The Beginner's Guide to Camel Trekking and Venomous Snakes
By Marika Hill
The last thing you want to see on an overnight camel safari is a six-foot (2m) long, highly poisonous cobra slithering in front of your camel, especially if you will be spending the night under the stars with only a warm sleeping-bag separating you and the desert sand.
A group of five of us had decided to do an overnight camel safari in the Thar desert, within the state of Rajasthan, India.
First Obstacle: The Ascent
Camels offer numerous complications to their domestication, the first of these is getting up top. For one thing it has a large hump sticking out the prime saddle position.
Secondly, a camel is an extremely tall animal. Finally there were no fancy leather saddles; the locals generally throw a few makeshift blankets across, all tied down with a single rope strap. These factors canceled all romantic riding fantasies from Indiana Jones.
Our guides clicked their tongue signaling the beasts to sit, shrinking their frame to a mere meter tall. This bit was easy, all you have to do was sit on top.
Step two got far more technical: the camel stretched out its hind legs first, leaving the front of its body (along with the rider) lurching precariously forward.
Finally the camel straightens both legs and you find yourself ten feet (3m) in the air wondering how the hell you get off this beast. This is when the nerves really kick in.
I asked my guide, Gamara, whether there is many people seriously injured by falling off camels.
“But have people died?” I nervously inquire.
He took a little more time to consider his answer, “No snakes, it is too cold, now in summer, many, many snakes. But no, no snakes now, far too cold.”
Second Obstacle: Momentum
Just my luck that I chose the stoner-type camel. No matter how much I tugged it and groaned, and whistled, and hit it and made funny mouth signals it seemed to just want to lag behind, scoffing down shrubbery and staring into space.
Contrary to what one might think of Aladdin's magical world, the desert is not all dry, perfect sandy dunes stretching through the distance. There's actually a lot of bleak dry shrub, dust and dirt mixed in with the sand, ultimately redefining my glossed-over perspective of desert. Within a few hours the constant sight of shrub and sand lent my mind to thoughts of tea and curry.
Third Obstacle: Privacy
The first break allowed us all to do something we had always wanted to do. Pee in the sand. I suspect it's some faded memories from the childhood sandbox that lead us to each chose a desert shrub, grinning nervously and crouching low. All was going well until the local school children began giggling at us about 100 yards (100m away). It turns out we had stopped near Gamara's village.
Our guides lived within a remote desert village, and conducted these tours as it offered a better paid alternative to subsistence living.
Fourth Obstacle: Deadly Snakes
After a nice hot curry it was back on the camels and further into the desert. With my scarf tied round my face like true desert explorer, I felt unbeatable. That is when the deadly cobra stopped us in our tracks. We all waited nervously as it gingerly wriggled past, undeterred by terrified Westerners. The guides seemed quite experienced with these situations, allowing it to quietly pass before we continued. We were later warned not to have toilet stops too close to the shrubs.
Another four hours riding and we reached our camping spot: miles of remote and unspoilt desert sand dunes. The rippled texture image seemed conceived by a squadron of top graphic designers using the latest digital technology.
Once darkness fell, a communal fire was lit and Gamara and Bemar shared stories and songs. Zipping up tightly in our sleeping-bags, with blankets over our heads – we felt semi-secure against snake attacks.
We woke the next morning, alive and with exquisite views of the glowing sun reaching over the infinite sand dunes.
Soon we were back on our camels, grudgingly making our way back to the jeep that would take us back to civilization.
How to book
Overnight camel treks begin at £5 for a basic 24 hour came trek including vegetarian food, camels, guides and a few extra blankets. From here the price goes up depending on your choice of food, length of trek and opting for luxuries such as desert huts and portable beds.
Departure Cities (within the state of Rajasthan)
What to take
When to go
Tourist Operators and further information:
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