“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‘ at outskirts of Jaisalmer.
Sam (pronounced as “sum”) Sand Dunes are located at about 45km west of Jaisalmer. The golden sand stretches for miles and miles burning during the day and freezing cold in the nights. 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.
Though regular buses ply for Sam from Jaisalmer but it is better to hire a vehicle from the town for the campsite.
The sun was already setting…..we couldn’t have reached the promised farthest part before it was completely dark…so we declined the camel owner’s offer. He soon dumped us at the pick-up point and 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. I could not resist taking a shot of the picture-postcard look-alike scene of distant camel riders and the camel carts with a backdrop of setting sun.
Afraid of snakes and scorpions that might venture out of their burrows at night we returned to our campsite before it was too dark and cold.
The campsite was one of many 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 Indian Rs 4000 to Rs 7000. These can be booked online or from the tour operators in Jaisalmer town.
The tents are spacious with a sit-out,bedroom and attached washrooms. A table fan to be used during day and quilts for the night are provided by the campsite management. The kitchen is just a shout away and staff is willing to make a cup of tea or coffee whenever asked for. They love a tip though!!
“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.
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.
Kalbeliya is a Rajasthani tribe of snake charmers and the kalbeliya dance depicts the snake movements. The dancing girls wear a very colorful long skirt and the traditional jewellery and perform tricks like picking up rings, blades and paper currency with their eyelids. This dance is listed with the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
It was well into midnight before we retired to the tents. The temperatures drop close to zero during some winter nights in desert and we were not prepared for so low temperatures. The only option was to huddle and snuggle up in the quilts and that is precisely what we did.
The next morning the sun shone bright and there was no sign of cold. A lone camel rider in an attempt to be the first one to get some business showed up with a beautifully decorated camel on the dunes but the sun was too harsh to ride on dunes. I was content with taking pictures only.
On our way back we came across some untamed camels with their little ones drinking water from a pothole….
Though this trip was quite enjoyable with the tents somewhat like Arabian nights, rides on camels and camel carts but what I discovered about myself was that….. Me, the sun and sand don’t go together!!