Bikaner – Desert

We’re riding on a camel
Bikaner, India

The train pulled into Bikaner station just after 7am.

I was surprised how much I slept.

I woke to go to the (absolutely horrible) toilet, but apart from that, slept through the night!

Along the station platform there was a large group of men walking up and down, chanting and holding banners. I have no idea what they were doing. And you’re not allowed to take photos in train stations. Weird.

It was just a short taxi ride to our hotel. Along the dusty roads, small box-like buildings and dusty people shuffling along. On the way, we passed loads and loads of cows, just wandering around in the street! Cows are holy here, they don’t eat them. Everyone just ignores them. They graze on rubbish. And just wander around! And they are massive with a big hump – not your usual fresian! Random.

Our hotel is amazing. It’s like a castle, full of cute seating areas, flowers and a tea garden. Its apparently run by the Bikaner prime minister’s great-grandson. Sadly we’re not staying here tonight – have to wait until tomorrow for this luxury!

But we did get to have a shower, which was amazing after not having one yesterday and being dirty and sweaty.

We were picked up in mini jeeps at 11am and drove for about 30 minutes out of the city and into the desert. We stopped off in a small village and met our camels!

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We’re spending the day trekking with our camels into the desert. Mine was a boy. And was massive. I don’t really like camels. Last time I rode a camel in Egypt it was the most uncomfortable, smelly, scary thing. The second time round was no better.

You sit on a ‘saddle’ made of blankets which makes your bum hurt! The camel sits down in order for you to climb on, then it awkwardly gets to its feel by kneeling, then standing. While it is manoeuvring around, you feel like you’re going to fall off.

There are 3 main breeds of camel around Rajasthan. The local Bikaner variety are long-haired camels with hairy ears. These are renowned for their strength – which is probably why they are used for pulling carts. We saw a lot of those around!

The camels have been shaved to make patterns in their fur. Some had bells on, others had nose piercings! The camels were each lead by a small boy, who walked the entire way. I felt really sorry for them – out in this searing hot sun (45 degrees!).

The guide book helpfully suggests to avoid mid-April when it’s too hot. Well, anyway.

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We were walking through the Thar desert. The Thar is the world’s most populous arid zone – mostly covered by scrub vegetation. There plentiful villages as well as three main cities – Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur.

We walked for about 90 minutes, out of the small village and along tracks into the desert. It was surprisingly green for a desert, but I suppose it’s just been the rainy season and is only just starting to be the hot, dry season.

There were lots of small shrubs around – some of them dry and dead, blowing along like balls in the wind! The whole way, my camel was frothing and blowing bubbles with its tongue. It’s so weird – they can blow air into their tongue so that it blows up like a balloon! I found out afterwards that this is a mating sign, showing off to the females. It’s coming towards the end of the breeding season. We stopped under a large tree for lunch.

The camels went off to find their own trees and some of them had a roll in the sand.

Lunch was good – chapatti, rice and lentil curry. All cooked on a small gas stove. Quite impressive! In the heat of the day, it’s too hot for camel trekking. So nap time! We had a large tarp with cushions to lay out on, under our tree! Amazing. I was knackered.

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Grudgingly, at 4pm, we were back on the camel (standing up was still no better the second time) and making our way across the desert again. We passed through another small village – children ran out of their mud huts to come and wave at us! Some of the houses were small round mud huts, with twigs as roofs! There was a small temple. And again, loads of roaming cows – this time joined by a few goats! In this village we stopped for a camel drinking stop in large troughs.

Adult camels drink around 30L of water per day in summer. But mine didn’t seem to interested in drinking. Just in blowing up its tongue all the time.

In winter a healthy camel can work up to one month without food or water, but in summer, no more than one week. And off again. By now I was getting into it a bit more. Bit it’s still uncomfortable and quite painful. Running around here were small herds of bluebull antelopes (nilgai) – cute!

We finally reached our campsite at 6pm. They guys had already set up a small kitchen tent, a toilet tent and a couple of charging room tents. And a row of camp beds sitting out in the sun. So that’s where we’re sleeping – under the stars. No tent!

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We were given some chai tea – normal tea with added spices, sugar and milk. It was really sweet and milky, but tasted quite good. We were told afterwards that it contained camel milk! It was starting to cool down and I walked up the nearby dune for a view of the sunset – lovely. Before it got totally dark, we played an Indian game called come-at-me (or something that sounded like that).

It took a while before I got an idea of the rules – I still don’t get it. But in two teams, you each have a ‘safe’ house. One at a time you run to the other side of the small pitch to try and touch someone of the other team – but without being grabbed yourself. It all got a bit violent and I ended up being tackled to the ground by 3 other people, which was totally unnecessary. So I had enough and didn’t play anymore!

Dinner again was really good. Chapati, rice, cooked aubergine and the lentil stuff again. And afterwards, we had a bonfire and were given loads of local strong orange flavour rum! Before going to sleep in our camp beds under the stars!

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