Camel Safari in Rajasthan
Warfare would not have been possible without detailed planning, especially in this desert region where all supplies had to be carried when the armies came to pitch camp where the battle lines were drawn. From the repertoire of this experience were drawn the state processions, inter-kingdom journeys and royal pilgrimages when the families came out of their fortified settlements to create alternate, moving cities. Of this rich past were safaris created. A safari is a journey into the desert, but one that is accompanied with rudimentary comforts, and even luxurious amenities. As each journey progresses, there is the excitement of setting camp at a new spot in the lonely wilderness of the Thar, of being entertained by groups of wandering minstrels, of coming in proximity of village life in one of the harshest conditions of the world, of enjoying splendid camp meals and sleeping under the stars that hang suspended from the sky like twinkling fairy lights. None of these journeys are arduous because the organisers ensure that all facilities are provided, from entertainment to fine dining, and from setting up deluxe camps to ensuring that your slightest needs are met. But eventually, it is the landscape that is spellbinding. For miles altogether, there is nothing but sand, but from this aridness one can expect the unexpected as groups of women appear and disappear in their colourful clothes, apparently going nowhere. Just as suddenly, medieval cities rise, magnificent for their architectural heritage, and are just as suddenly lost to sight. Mirages? No, in the Thar, these are only too real.
About the only thing you will have to get used to, when
you plan a camel safari, is the ungainly movement of the ship of the
desert. At first the rolling gait of the camel is a little
disconcerting, but riders soon get used to the rhythm.
The best time for a camel safari is in the morning and evening, even in the cooler winter months. Such safaris are usually run by professional outfits who hire Raikas, the camel-keepers. The surrounding areas of Jaisalmer is best for camel safari.
A more recent, and exciting, variation of the camel
safari is the horse safari. The Rajputs were born to be horseback
riders, and the tradition was strongly enforced in the medieval ages
when the cavalry formed one of the most important flanks of the desert
armies. Special horses were bred at the thikanas or aristocratic homes
of the Thakurs who served their kings with armies of horsemen. The
Marwari horse is an indigenous species, hardy, agile, and among the
notables in world breeds. In addition, the Kathiawadi and Sindhi
horses are also adept at traversing the desert countryside.
Horse safaris are usually conducted in the vicinity of Udaipur where the hilly terrain and forested countryside are ideal for taking to the trail. Depending on the size of the group, the pack of cavalry can move swiftly or at leisure, moving from the vicinity of one old fort to another. There is additional excitement in that the route you choose, and the heritage hotels you stay in, may have been those very ones where the ancient armies once rode and camped.
Horse safari routes can, of course, be diverse, but most will pass close to villages, ruined historical monuments, and temples. These are ideal places to halt for a bit of rest and relaxation, or lunch, and a quick snooze. Riders are advised to equip themselves in riding gearthe famous Jodhpuri breeches, hat, and boots. Depending on your capability to ride, the horses may trot or canter through the countryside. What matters most, however, is that each evening, you are assured of the comforts of former palaces and forts: no better, or more historic way of exploring Rajasthan is possible.
Where to Go
Anokhi village near Jaipur, Shikarbadi at Udaipur, Aodhi near Kumbhalgarh, and Ghanerao.
The most regal way of seeing Rajasthan is on an elephant safari, since nothing can even compare with the majesty of the pachyderm no wonder the rulers used elephants for their journeys. Equipped with a howdah, a large seat on which they would sit, complete with soft silk cushions, and with a ceremonial umbrella over their heads, modern day safaris may pale in comparison, but are no less regal on that account.
The elephant treads slowly and steadily, and a safari
would be ideal in and around principal towns, especially in the
vicinity of wildlife sanctuaries where the same elephants can do
double-duty for viewing wildlife.
Since an elephant safari is an elaborate affair, and requires many attendants for the beast as well, such camps too tend to be more lavish, and so these are best for incentive groups who can be promised an experience, the like of which they are unlikely to ever have elsewhere.
The open jeep is the most conducive way of seeing
Rajasthan, especially in the winter months when the chilly breeze and
warm sunshine provide a heady combination. Such jeep safaris can be
organised by travel agents, but should not be confused with the mere
hiring of vehicles to commute between different destinations. A safari
means an exploration of lesser-known destinations and the countryside,
and may also include forays off the roads, though it is not advisable
to drive in the sand for obvious reasons.
The best jeep safari country is similar to that used for horse safaris, in and around Udaipur, since the rugged Mewar terrain with its forested valleys and scraggy hills and rocky outcrops provides an entrancing landscape. The tribal regions, the small villages, the ruins of old forts, the temple complexes all add up to providing a sense of destination to such safaris. Another rewarding region for jeep safaris is the Shekhawati belt with its painted towns that are in close proximity to each other, but interspersed with the scraggy desert where, for miles around, nothing but the sand stretches.
Jeep safaris can be fun because the pace can be varied to suit ones needs, packing in days of fast travelling with leisurely camping. Safari outfits send a team ahead for picnic lunches, and for setting up camps in the open. Alternates can be to stay in a choice of heritage hotels that dot the vast regions of the desert.