Zachary the camel

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

After pondering a while (and there really isn't much more to do while riding a camel through the desert), I decided that I would name my camel Zachary, after my dear brother.  Let me explain why:

Zachary the camel complains a lot.  In fact, if he's sitting he doesn't want to get up, and if he's standing he doesn't want to get down.  He voices his displeasure with a horrible gargle/groan that sounds like a dying cow.

Zachary the camel is slow.  He always ends up at the back of the camel train.  Since his leads are attached to his nose and tied to the camel in front of him, this means he often has to run at an awkward gallop to catch up.  This is probably the most painful thing a man can experience.  Why doesn't Zachary the camel move a little farther forward so that he has some more slack?  Only Zachary the camel knows.

Zachary the camel is clumsy.  Of all the camels in the camel train, it seems that only Zachary can't walk for five minutes without tripping over something.  Camels are supposed to be sure-footed creatures, but Zachary the camel stumbles on flat sand.  When you're two meters in the air, when your camel trips it can be a pretty scary experience.

Zachary the camel is smelly.  The expression "don't get downwind of a camel" is quite accurate, if pointless while on a camel safari.  But besides the general smell of a camel, which is quite overpowering, camels also spend a good part of their day farting.  They seem completely open about it, which is quite admirable really.  They also have really gross mouths, usually with green slime everywhere.  A camel yawning, or complaining (as Zachary was wont to do) is not a pretty sight.

Our two-day camel safari was organized by our hotel and turned out to be quite an interesting, if painful experience.  We were bundled into a jeep with two Canadians, a New Zealander, and a German, and driven out into the middle of nowhere.  Here we watched while our camel drivers packed all of the stuff onto the backs of the camels, then motioned for us to get on

It's quite an extraordinary experience to sit on a camel while it gets up.  You have to hold onto the pommel and lean back, because the camel rises in a see saw motion that tips you forward and then back (see the video of me getting on a camel).  But this is nothing compared to when the camel starts walking.

I thought long and hard about how to explain the sensation of riding a camel (again, there isn't much else to do while riding a camel).  But I think its something you have to experience for yourself.  The motion of the camel is a not-gentle-at-all back and forth heaving.  Since the saddle is positioned in front of the hump, it is tipped downwards slightly.  This has the overall effect of jamming your crotch into the front edge of the saddle with every step the camel takes.  The first ten minutes were fun.  The next two days were approaching torture.  Even worse is when the camel runs (which Zachary the camel did more than most).  The first two or three steps are blissfully smooth, then you start bouncing a couple inches up and down in the saddle.  This has the overall effect of someone hitting you in the crotch with a baseball bat.

We were all quite relieved when we stopped for lunch.  The camels are hobbled and left to browse while the camel drivers set up lunch.  The food was surprisingly good, we had chai and some sort of crunchy snack, followed by fresh baked chapatis and dhal.  They would come along and spoon more vegetables on request, and force more chapatis on you. It was quite an art not to run out of bread scoops before you finished your meal.  New Zealand asked for a fork.  We found this funny.

After lunch was more painful riding until we arrived at our private dunes for the evening.  Getting off the camel leaves everyone hobbling around on aching thighs.  It was literally an oasis of dunes amid the scrub and we climbed up here to watch the sunset.  We had seen maybe three people in the day's ride, and the silence was profound.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  We had a fire and got a great big beer to go with our delicious dinner.  Then we huddled around the campfire and talked as the stars came out.  We slept under blankets around the dying fire as the brilliant moon gave way to a blanket of stars.  It was almost as if you could reach out an touch the stars.

The next morning we had a breakfast of hardboiled eggs, oranges, toast, and biscuits.   Two of our party had only signed up for 1.5 days and left that morning, while we continued on with the Canadians.  We stopped at a 400-year-old city, which was in ruins except for a Brahmin temple.  A new fort crowned the nearby hill.  We stopped for lunch under a solitary thorn tree.  The silence and peace of this place was getting to me, as well as the meditative nature of riding a camel.  We ate our last meal and relaxed our aching legs under the tree.

The Canadians opted not to finish out the ride on the camel, but being stubborn we decided to stick it out.  When we arrived at the end I had trouble sitting down, but felt quite a sense of accomplishment.  We said goodbye to the nice men we had shared the past two days with, and hopped onto the blessedly smooth jeep for the ride back to Jaisalmer.  The hotel nicely let us use a room for a couple hours and fired up the burner for a wonderfully hot shower. 

We ate at a nice restaurant before hopping on a night bus to Bikaner.
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