One thing that was high on our India bucket list was spending a few nights in the desert and riding camels. The capital of Indian camel safaris is the city of Jaisalmer, located in Western Rajasthan in the Thar Desert.
We arranged a local guide and planned to spend three days living in the desert and sleeping under the stars. Bringing only the essentials, we were ready to set out on our adventure. Our twenty-two year old guide, Haro, had grown up in a desert village and knew the sand dunes and network of remote villages the way we know the streets near our childhood homes. On the morning we were set to depart, we loaded a few days worth of food and water onto our camels and climbed aboard. Surprisingly, once you get up and going, camels are easy to ride and we enjoyed slowly meandering through the desert.
Our first night, we travelled deep into the desert – around 50 km from Pakistan, or as close as foreign nationals are allowed to get before risking an international incident – and spent the night sleeping on a large sand dune. Haro cooked us a delicious dinner of local foods over the campfire and we spent hours looking at the stars in the crystal clear night sky overhead. We had been impressed by the quality of the stars in New Hampshire and Montana but were not prepared for the incredible sights the desert offered – from shooting stars to comets.
The next morning we rose at dawn, gently roused from slumber by the sun coming up over the dunes. We had some chai and breakfast before packing up our camp and setting out on our camels again. We ventured to a local village in the desert where we were welcomed into the home of one of the kind local families we met. We spent some time in their Spartan, yet welcoming one-room home and chatted over tea with the help of the eldest son who was able to serve as a translator between the rest of the family and us. After our time in the village and a stop to feed the camels, we got back to our desert trail. After a few more hours atop the camels, we stopped under a big tree for another delicious homemade lunch and then rode a bit more before reaching our campsite for that night. We watched the sunset over the dunes and then sat down to one of our most memorable, if most unusual Thanksgiving dinners yet. We explained the tradition of Thanksgiving to Haro and although our meal of daal (lentils) and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes) was very far from the traditional turkey dinner we were used to, we enjoyed being able to sit under the stars and appreciate everything we have to be thankful for in the quietness of the desert. While we missed our families and friends celebrating back home, this was certainly a thanksgiving to remember.