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The Great Indian Thar Desert

In This Post:

Sam Sand Dunes Of Great Thar

The town of Jaisalmer lies in the heart of Indian Thar Desert. The town came to be called ‘golden city’ only because of the golden sand of Thar Desert that stretches for miles around it.

The Indian Thar Desert on the north western part of the country is a natural border between the territories of India and Pakistan. With almost 85% of the desert in Indian territory, it occupies an area of 170,000 square kilometers and extends beyond Rajasthan into Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana. The desert that sits flanked by Aravali hills and Great Rann of Kutch has shifting sand dunes due to high winds in the region. The desert is also home to salt water lakes like Sambhar, Pachpadra and Phalodi.

Did you know that Thar desert is world’s 9th largest Sub-Tropical Desert?

The part of the dunes around Jaisalmer are called ‘Sam’ and boast of the larger dunes in the region.

Must Do Activities Activities At Sam Dunes

1. Camel Rides In Thar

Camel Cart
               Camel cart ride on the sand dunes of Sam

“Sir, just for Rs 800 I will take the camel cart to the farthest limit of this desert…..You can see the finest golden sand there…no coarse grain. All films with desert scene are shot in that part, sir!!” Our camel ride guide was trying his selling pitch on us as we stepped down the cart to shoot some pictures at the ‘Sam sand-dunes‘.

You can also read my post In And Around Jaisalmer for more things to see.

Since the sun was already setting and we couldn’t have reached the promised farthest part before it was completely dark…so we declined the camel owner’s offer. We had already taken a short ride on the cart and the young ones of our group wanted to ride the camel instead of the cart.

Disappointed the cart driver proceeded to find more gullible eager tourists. On our own then, we sauntered back to the nearest dunes across the campsite where we planned to stay the night.

We did ride the camels next day and watched the sun go down behind the dunes. A camel ride for two costs anywhere from 500 Rs to 8oo Rs or sometimes lesser depending on the distance you like to cover along with your persistence and haggling.

Sandy expanse of Thar desert
Exploring the sandy expanse on camel back

2. Meet The Kalbeliya Dancers Of The Great Desert

Kalbelia dancer
                        Little performer

While we sat on the dunes waiting for the sun to set, a young Kalbeliya girl and her father offered to perform for us in exchange of some money. The little girl indeed was a wonderful dancer. But you might not come across such solo performers every time.

Usually most of the campsites at desert arrange for a traditional Kalbeliya performance by dancers from Kalbeliya community.

Kalbeliyas are the snake charmer tribe of Rajasthan. This nomadic community is expert in catching snakes and extracting venom. They are aware of various herbs that can be used as medicines against snake bites. Kalbeliyas rever snakes especially Cobra and do not kill the reptile. The dance moves of the Kalbeliyas reflect the graceful fluid snake movements. The dances are performed both by women and men dressed as women in colorful traditional ‘lehenga’ and ‘choli’.

Kalbeliya dancer at Khuri

The dancing girls bedecked in traditional jewelry perform tricks like picking up rings, blades and paper currency with their eyelids.

Kalbeliya dance is listed with the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

It was well into midnight before we retired to the tents. Do you know that the temperatures drop close to zero during some winter nights in desert while the day is as hot and burning?

3. Smoke A Hookah

Hookah smoking
Husband smoking a hookah (non-alcoholic)

The campsites do organize hookah smoking on request. I had never smoked one…forget hookah never smoked anything… and so i had no clue how this worked. And the funny thing that happened was that as I inhaled first time on the nozzle I forgot to exhale through the nose and I sat coughing for a long time while everyone laughed on!!

While I swore off the hookah and have stuck to my decision, but it is an experience one should try just for the fun of it. Life is after all made of various experiences good and bad.

