We recently finished a three day, two nights “camel safari” out of the desert city of Bikaner, in Rajasthan, India. Our party consisted of myself, Ryan, two camel men (Sankar and Aridam), and two camels (Kwalu and Moni). There was one camel for pulling a cart of supplies, one camel for riding. Our playground was a big, huge sahelian landscape, sometimes wilderness, sometimes pastureland and sometimes village, for us to slowly traverse.
The hours spent riding the camel (or the cart), cooking, eating, and sleeping were lovely. Getting to see wildlife in the wild, and not in a reserve or a zoo, was truly special. We saw countless antelope as well as the occasional wild fox, jack rabbit, and even some elusive blue bulls, which are the largest antelopes in Asia. Unintimidated by our camels or the men driving them, these animals barely blinked an eye at our presence and it was humbling to be amongst them. I loved every minute of our morning and afternoon rides.
I learned after our safari that our guides were Bishnoi, a people of the Rajasthani desert that have been living in harmony with the environment and animal world for hundreds of years. Bishnoi means 29, which is the number of tenets that this casteless society lives by. Some tenets guide them in how to live in accordance with the environment, others to their relationship with God, others on how to take care of health and body. The Bishnoi have an ingrained love of wildlife, allowing animals of the desert to live and graze on their lands, with no fear of being killed or eaten. (Whenever an animal was spotted, one of the men would point and exclaim “Bulee bull! Photo!”, “Camel baby! Two!”, “Bird! Bird!”, “Antelope! Yin!”, or “Big lizard! Down!”)
Other than milk, all their food is vegan. Eggs and meat may not even touch the dishes in which they cook and eat. There is no smoking, and no alcohol is consumed by these people. (They weren’t adverse to a little chewing tobacco, though, I noticed)
The food was delicious. (Camping food always is, isn’t it?) We had essentially the same dish for lunch and dinner each day, with variations on which vegetables were used and the addition of rice in the evenings. The camel men both acted as drivers, guides and cooks for us. With almost no English and questionable Hindi, our communication was limited to a vocabulary of about 20 words, a bunch of pointing and pantomiming and lots of smiles and thumbs ups. If something really needed to be communicated, we would call Vinod, the man who set up our safari back in Bikaner and he would help us translate. But that only happened once…the rest of the time we did just fine.
If you can imagine an experience that is both incredibly interesting and boring at the same time, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of what this jaunt into the desert was like. Maybe our attention spans are too inundated by a fast paced media, we are too used to our devices and unable to just sit, but the four to five hour siestas (from 10:30-3ish), where we sat out the hot sun under a tree might have been better spent if one of us had remembered to bring a book, or a deck of cards, or something. If you are the kind of person who can sit still for four hours and meditate quietly, or sleep in blazing hot weather, then you’ll absolutely love the quiet respite that this experience offers. Otherwise, take heed and bring your own entertainment for those siestas.
In the event that you decide to book a camel safari out of Bikaner or Jaiselmere one day, I have compiled a list of things that would be helpful to bring along when you go…some of these things we wished we had, and others we were glad we did.
- Pair of wool or cotton tube socks. Why? Wet the sock and put your water bottle inside. Keep the sock wet and you’ll have cool drinking water instead of water fit for a Jacuzzi. This is a trick I learned from my good friend Linda in Ghana.
- Playing cards or other non-electronic entertainment
- A good book
- Your own sheet and small pillow
- Head lamp
- A harmonica or other small musical instrument if you play
- A cushy bike chamois (camel riding is hard on the tush region)
- If you want something other than white bread and sugar spread for breakfast, consider bringing your own supplies. No eggs or meat though! You will offend the camel men.
- Wide brimmed hat
- Bug repellant
|water bottle inna wet sock
Our meals consisted of fresh chopped onions and vegetables cooked in a sauce of chili powder, turmeric, coriander seeds and salt. Spicy, simple, and tasty. The chapatti we ate on safari was delicious and definitely gluten-full. I look forward to creating a GF chapatti when I get home.
I wonder if the fact that Aridam cooked our chapatti right on pieces of gathered cow dung is what made it taste so good…
Here is the recipe for our “Camel Safari Masala”, a simple and tasty dish that can be thrown together in no time and that is perfect for a camping trip, wherever you are in the world. Serve with rice or freshly made chapatti.
Camel Safari Masala
- 1 TBS chili powder
- 1 TBS coriander seeds
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp salt
- 2-3 onions, chopped
- (I’m going to add garlic to the recipe) 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 tomatoes, chopped
- 4-5 cups chopped vegetables (cauliflower, potatoes, zucchini, cabbage, or any combination or just one kind)
- Oil for cooking
Combine the spices and add a small amount of water to make a paste. Heat the oil and add the onions. When translucent, add the spice mix and the vegetables. Cover with enough water to help cook and to create a sauce. Cook until the vegetables are soft to your liking. Remove from heat and prepare your rice or chapatti.
- 3-4 cups of whole wheat flour
- Enough water to mix it into a kneadable dough
Add water slowly to the flour and mix with your hands until the dough is elastic and smooth (about 5 minutes). Pinch off pieces about the size of a ping pong ball and roll them in your hands until they are smooth balls. Flatten each ball with your hands and then finish shaping by rolling the ball out until it is thin, like a tortilla. Cook dry on a cast iron skillet until bubbles form and it begins to brown. Finish the cooking of the chapattis directly over the flame to brown and crisp further.
Or, serve the masala with rice. Perfect for camping!
Here is the website of the man who booked our camel safari. He was helpful and reasonable and we recommend.