his own and everyone else’s under control. He also helped set up camp, care for the camels, gather wood for fires and serve meals. I wonder if true desert expeditions will last long enough to keep him happily employed for the rest of his life.

One of our stops was at the handlers’ village. Based on the artwork painted on doors and the women’s dress and preference not to have their faces photographed (the men didn’t mind), we wondered if the ‘tribe’ was originally from Afghanistan. They didn’t claim any such link and thought they and their ancestors had always lived in the Thar Desert.

But back to the expedition. Aside from my near tumble, the jaunt went smoothly. Oh wait, there was a stretch where the fellows got the camels trotting and all I could wish for was a sports bra.

When we camped for the night, most of the camels and crew went home for the night—we hadn’t travelled far and probably in a circle. The fellows who stayed behind cooked and offered to fetch beers for us. How could we resist after a day spent in the hot sun.

Then it was time for bed. We’d brought our sleeping bags and the crew provided mattresses and coverlets. After a couple of beers, Robyn, Sherry and I managed to completely miss the pile of mattresses and instead spread coverlets on the ground. The sand was soft enough but the extra thickness of mattresses would have provided some good warmth in a chilly desert.

Thar Desert dog

‘Red’ gets comfy on a mattress

Robyn scored some surprise extra warmth. In the middle of the night, someone tossed a mattress over the bottom half of her sleeping bag. In the morning, that’s where we found ‘Red’, the dog that had followed our entourage for most of the previous day.

Turns out Red—we gave her that name—didn’t belong to our fellows or their village. She’s a caravan groupie, following those who give her handouts and moving on to a new group when the current party disbands.

When we dismounted, Red trotted off quite happily. And we moved on for a night in a desert ‘resort’.

I get a kick out of the word ‘resort’ in India. This one promised luxury tents, hot showers, a buffet dinner featuring Rajasthani dishes, and a unique show of local dancing and music.

Oh my, the promises they make! The tents were large, a bit grubby and the canvas doors wouldn’t close. Toilet paper was not provided, but towels were. The water ran freely but never ran hot. Dinner came about 9pm (we were starving). And most of the show reminded us of one we had seen in Ranthambhore in 2013, except the costumes were much more elaborate.

I think we all would have been just as happy sleeping another night on the sand. Even Poor John had to admit that the trek was much, much better than the one he so hated in the Sahara Desert in Mali six years ago. But that’s another story.

Thar Desert

Thar is the world’s most densely populated desert

About the Thar Desert

Also known as the Great Indian Desert or Marusthali (Land of the Dead), the Thar is the world’s 17th largest desert, and the most densely populated. It straddles India and Pakistan (about 85 per cent of it is in northwestern India) and has an average of 83 people per square kilometre. In India, it spreads over four states and covers 320,000 square kilometres.

We travelled into the Thar from Jaisalmer in the state of Rajasthan. I was surprised to learn that about 40 per cent of all Rajasthanis live in this desert.

Most of the desert is shifting dunes, and the high winds that occur just before the monsoon mean the landscape changes dramatically each year. Rainfall is scarce with no more than 20 inches a year and often as little as four.

That said, there is a rich mix of vegetation, human settlement and animal life. Wells and tanks supply water, and the Indira Gandhi Canal brings irrigation to northwest Rajasthan. This allows locals to grow some crops and raise livestock. In fact, almost 50 per cent of India’s wool comes from this area.

There are also concerted efforts to grow more trees in the desert, especially Prosopis cineraria and Tecomella undulata, which are valued as all-round trees. Camels, goats and sheep can eat the leaves, flowers and pods. The wood can be used for construction and made into farming implements.

Thar is also home to more than 110 species of birds, and almost 50 species of snakes and lizards, as well as varieties of antelope and deer. We hoped to see a desert cat or fox, but our wildlife sightings were limited to birds, a beetle and a couple of deer.

The landscapes reminded us a lot of deserts in Africa.

25 Comments

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  1. Wanda Causby Rabb / Mar 13 2015 6:25 am

    All I can say is POOR JOHN!!! 2 hours on a camel would be more than I would like, much less two days!!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2015 1:04 pm

      I have to give Poor John credit. He was a good sport about it this time.

      Like

  2. Gary Walker / Mar 13 2015 8:44 am

    Great post! Poor poor John. I hear camels are nasty, vile, and mean beasts. And they spit on you, to boot!

    I have sympathy for the young boy who should be in school. But it’s probably just part of his culture and not uncommon. He seems to have a great work ethic and will grow up to be a fine man.

    I liked the anecdote about the Red dog. He seems to have found a niche market for himself mooching off of tourists.LOL.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2015 1:06 pm

      Camels are vile beasts although these were on their best behaviour the whole time. I was really impressed. And unlike horses, there was no kicking.