4. Slide Down The Slopes Of Dunes At Thar Desert

Fun on sand dunes
Roll down, slide or jump like a kid in the sand dunes at Khuri

I am one finicky person when it comes to getting mud or sand on my clothes. But no one in the group was having any of it and I was pushed down the soft sand. Surprisingly I did enjoy squishing the sand in my toes.

Let the child within escape once in a while and enjoy a different kind dune bashing at Sam desert.

5. View Sunsets Over the Dunes

Sun sets beyond the dunes at Sam desert
The golden sun setting on the amber sand

Sunsets are beautiful as are sunrises. With the Thar desert in the north-west part of the country, the sunsets are particularly beautiful. As the sun descends behind the sandy heaps it turns everything golden yellow and orange. The silhouette of camels and riders give ample beautiful photographic shots too.

6. Spend The Night Star Gazing In The Desert

Many a star gazing enthusiasts spend the night away from campsite with sleeping bags, telescopes and cameras for sky watch and star trail photography. The campsite may provide packed food on request.

I am scared of creepy crawlies, snakes, scorpions and imaginary spiders so I did not venture out in the dunes alone at night. Also it becomes freezing cold under the open skies on the desert sand at nights. But if adventure is what rushes your adrenaline go for the sky watch in dunes away from the city lights and chaos. I have heard you can see the milky way and shooting stars!!

How To Reach And Best Time To Visit

  • Sam (pronounced as “sum”) Sand Dunes are located at about 45 km west of Jaisalmer
  • Local Bus services and hired taxis are available from the town of Jaisalmer and near the Jaisalmer Fort for the campsite.
  • December to March weather is perfect for a visit to dunes. The best time however is February-March when the “Desert Festival” is organised. The festival is a showcase of all cultural activities with camel races, folk dances, puppet shows, Rajasthani music, traditional cuisine and henna art by local women.

Camp Site

Desrt camp
               Camp site with arranged around a central space for traditional evening performances

Khamma ghani sa (welcome sir) …….. So says the traditionally dressed lady at the entrance of the campsite in the evening welcoming the guest with a  garland and a ’tilak’ ( a mark made by ring finger with paste of turmeric ) on forehead of all guests irrespective of whether someone is staying the night at tents or just visiting for dinner and dance performance.

Sam San dunes are dotted with tent campsites. The spacious tents with a sit-out, bedroom and attached washrooms are equipped with fans for the day and quilts and room heaters for the night. The kitchens are usually a larger tent just a shout away and staff is willing to make a cup of tea or coffee whenever asked for. They love a tip though!!

Almost all campsites offer the regional cuisine served by men dressed up in local traditional dress. Indian style of low seating is provided for all guests. After the dinner the stage is set for the traditional ‘Kalbeliya’ dancers and the night carries on till the guests leave on their own to retire in their tents.

There are quite a few campsites along the road. All the campsites offer similar stay options with slight difference in quality and hence the variation in rates. The average rates per night for the tents vary from Rs 4000 to Rs 7000. These can be booked online or from the tour operators in Jaisalmer town.

Khuri Sand Dunes

Close to Sam Sand dunes is another less frequented and less commercialized village of Khuri. Some campsites have sprouted there as well however it is less crowded than Sam. The sand is finer and cleaner at Khuri. Read my story on Khuri.

I was living in Barmer town for two and half years and took trips to Jaisalmer and around quite regularly. It was one such trip when I spent time at Sam sand sunes. On my way back I came across some untamed camels with their little ones drinking water from a pothole….

Untamed Camels
                Untamed Camels with calves

A site very common at dunes was camels decorated in all finery. Usually the camels are decorated during the desert festival but at camp sites impressing a tourist being the main aim, the camel were mostly kept bedecked.

Decorated Camel
                Early morning camel riders arrive with decorated camels to take tourists on rides

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12 Comments »

  1. Nice post and nice collection of photos. Jaisalmer is famous city in North India. Their culture is the main attraction of tourist. You can visit these places by arranging North India Vacation and for affordable tour packages visit splendourholidays.com.

    Liked by 1 person

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