Pausing for a quick camel high five in Rajasthan, India. (Photo: Annie Daly)
“Yo, Rahul, wake up — our camel is peeing and I don’t want you to miss it!!” I whispered to my sleeping boyfriend at 6:30 a.m.
He rustled around a bit, rubbed his eyes, and then sat up out of bed slowly, until the whizzing camel was directly in his line of focus.“Woa,” he mumbled softly as we watched the one-humped mammal do its thing.“This is so, so cool.”
It was a moment.
For the record, I do not usually lure my boyfriend out of bed with the prospect of beautiful camel pee. Also, I’m not about to tell you that camel pee is some new secret aphrodisiac. Fact is, we were on a two-day camel safari in the Thar Desert in India. We rode camels by day and slept on the sand by night. Watching a camel take a morning leak felt magical because nearly everything about an Indian camel safari feels magical.
Back up a bit: Rahul grew up in New Delhi, and he suggested we go on the safari as part of my first trip to India last month. He’d actually never been on one before, much like I’ve lived in New York City for the past eight years and have never been to the top of the Empire State Building. I wassold the minute he said “camel ride.” Done.
So here’s how it all went down. We stayed in Jaisalmer, adesert town nicknamed “the Golden City” built in 1156 A.D. It’s in the state of Rajasthan, which is in the northwest region of India, close to the border of Pakistan. It’s also in the heart of the famed Thar Desert, known for camel safaris. There are a whole bunch of companies that offer camel safaris in Jaisalmer — anywhere from one night to two weeks, depending on how big you want to go — but we booked ours through our hotel, the Hotel Garh Jaisal. It cost 7,800 rupees per night per couple, which is about $127. (Pro tip: Logistically speaking, it’s a good idea to book camel safaris through your hotel, because it plans the majority of your trip for you, from the safari itself to the transit to and from your lodging.)
To get to Jaisalmer, Rahul and I flew from Delhi into Jodhpur, which is four hours from Jaisalmer. Apparently, flights will go directly to Jaisalmer soon, but that’s not the case yet, so our hotel arranged for a driver to pick us up at the small Jodhpur airport. The ride from the airport to Jaisalmer was a destination in itself. There were so many things to see along the way: Cows! Camels! Vast stretches of open road! Chalk it up to road trip FOMO, but I could hardly even get a piece of gum out of my bag without fearing that I’d miss something.
Bumper-to-bumper camel traffic on the road to Jaisalmer. (Photo: Annie Daly)
Around sunset, a herd of camels crossed the road in front of us, and we immediately pulled over to take in the view (and take a bajillion photos of said view). It was completely surreal: The sun was so bright, a fiery red, and it was setting right on the horizon directly in front of us, to the point that it looked like it could topple over and face-plant onto the highway at any moment.
Make way for camels! (Photo: Annie Daly)
Around nightfall, we arrived in Jaisalmer, which is centered around the famed golden Jaisalmer Fort, which is over 800 years old. Hotel Garh Jaisal is actually in the fort, and it’s also a converted haveli, a traditional home where rich people and kings used to live. It’s a small, cozy, family-run hotel with just seven rooms, all of which are decked out in mirrored tapestries and have window seats that look out onto the town below. Yet even though the hotel is beautiful and luxurious, it’s still only 5,450 rupees per night, which is roughly $88 — so sweet.
The Opium Room at the Hotel Garh Jaisal is pretty trippy. (Photo: Annie Daly)
…And the hallways are pretty in pink. (Photo: Annie Daly)
We ate at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant that night, where the views were so phenomenal that we decided to wake up early the next morning and do sunrise yoga before we headed off to the humps. Considering that yoga originated in India, practicing it in its native environment was bone-chilling, as were the views themselves.
Morning yoga really gives you a leg up on the day. (Photo: Annie Daly)
Good morning, Jaisalmer! (Photo: Annie Daly)
After we did our surya namaskar, or “sun salutation,” we went back to our room to quickly pack a safari bag. We were allowed to bring only one suitcase for the two of us because the camel has to carry the luggage. We packed superwarm clothes for sleeping (it gets really cold in the desert at night), comfortable pants and sneakers for the camel ride itself, and a bottle of red wine. Our driver arrived in a Maruti Gypsy, which is almost like a Jeep Wrangler. The drive there took about two hours, during which we stopped to check out an ancient cemetery, and I experienced multiple surreal “how is this my life?” moments. Picture the scene: There I am, with my boyfriend on my right and our driver on the far right, cruising down the back roads of ancient Rajasthan, the wind whipping against my face, the sun beating down on my arms, and my brain exploding with joy. I was so in the moment, I almost forgot to snap this #enroutetocamelsafari shot on the sly.
