Bikaner, India

January 15, 2003

Weather: high of about 75ºF and clear

Most tourists take camel safaris out of the city of Jaisalmer, which is further west, out on the fringes of the Thar Desert. But we found a very well-run hotel that also runs camel safaris in Bikaner and decided to buck the trend. It seems like a good choice. The safari we had was quite enjoyable and we got to see some wonderful scenery. We also see small antelope with gracefully curved horns, crows, foxes, wild dogs, buzzards, white eagles, grey-headed crows, partridges, and a gecko.

On our way to the camels we stop at the temple Karnimata, a sanctuary for hundreds of holy rats. Like the other temples we've visited, we have to take our shoes off to visit. It is considered good luck to have a rat run across your feet. I accidentally kick a rat, which might be the cause of bad luck later on our safari.
We pick up our camels at a Bishnoi village and get to see this baby water buffalo. It was sleeping on the floor of this hut when we woke it up. The Bishnoi are conservationists and vegetarians, so their territory has an abundance of wild animals that have been hunted out of the rest of the desert.
The house is incredibly beautiful with baked clay walls and a spotless courtyard. Kids come from all over to see us.
From the Bishnoi village, we pick up our camels (Mayna a female, and Manu a male) and start to ride into the vast Thar Desert. One camel pulls a cart with food and 4 people, and one of us rides the other camel. After three minutes riding on the back of these gangly beasts, we are glad to have a cart. Every camel step lurches you this way and that, making it a chore to stay on.
Our three guides haven't had many tourists lately. They spend a lot of time on the trip trying to talk us into doing another longer safari.
These camels don't look very big when they are kneeling, but standing up, they tower over you. And when you are sitting on top of them, you feel very high indeed.
The process of getting up or down is pretty dramatic and you have to hold on tight to keep from getting pitched forward.
Julie bellies up to the bar. Just after I took this picture, there was a little ruckus involving the male camel to the right of the female camel that Julie is riding. It just so happens that now is the middle of the camel breeding season. Males froth at the mouth when they are in need of a female, as it were.
Just our luck. Our camel safari is interrupted by a flat tire on the camel cart. Our driver has to go back to a nearby village to borrow a replacement cart for us to complete the trip. After being stranded in the middle of nowhere for about an hour, we have to rush a bit to get to our scheduled dune before sunset. So we all pile on the cart to move faster. After a dinner of sand with a little food in it, we sleep on the dune and a wild dog curls up and sleeps on Julie's legs.
On the second day, we visit another village. Politeness dictates that I have dismount my camel when I ride into the village so it doesn't appear that I am peeping over walls and into houses.

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