After such a great experience bonding with the girls and our host family’s in the village of Jadhol, our time together was over. We waved our last goodbye waves through the bus windows and settled in for a 3 hour trip back to Udaipur. On our ride home a lot of the group reflected on such a unique home stay experience. We would arrive at our hostel in Udaipur at around 12pm and had an enjoyable afternoon of free time.
Augie and I made our way to a local barbershop to get some much needed haircuts for 200 rupees (about 3.5 dollars). Others spent their time getting Ayurvedic massages, shopping, or simply taking a shower and relaxing at the hostel. A dinner on the lake, and Annie’s life bio on the roof of our hostel, would rap up the day.
Waking up indoors for the first time in a week felt a little strange, as so many enjoyed sleeping outside at the previous home stay. We met for a quick and healthy breakfast in the dinning room then headed off by rickshaw to the local batik shop. Once arriving we would be greeted by a lady who was an expert in batik art. She was very experienced in batiks and would give us a quick briefing of the history of batiks and how they are a big part of the culture. She showed us many examples of very intricate pieces that she had made, spending up to 3 months on some.
The batik lady would then would take the group to the workshop to learn how to make batiks of our own. The process started by sketching in a design of choice in to a 1 by 1 piece of white cloth. Followed by painting on hot wax on previously sketched lines, then dipping the cloth in a bucket of red or blue dye. After crafting our own batiks, we all had even more appreciation for the amazingly detailed pieces our instructor had made by hand.
After a great experience at the batik shop the group would head out for lunch which consisted of delicious Thali, a South Indian dish, filled by an afternoon of free time. The group would come together again for one last goodbye dinner with our wonderful guides Rishi-ji and his wife Kiran-ji. Without those two our experience the 16 days prior definitely wouldn’t have been the same. The combination of Rishi-ji’s endless knowledge of the Indian culture and Kiran,ji helping us to translate with locals they made a great team. We would head home belly’s extremely full for a big day ahead.
We spent the last day in Udaipur with a morning walk and stretch in the local park across street, many still full from the night before. Followed by a chill afternoon of eating too much and getting caught up on shopping as it is so easy to do there.
At 7 pm the group met in the hostel lobby with bags packed and comfy clothes on as we prepared for our 12 hour over night bus ride. What at first looked liked a normal coach bus turned out to be so much more, as instead of seats there were full beds with AC and tinted windows. Everyone was very excited about the bus situation, and all fear of a bumpy, sleepless ride was gone. That would be true for about a mile. A malfunction with the bus an hour in we were already getting exiting. Luckily a new bus would come pick us up 45 minutes later. Bus number 2 was not quite the same quality and definitely more crowded.
Waking up to 3 butts sitting on my bed and my face covered in dust at 5 in the morning wasn’t an experience I’ve had before. After a quick look around I figured out that 1 of the 3 random locals on my bed had left my window open after using it to spit his sunflower seeds outside. I could tell he had been doing this for a quite while because a good amount of the seeds didn’t quite make it out the window and more on to my sleeping bag. Anyways we would arrive in Jaisalmer around 10 am, a couple hours later then expected.
Despite an eventful bus ride everyone was excited for a new city to explore. Jaisalmer, the golden city, was pretty different at first glance to any city that we had seen before. All the buildings were between brown to beige color and made of rustic brick which really gave a desert city kind of vibe. The Jaisalmer fort which looks like a giant sand castle towers over the north side of the city, which was in the area we were staying.
The Desert Cow was the name of the hostel we stayed at, and everyone was a fan of this place. It’s location was perfect as it was a block and a half from the fort with a roof top restaurant and most importantly hot showers!
The rest of the day was spent getting all cleaned up and getting to know the city. Half of the group, including myself, found a restaurant called Romany that was so good it was the spot for both lunch and dinner. After a full day of running on not the best sleep from the night before everyone hit the hay early.
Waking up the next morning was not to the sound of Indian traffic and a squeaky bus but instead the sound of firecrackers! It was Diwali! A day where all of India celebrates with festive colors, high spirits and most of all fireworks. Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights celebrating ‘The victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance’.
We would spend the holiday by visiting the beautiful Jain temples inside the tall walls of the fort and getting chai in a local bookstore. After our morning inside the fort the group would split to find shade and lunch. Wandering back through the city after a delicious meal of chicken tikka masala Hugh and I got a little lost getting back to the Desert Cow. While trying to find find our way back we took a wrong turn down an alley and ran in to a couple local kids lighting off fireworks. Smiling from cheek to cheek they were so happy to show us their Diwali tradition and their extremely loud firecrackers.
Night time would come and the real show started. We sat on the roof of the hostel and watched as a 360 view of fireworks from all over the city were on display. After a festive day, and almost 2 hours of watching fireworks, we were all very tired. But the festival didn’t stop when we went to bed. Loud bangs would continue to go off through the night and some still lighting of fireworks through the morning. But even with restless sleep we were all very energetic and excited as we were starting our camel safari!
At 6:30 am we were swooped up by 3 Jeeps with all of our bags and started driving out of Jaisalmer and into the middle of the Thar desert.
As we were still waking up sitting in the back of the packed jeeps we made our way through the empty desert roads. All were in awe of the raspberry sorbet colored sunrise coming up over sandy city of Jaisalmer.
