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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Most of the time I visit places it’s not with a particular goal in mind, but occasionally I go somewhere seeking a specific experience. When I first went to Southeast Asia, I sought out an epic elephant trek through the jungle and found what I was looking for in Mondulkiri. For Rajasthan it was a desert camel safari. Tucked into the heart of the Thar Desert near the Pakistan border, Jaisalmer has emerged as a popular destination for people seeking such a trip.

A small, charming city built on sandstone that was once a fort, “The Golden City” of Jaisalmer is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to shops selling camel leather goods and textiles, there are a number of companies aggressively soliciting travelers for a desert trek. Through a tepid recommendation from an excellent host in Jaipur, I ended up with one of the less scrupulous agents. My companion and I were able to negotiate the price down from highway robbery to a mere ripoff and ended up going with a 4 day 3 night desert trek.

The day before leaving town, I made sure to stop by the famous Dr. Bhang for a lassi and some cookies for the upcoming journey. A familiar face was prominently displayed on the wall, someone who had been following me throughout my journey. I didn’t see the episode of No Reservations until after I got back home, but Anthony Bourdain had also made a pit stop at the Doctor’s office before heading to the Thar.

My notion of a desert was a giant beach without the ocean, but the portions of the Thar we covered were more wasteland dotted with a few large sand dunes. It was arid, harsh, and beautiful. Despite the scumbags that ran the operation, our two guides were friendly and delivered a great desert experience.

Most meals consisted of a simple curry and fresh chapati. Everything was delicious. We stopped by a few small villages along the way where children sold beer and opium. Houses were constructed out of mud brick and had thatched roofs. A female goat was giving birth as we entered one village and I got to witness the miracle of life several times over. It was slimy.

Campfires took the chill from the star-filled desert nights. We drank whiskey and talked story with the guides as the camels ventured off into the darkness to pursue camelly matters. A year before, the same story played out in the jungle outside of Mondulkiri, with elephants filling in for the camels.

Aside from the lack of sand, the desert trek was everything I hoped it would be and more. It was definitely worth the trip to Jaisalmer and I highly recommend trying it for yourself.

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