Camel Safari

Camel Safari

Camels

“A horse, designed by a committee”?
Kathy Queen of the Desert
One of the most exotic items on our Rajasthan tour was to be an overnight camel safari through the Thar Desert. What uniqueness! What adventure! What a pain in the ass! (literally). Spending about 6 hours net on camelback: entertaining at first, then tedious, then painful. Similar to riding a horse, the inside of the thighs tend to get bruised; in Scott’s case the blanket over the saddle didn’t cover the back properly, so his upper butt kept slamming into the back of the saddle. Quite… memorable.
We rode a few hours in the sun, had a fried lunch cooked by the camel drivers, napped, back on board for several more hours in the saddle. Not a whole lot to see in the desert, but we did pass some isolated villages and women out gathering dung to use as fuel for the evening’s dinner.
The only real excitement came as we were nearing our camp for the evening.

It’s like… Falling off a Camel

Scott’s ill-fitting saddle had won out by the end of the day. “Sore” hardly covers it. So Scott took a break, walking alongside the caravan. Camels don’t move very fast, so this is no big deal. And it was nice to get off the this love-sick camel (see “camel lust” later in this tale) for a while.
The desert is pretty hot (it’s a desert, ok?) so Scott needs some more water and goes up to Kathy (on her mount, top right) gets it and continues walking, behind Kathy’s camel.
As we come to the very end of the trip (where we’ll spend the night), Kathy’s camel gets spooked over something and lurches. Now, Kathy is a trained Equestrienne, so she knows how to handle “emergency” situations — with horses. However, what’s happened, seeming in slow-motion while Scott watches… Kathy’s entire saddle, with Kathy on it, shifts almost 90 degrees to the right. In other words, Kathy, and Kathy’s saddle, are now parallel to the ground. Kathy is about to fall about 6′ from the side of a camel. It is at once (for Scott) terrifying and hilarious, watching this unfold from 30′ away and being unable to do anything at all about it. It was like slow motion action scenes in the movies.

Saved by the dune!

Unlike most of the day, the “trail” here is largely soft sand, and there are dunes to the side. Recall that Kathy is horizontal, clinging for her life on the side of a camel. No dummy, her feet were not locked in the stirrups like so many gringos’ (Scott for example) would be. So she’s prepared to fall, and that’s just what she does (she’s practiced this move more than once on horseback). This saga all continues to unfold in seeming “slow-mo”; seconds become tens; Kathy descends towards the earth.
But we’re right at the edge of a dune. Her fall is into soft, dry, sand. Couldn’t ask for a better cushion. She’s unscathed from the fall. Until…

Camel Feet: well designed

There are many things one does not want to be stepped on with (oops, bad grammer: “there are many things, to be stepped on with, unwanted”). Soccer cleats, horses hooves to name but two. But you could do worse than to be stepped on by a camel, an event which followed immediately after Kathy’s fall.
Camel’s feet are quite large, perhaps a foot (no pun intended) wide and essentially round, and more like a pad than the massive toe-nail which is a horse’s hoof. They’re optimized for walking in conditions like sand. So when Kathy hits the dune, and the camel basically steps on her chest. Jenny the trip leader has visions of a helicopter medi-vac. Kathy gets up, brushes off the sand, and pronounces herself fine. All those years of falling off horses have taurght her well. She’s got a bruise and a small scratch — but both are assuaged by doting and sympathy — and a quantity of beer. Jenny the trip leader seems much more traumatized by the whole affair than Kathy.
Kathy really lucked out on this… she could have been seriously hurt — but life entails a certain amount of risk.
We had a beautiful site to spend the night in the desert (this is where one of few group photos comes from). First came the beer (brought cold, in jeeps, to this “remote, isolated” desert location. The camel drivers now turned into chefs and cooked us a fabulous feast over the campfire (and a propane stove). This was inevitably followed by singing songs around the campfire. The chefs now morphed into folk singers, and sang some excellent Rajasthani desert ballads. Having forgotten all our camping trip songs, we countered with pop songs we could recall – Janis Joplin, Yellow Submarine, that sort of thing. Not exactly campfire material.
Being cloudless (it is a desert after all) and in the middle of nowhere, the stars were fabulous. Among the many talents (it turns out) of “John the Elder“, is a compelling knowledge of the legends of the night sky. Guy is really handy to have around!
Finally we piled in under the quilts provided (lots of them – it was still *cold* at night) and fell asleep around the waning campfire.

Next: Jaiselmer

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