There is no secret that tourists on a tour of India come to Jaisalmer for the desert and camels. Thoughts of wind-carved sand dunes covered step-by-step on the back of a camel is par for the course in the remote Rajasthan city. And the Thar Desert plays the perfect host for travelers eager to connect with one of India’s most iconic images. Specifically, the sand dunes of Sam, 42kms from Jaisalmer, provide the playground for novice riders.
Beginning near the 4 P.M. hour, droves of tourists converge on the main parking lot within walking distance of the Desert National Park. Buses, private cars, and taxis bring out the adventurous, the young, the elderly both local and foreign to the outer edges of civilization. Lined along the two-lane road, partially overtaken by sand in areas, are camels in numbers not seen beyond Pushkar. Dressed in typical Indian finery the camels take their customers on a short journey into the dunes to watch the coming sunset. Laughter mixed with smiles, sometimes yells of joy, can be overheard by friends, couples, and groups taking in the experience.
How to Book
There are several ways to take part in the sunset camel rides of Sam.
- Most tourists arriving to Sam are traveling as part of a group or on a planned itinerary with prearranged programs upon arrival. Drivers and/or tour guides will direct participants to the proper area where they will meet their camels. From there travelers can choose to ride as a pair or individually with the camel guide. A predetermined route and length of time ensures the best views of the setting sun.
Pro: Easiest option. Camel rides arranged by travel agency, cost is built into package.
Con: None. Everything is handled for you.
Tourists cover the dunes at Sam making it hard to find peaceful solitary
- Camel safari packages booked either through local hotels or in the city’s market often include a visit to Sam for the sunset. Depending on the length of safari chosen, customers will either disembark afterward or go on to an overnight stay in the desert.
Pro: Cheaper rates than travel agency booking. Ability to customize the program.
Con: First time travelers may not know what to ask for in terms of length of ride, areas covered. Hidden costs sometimes appear.
- Multiple tent “villages” have sprouted along the road from Sam to Jaisalmer. These temporary housing spots offering a simple bed and breakfast alternative to overnight camel safaris. Sunset camel rides are included in room packages. Camels are waiting for arriving guests just outside the property walls.
Pro: No fuss experience. Camel ride is built into room package. Start and end on-site.
Con: No hot water for early morning showers. No alternate food options if you don’t like what is offered.
- Pick-up Rides. There appears to be no limit to the supply of camels at Sam. Tourists arriving with no reservations will be bombarded by endless offers for a ride into the desert. There is no hard and fast way to determine whether the persistent offers are completely legit. Be armed with multiple questions such as A) How long is the ride? B) Where does the ride go? C) What is the total cost, per person/for the group D) Will you bring us back to this spot? TIP:Camel owners are tricky. Before you agree on a ride, be sure the ride includes a return ride back to the parking lot or you may be left out in the dunes. Owners wanting to maximize their earnings will bring riders into the dunes then depart to pick up more customers potentially leaving you stranded.
Pro: Pick of the litter. Start where you like. Shop for the best deals.
Con: Need to arrive with plenty of time before sunset to ensure you reach the best picture taking spots. No way to check reputation thus a long list of questions beforehand.
Tip For Female Travelers: Indian men can be perpetual boys. Camel drivers will sit behind female riders in a childish bid to entertain their fantasies. Tell the driver to sit ahead of you or walk alongside the camel on foot.
Is it Worth it?
A visit to Sam is an experience not to be entered into blindly. Sunset views over the seemingly infinite desertscape are breathtaking on paper, but in reality, Sam is quite different.
-The terrain at Sam is more “authentic” in the sense of climbing up and down sand dunes compared to other safaris available in Bikaner and Osian which are more long-distance flat walks. Travelers with back issues may want to consider walking alongside the camel.
-The parking lot is choked with tourist vehicles as well as stalls selling chai, water, sweets, and more. This has resulted in the outer edges of the Desert National Park strewn with plastic wrappers, bottles, and other discarded trash.
-The sheer number of visitors overwhelms the nearby dunes. A constant cavalcade of voices carries through the wind making any chance of romantic overtures or peaceful escape into the desert unfulfilled. Screams, cries, and yells mixed with crowded sand tops make it hard to find the imagined solace expected on the edge of nothing.
-Constant badgering for a camel ride disrupts picture taking.
-Local women who perform dances on the various dunes are looking for baksheesh.
-The traffic backlog afterward to Jaisalmer is cumbersome and tiring.
If a camel ride and sand dunes aren’t your cup of tea, skip Sam for the much quieter surroundings of BadaBagh. The greener rolling hills just outside Jaisalmer are enchanting yet haunting. No touts combined with truly spectacular vistas make this my preferred pick.