In the far western corner of India's state of Rajasthan, visiting Jaisalmer is like stepping back in time. Wandering the narrow streets of this golden city you will be jostled by dark, handsome men with brightly colored turbans, striking women in jewel colored saris, and of course the ever present sacred cows. Yes, this is India, and the constant refrains of "What's your country?", "Have a look?", "Cheap Cheap!" ring out, but there is a laid back feeling here, and you only have to say no once or twice, and the shopkeepers and touts will go back to lazing in the shade.
Exploring this medieval city is great fun, but the big draw to Jaisalmer is the opportunity to go on a camel safari. From the minute you arrive in town touts will try to sign you up for their safaris. Your friendly hotel manager will chat to you about your hometown, then quickly change the topic to his safari business. I would advise talking to several different agencies and go with one that you feel comfortable with and is recognized by the Tourism ministry of India. Basically, you will get what you pay for. Sure, you can save a few rupees, but will the savings be worth it when you run out of bottled mineral water or are served stale chapatis for dinner?
Some basic questions you should ask before committing to a safari:
Will I have my own camel to ride?
How many hours a day will we ride?
Is bottled mineral water provided, or will the guides boil water?
Do the guides speak English and is it possible to meet them today?
What kind of food is provided? Fresh fruit?
What kind of bedding is supplied?
How many people will be in my group?
Ask to see a comments book with comments written by other travellers.
You can try the safari experience for as short as a few hours, or as long as a several nights (or longer!). I recommend at least one night in the desert. There is absolutely nothing like sitting around a fire listening to rajasthani folk songs, sipping chai, and falling asleep under the stars. You'll feel like you're a million miles from home. And yes, your butt will be sore after riding a camel all day, but getting to experience desert life first hand is well worth the pain!
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