After a bit of off-roading we pulled over for breakfast as the safari guides went to go track down the camels. We threw our bags in the jeeps and feasted on hard boiled eggs, porridge, bananas and a fan favorite Parle G biscuits.
The guides would soon arrive with our new, large, four legged friends. All the camels laid down for a rest as the group walked around doing a little bit of ‘camel speed dating’, judging the comfyness of the wide variety of humps. All would soon find the hump for them, and we hit the road.
Everyone was buzzing about what they were going to name their camel. Names such as Jababolu, Babolou, Bubble gum, Rocket, Craig, Cliff and many more were appointed to their respective camels. It was also noticed pretty early on that even with a saddle and many blankets as cushions they were not as comfy and relaxing as seemed. Soreness in the groin/hip area kicked in after about 30 minutes of riding. Switching positions was key as side saddle position was a nice relaxing break. Some even got a little fancy with their riding, as Brendan mastered the full lotus position sitting on his camel while Marco read through half of The Alchemist sitting side saddle.
A two hour ride to our lunch destination was full of learning our way around the humps and a nice rest spot under a large tree felt great. As guides prepared chapti, dal, and rice for lunch many used this break to try out our new bathrooms. There was a slim variety of bushes and trees that you could gracefully squat behind, but it made for a very scenic and memorable place to drop trou.
Half way through our afternoon of riding we stopped at an abandoned fort for a short break and walk around. Stairs lead to the top of the fort where you could see a great view of the Thar desert. The only reminisce of civilization you could see was the occasional group of wind turbines and one small desert town.
Other then that it was all sandy dunes. Around 5 o’clock a long day of riding in the scorching hot sun came to an end as we settled in a small soft sandy plateau. We enjoyed a sunset game of ultimate frisbee in the sand and laid out our blankets and sleeping bags, reserving our spots for late night stargazing. As the sun fully set and the sand transitioned from boiling hot to a refreshing chill we would settle in and listen to Marco give his life bio.
A blanket of stars would soon come to life as when it came time to go to sleep the stars were almost too bright and a little bit irritating. It really seemed as if there was more light spots in the sky then dark.
We would wake with sand all in our hair and another amazing sunrise on the horizon. Morning yoga led by Hayden helped us stretch out our legs and hips which was much needed and helped massively for a new day of riding.
This was by far the hottest day of the safari as a scarf, sunglasses, a hat and light pants were crucial for sun protection. A bumpy but enjoyable couple hours ended with lunch and snooze under a large tree. Back on the camels after lunch and it seemed we were becoming a lot closer with our camels. Figuring out which ones were a little rowdy and which ones like to slack off and pick leaves from the closest tree.
A quick pit stop at the local camel drinking hole was made before entering the vast hilly sand dunes. Just the sight of the dunes rejuvenated everyone’s excitement, as before it had seemed the sun was getting the best of the group. An hour more of riding through the hilly soft sand ended with the camel train pulling over by one of the steepest dunes.
Everyone was eager to hop off and run up and down the steep, sandy hills. Diving frisbee catches, flips and face plants all were performed at the dunes and gave us hours of entertainment. Another intense game of sunset ultimate frisbee was played before heading back to camp. It wasn’t until after the game till I realized I was coated in sand from head to toe and not being able to shower for another 24 hours. A quick water bottle rinsing and changing clothes got enough of the sand off.
It was starting to get chilly and the group huddled around a camp fire that one of the guides so kindly made for us. As night time came, so did a group of local musicians and dancers. Two men, one with a tamarine and the other with a desert flute type instrument, played many different tunes, while 2 woman in very beautiful dresses preformed local dances. Not only were we treated to this cultural display, and a warm fire but also dinner! A fun, engaging dance experience came to an end. I then gave my life bio next to the fire and underneath the stars.
A very big, exciting day along with a soft sand mattress to sleep on lead to everyone becoming very tired, as we all slept hard that night. We all woke up around 8 to the sunrise for one last time. Waking up Will by singing happy birthday, as he was turning 18 in the dessert!
Shortly after singing, Simon and I sat up from bed and talked about the weird dreams that we had that night. Suddenly an unexpected friend appeared from under Simon’s blanket. Apparently a stray dog had curled up between the two of us under his blanket in the middle of the night and neither of us noticed. That’s a good representation of how hard many of us slept in the desert.
Another breakfast followed by packing up for the last time. Our last time riding was a lot more comfortable then the first as are body’s had adapted to the rocking and the wide spread seat. Some of the camels gave us one last sprint to the ending spot which was a fast, exhilarating experience but left the buttocks pretty sore.
After last lunch under the trees and a saying goodbye to our fantastic guides we were off by jeep back to the Desert Cow. Everyone would shower and clean up before going out for a group birthday dinner for Will. A large birthday dinner as cake for Will put us all to sleep, as we appreciated sleeping in a real bed again.
A lot of travel and excitement in these 8 days led to countless memories made, and learning experiences. It also lead to a pretty wiped out group, as it took a couple of days to recover from such an eventful week. We now look forward to a couple days in Amritsar and a 2 week long home stay in Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj).
Even though we have been in Asia for over 2 months now there are still many instances were you sit back and think ‘wow, I’m really in India right now, riding on a camel, with 13 of my best friends.’ Those type of thoughts are what got me through a lot of the saddle sore pain. It seemed all of us thoroughly enjoyed this past week and that definitely reflects the trip as a whole.