If you ever go to India, Rajasthan is where you want to be.
It’s vibrant, colourful, and totally absorbing with bright textiles, sunshine, smiles, and coffee lining the streets. The abundance of rooftop cafes, beautiful hotels, food, and markets will have you transfixed, and if that isn’t enough, the amount of ancient temples and palaces is almost enough to make you want to abandon your plans and live there for the rest of your trip.
While Udaipur was my favourite place because it's so unique and great and I just loved it, the rest of Rajasthan has also been unforgettable.
Over the last week, we’ve gone from jumping around the monkey-infested ruins of Bundi Palace channeling Mogali, seeing the Ghats of Pushkar, and taking a tour around Jodhpur’s incredible Mehrangarh fort (often described as the most magnificent in India), to drinking the world famous Makhaniya lassi at the Mishrilal Hotel, to staying inside Jaisalmer fort, and riding out in to the sunrise on an overnight camel safaris. Rajasthan is where it’s at.
But of all those experiences, I’d have to say the camel safari was the most exciting. Not because the trip included riding camels out into the Thar desert by sunrise, roasting chapattis over the fire, watching the sun set over sand dunes, or sleeping under the stars of Rajasthan, but because it all went wrong.
It was all booked and paid for, and we did spend about 14-hours trekking out into the desert on camels while eating amazing food, getting sore legs, watching deer sprint in all directions, battling hungry sheep, drinking Kingfisher from a 15-year-old beer monger (who just so happened to pop in...in the middle of the desert...), listening to the guides sing to the beat of a water drum, watching fighter jets patrol the Indian boarder, and setting up camp 70km from Pakistan – so that part went well, but there was a solid decline in the mood when some army guys showed up.
I would actually go as far as to say it killed the mood.
They were all speaking Hindi, so it was difficult to discern what was actually going on, particularly because the guides kept telling us it was fine, and the Indian tourist doing the safari with us was saying it was pretty far from fine. Turns out that part of the desert is a sanctuary that requires both an entry and a camping permit.
The guides were saying they had permits, while the army guys were all like ‘you don’t so we’re going to fine you’, the guides were going ‘if we pay the fine can we stay?’, and army guys said ‘not unless you pay a bigger fine’, and the guides said ‘that’s ridiculous, we have a permit’, and then the army guys were saying something about a hunting permit and we got confused.
I'm unsure as to what actually happened, but I thought it was odd that they were saying the Lonely Planet-recommended safari company had been doing their dealings illegally for 23-years. The manager of the company also said they deposit their permit fees every month without fail, and the temporary permits the army gave us after we paid the fines were actually hunting permits – written in Hindi so we couldn’t read them.
It all looked pretty suss from the outside – official-looking guys show up demanding money and saying the word ‘court’ a lot, even though the company had permits. As a group, we decided to leave.
Since that was our accommodation for the night, we went back to the guesthouse attached to the safari tours hoping they’d give us a place to stay, and the manager was very accommodating and apologetic. He gave us a room and water free of charge, and said he’d give us a refund for the safari if we wanted.
Despite what happened, the guides were really fantastic, and the camel ride through the sand dunes was something we’ll never forget, so it was well worth it, and today my legs, back muscles and stomach muscles have decided they don’t want to function normally, so riding camels the next day probably would have been less enjoyable anyway. We woke up, asked for half our money back, and decided to spend the day eating cake.