Mission #StealthSelfie accomplished. (Photo: Annie Daly)
We arrived at our destination around 3 p.m. And by “arrived,” I mean we pulled over on a seemingly random stretch of the desert, and our driver told us we were “there.” But then I saw the camels. There were four of them — one for me, one for Rahul, one for our guide, and one for our stuff — and they were just chilling on the sand all wrapped up in colorful blankets.
My new favorite form of transportation. (Photo: Annie Daly)
One of the most surprising parts about riding a camel is that unlike mounting a horse, which you do while it’s standing, you actually mount a camel while it’s sitting — and then it gets up and takes you with it. I’ve told you before that I’m a “tad” afraid of heights, so, not surprisingly, I was kind of terrified of this whole mounting thing. But before I had time to obsess, my camel stood up, and took me right with it — boom. It felt like ripping off a Band-Aid: For about two seconds, I thought I was going to go flying from the thing and land with a thud in the Thar. But then it was over as quickly as it began, and I was up and I was alive. Lesson!
We interrupt this safari for a sweet shadow shot. (Photo: Annie Daly)
Aside from the minor terror that was mounting, it was smooth sailing once I got up there. Camels, I must say, are superchill animals. They have a story in their eyes. You can see it if you look. The three of us cruised along the ancient sands, sometimes chatting, sometimes just listening to the peaceful sound of the camels’ feet hitting the dunes.
Let’s just call this the ultimate joy ride. (Photo: Annie Daly)
Around dusk, we dismounted our camels to take some sunset pictures and play in the sand dunes. It was a photographer’s dream!
Zen and the art of desert documentation. (Photo: Annie Daly)
After sunset, we got back on our camels and rode into a little pop-up village right in the middle of the desert. A local band played, and we had beer, roasted peanuts, and Rajasthani food under the stars. (The dinner is part of the camel safari package.) Then came the best part of all: the one-hour nighttime camel ride back to our camp. It was a clear night, so we spotted a couple of shooting stars streaking across the sky — and that was before the wine.
Sleeping in the desert that night is perhaps the coolest thing I have ever done. When you sign up for the safari, they ask you if you want to sleep in tents or on beds under the stars; we opted for open-air beds because #yolo. Our guide helped us set up camp once we arrived at our spot. He’d already laid out two beds for us on the sand next to a desert bush, and he gave us two heavy comforters and pillows, along with our suitcase, which he’d taken off the camel’s back. There were also other camels sleeping all around us, which were from other safari groups nearby. “I’ll come pick you up at 8 a.m.,” he told us, “with your morning chai.” And then there were two.
Were we scared? Nope. Our guide assured us that we weren’t in danger; even the dung beetles roaming the dunes weren’t harmful. Plus, we had our camels to protect us! The only potential issue is that you have to pop a squat in total darkness. I was fine with it, but if you think you’d get squeamish about peeing in the desert at night, be sure to conserve your iPhone battery so that you at least have a flashlight to guide you on your bathroom mission.
When we woke up in the a.m., sh*t got real. Gone were the romantic starry skies and our cocoon of darkness. We were absolutely soaked in morning dew, our faces were balmy, and our clothes and bags were covered in wet sand. (Tip: Be sure to bring face wipes!)
He woke up like this. (Photo: Annie Daly)
Our guide returned promptly at 8 a.m., chai in hand aspromised, and we mounted our camels once more and rode back to the main road, where our driver was waiting. On the ride back to the hotel, we reeked of desert sweat, but we were still so happy — because it was all part of the magic. Who needs roses and bubble bath when you can wring the morning dew out of each other’s hair and call it love? (Kidding … kind of.)
Oh, you know, just your typical morning commute. (Photo: Annie Daly)
I’ll leave you with this: I’ve never been a bucket-list person. Of course I have dreams, ambitions, and goals, but unlike many of my “marathon by 30, married by 31, and baby by 32” millennial peers, my life to-do’s are wildly unspecific. That said, I will abandon my anti-bucket-list ways and tell you that you should definitely add Jaisalmer to yours. It’s that good.
In today’s “all new everything” world, it’s easy to overlook history and focus on the future. But Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert bring you back to the past. You can feel the city’s ancient culture and traditions seeping under your skin. You can feel the vastness of the desert that others felt thousands upon thousands of years before you. And that feeling alone is a necessary reminder that we live in an old and deeply beautiful world, where there’s magic all around — even in camel pee.
Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. And Check out Yahoo Travel’s original video series A Broad Abroad, starring editor-in-chief Paula Froelich. This week Paula learned how to make Mexican pizza from an expert.