      As for the boy and the dog, I thought their presence was special but I hope the kid goes to school some of the time. Musa, my guide, said the teacher was sometimes less reliable than the kids. No one whats to live out there and teach the kids. 😦

      Like

  3. Galavanting Gran / Mar 13 2015 8:48 am

    Deserts are fascinating places from my limited experience and never in such prolonged relationship with a camel.
    I imagine I would need to be accompanied by my chiropracter. Most intrepid.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2015 1:08 pm

      I love deserts and have been lucky enough to visit quite a few. But I have to say that your chiropractor comment will have me chuckling all day.

      Like

  4. Sy S. / Mar 13 2015 9:51 am

    Hello LP, very nice blog about Camels and your experience (and John’s) riding Camels and camping out. I also liked the Red Dog who was smart enough to get grub when he/she needs in order to survive.

    FYI and others who read this Camel Blog post; Camel Trivia, if you happen to be lucky enough to be on a TV game show:
    The average life expectancy of a camel is 40 to 50 years.
    Camels do not directly store water in their humps as was once commonly believed.
    Camels have a series of physiological adaptations that allow them to withstand long periods of time without any external source of water.
    Camels are able to withstand changes in body temperature and water consumption that would kill most other animals.
    Most camels surviving today are domesticated…. There are around 14 million camels alive as of 2010.
    There are around 700,000 feral dromedary camels in central parts of Australia.
    Camel cavalries have been used in wars throughout Africa, the Middle East, and into modern-day Border Security Force of India.
    Military Uses; The United States Army established the U.S. Camel Corps (19th Century), France created a mehariste camel corps, the British created the Imperial Camel Corps to name a few…
    Camel milk is a staple food of desert nomad tribes and is sometimes considered a meal in and of itself; a nomad can live on only camel milk for almost a month.
    Camel meat has been eaten for centuries.
    Camel meat is acceptable for Muslims (generally speaking). Judiasm; camel meat and milk are not kosher.

    Sy. S.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 13 2015 1:09 pm

      Wow, thanks for all the camel trivia. Now I just have to sign up for a quiz night somewhere. P.S. I ate a lot of camel meat when I lived in Egypt in the 1970s.

      Like

  5. Gary Walker / Mar 14 2015 9:57 am

    Yes @ Sy S. Camels were an experiment that started in the Texas Army during the mid 19th century. It didn’t go over very well. Soldiers complained about their smell and annoying spitting habits. We quickly reverted back to horses. Camels looked good on paper but not very loved. LOL
    http://www.transchool.lee.army.mil/museum/transportation%20museum/camel.htm

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 14 2015 12:54 pm

      I can imagine camels in Texas. I can also imagine the soldiers complaining about them. Thanks for the extra bit of camel trivia.

      Like

  6. suchled / Mar 14 2015 11:49 pm

    It is amazing to think of the way people adapt to living in such places. We civilized people are too soft. Thanks for the great stories, again and again.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 15 2015 12:08 am

      Overwhelming how people live in these conditions. We are soft. Thanks for enjoying the tales.

      Like

  7. Norman................ / Mar 15 2015 11:58 pm

    boy Peggy you really are seeing it all so late in life FAB but poor John any way keep enjoying
    love norman xx

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 18 2015 4:15 am

      Thanks. We’e having a great time—and keeping up. 🙂

      Like

  8. Norman................ / Mar 15 2015 11:59 pm

    sorry can not see purple a dark blue and turquoise yes

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 18 2015 4:15 am

      The dark blue is more purple in real life. Goes to show how colour changes in different lights.

      Like

  9. mommycookforme / Mar 16 2015 5:24 am

    Thank you for sharıng your amazing adventure and beautiful photos!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 18 2015 2:38 am

      You are most welcome. Thank you for sharing all your amazing recipes.

      Like

  10. Gary Walker / Mar 16 2015 1:30 pm

    I you aren’t used to riding you get very sore in awkward places. I took a donkey ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon that took hours. Two days later… let’s just say I walked with a great deal of discomfort.

    Like

  11. Alison / Jan 1 2016 2:06 am

    I’ve only read a few of your posts so far, but I love that they are both educational and engaging! The camels look so majestic in photos, but I’ve heard they can be a real nightmare, lol. I also enjoyed the tidbit about Red, the canine caravan groupie.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Jan 1 2016 8:29 am

      Thanks for visiting and for such a lovely comment. I think I’d be cheating the reader if I didn’t add some useful facts to my posts. So I can confirm what you said about camels. They are majestic but can be a complete pain in the neck. When unhappy, or just contrary, they will snarl, kick and bite. Luckily I’ve never been on the receiving end of such behaviour.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Ray / Mar 6 2016 7:32 pm

    Absolutely jealous! Thar Dessert is on my “bucket list.” So glad you two got to travel here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 6 2016 7:40 pm

      It was amazing. I hope you are able to get there. A truly wonderful experience.

      Like

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  1. C is for Camel – one hump, not two – and Camping | Curious to the MAX

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