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Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.  Things are looking up!

We awoke bright and early to catch our tour to the desert.  We were excited to be on our way.  A camel safari was a big item on our list of adventures that we wanted to do in India.
Our driver was on time and we set out for the great Thar Desert of India.
The day was bright and sunny and we drove out 30 km towards the Pakistan Border.
We met our guides on the side of the road.  After loading up the camels with food and water, we placed our packs on the horn of the saddle and hopped on.

two-camels-on-safari-rajasthan

Deb on her Camel

Lucky we had been on camels before, because our guides didn’t give us any instructions on what to do.
When a camel is about to stand, lean back and hold on. You will be tossed forward as he straightens his hind legs first.
We were happy to see that we had 4 camels and two guides.

It looked like we made the right decision booking with the Hotel Shiva Guys.

That is until our jeep left.  We started walking with one of our guides whose name is Bilal.  He didn’t hop on a camel, he walked in front of us holding the reigns. It was just us, two of our four camels and Bilal.

We asked him why our other guide Allep wasn’t coming along with the other camels.  Bilal said that he would be along shortly.  So we walked for a while being led by Bilal wondering what was going on.

camels-guide-in-rajasthan-desert

Bilal and our Camels

After a while, we told him that we didn’t want to be led by a man walking us through the desert. We specifically asked our tour operator if we would be riding our own camels, we didn’t want someone walking in front of us, we did that in Egypt and we didn’t like it. Bilal said that once the other camels come, we would be able to ride and that he needed to stretch his legs anyway because he had traveled for 5 hours from the camel camp this morning.

We walked on, but were not happy.

camel-in-rajasthan-indiaFinally, when we stopped for a break we spoke our minds.
We told him that we want to know where the other guide was and that we wanted to drive our own camels.
He said that he was on his way.  He got on his cell phone and called someone and said that he was coming, he just couldn’t find our tracks in the sand.
He started weaving stories together making excuses as to why Allep hadn’t arrived and we finally lost it.
We stopped by the side of the road and we told him that we were calling the company and ending the tour. This is not what we signed up for.  He was clearly not telling the truth.

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He had changed his story about Alleps absence 6 times.

  1. He was waiting for a friend
  2. He was waiting for an Indian Tourist – whatever that means
  3. He was on his way but couldn’t find us
  4. He had a sick friend and had to take him to the village that we were coming up to in the distance
  5. He had a sick brother
  6. And Finally…
  7. His brother was so sick that he would not let Allep leave.

Allep was not coming back.

camels-rajasthan-desert-sunset

Now I know better than to call someone a liar in Asia.

They have this concept of “saving face.”  Even though they are telling a lie, you are not allowed to call them on it. However, at this point, I didn’t care.  I called him an outright liar and told him that we were calling our tour company and leaving the tour.
He said that would be very bad for him.  He would be in big trouble.
At this point we didn’t care. We had lost all patience. Incompetence is one thing but outright lying is another.
We tried calling our tour company which of course didn’t answer.
We tried calling our driver that we paid so much money for, who of course didn’t answer.
Bilal didn’t know this though, and he promised that he was going to go to the village to get our camel.
He said “If I come back with a camel after lunch, will you be happy?”
We wouldn’t be happy, but we didn’t have much of a choice.  We were stuck in the middle of the desert!! So we said, OK.
Sure enough, he came back after an hour and a half with a camel.

texting-in-desert-india

Dave Texting While We Wait

We thought about the absurdity of it all.
Here we are a couple of tourists left alone in the desert with two camels and a goat. (The goat just happened to be there, but it seemed to like us.)
We have spent a lot of time in the desert so we are pretty comfortable hanging out, but I wonder how other people would have reacted to being left all alone by their guide? It is not exactly a comforting experience.
Anyway he came back with a 3rd camel.  Where he got it, we have no idea. We loaded up our saddles and went on our way towards the sand dunes with the little goat crying and following us for as long as it could.

It had been a long day.

It started off with excitement only to be ruined with lies. We had fought, we had waited, we had gotten our way and then we finally had to put all of our energy into making the rest of the trip pleasant.
After all that fighting, how were we supposed to spend two more days with this guy?
Of Course he came back like nothing had ever happened.  He smiled, he sang, he talked about how good of a guide he was and how happy he was now that we were happy.
We smiled, but unlike Bilal, we had a harder time letting go of the bad feelings. It was a long cold night.

camel-safari-camp-India

Our Camp

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To his credit, he was an excellent cook!
He made great meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We had fresh vegetables, rice and chipatis and for breakfast we had boiled eggs with toast and jam.
He worked hard. He took care of the camels, he set up our camp, he loaded our packs and gear and he made our fires.
Other tours that we saw had two guides to share the workload.

Bilal was alone.

We will never know what really happened to Allep, but we are assuming that they had a little scam on the side.
4 camels could easily be split into two tours.  Many tourists were being led by a guy walking in front of their camels.  Maybe one of them had our other two camels that we had paid for.  They probably sold another tour on the side and pocketed the money. Whatever they did, they didn’t have to split the tip with anyone.

Info
Camel safaris range from 600-1000 Rs depending on comfort level.
It is cold at night, bring a hat and warm clothes.
You will get a blanket, but you will still be cold.
Bring a headlamp, it will be your saviour.
Make sure to get a tour that jeeps you out of Jaisalmer and away from the tourist trail.
Do your homework, I don’t think that it was our tour companies fault, I think it was our guides.  But we could be wrong.
Bring sunscreen, a hat and a scarf to protect you from the sun, it is hot in the desert during the day.

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34 Comments

  1. marina k. villatoro

    If that happened to me, I would totally freak!

    We had something very similar happen to us in Bolivia on the way to the Salt dessert, we weren’t left by our guide, but they simply forgot to sign one up for us. All the tour groups were greeted happily by their, in the middle of some mountain only 14,000 feet up in the air while we stood around til night fall with nothing. Gratefully, we were at some teeny tiny house and even though they had no phone the contacted someone for us and the following day they arrived. It was crazy! and we were freaked out.
    .-= marina k. villatoro´s last blog ..Wildlife Guatemala – 7 Details About The Brown Four-eyed opossum =-.

    1. davendeb

      Marina! That is way worse than our experience. I would freak out too if I were left in the middle of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. It is good to know that stuff like that happens to other people as well:)

  2. Audrey

    Although the day started out rocky, it sounds like you were able to make the best of the situation by standing firm. Sometimes you just need to raise a little ruckus in order right the wrongs of a cheap guide/tour company.

    We didn’t go on a camel safari, but heard similar stories from other travelers. We’ve heard it’s better to go from Bikaner where there are less tourists and operators, but who knows.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Potosi, Through Children’s Eyes (Where Were You When You Were Twelve?) =-.

    1. davendeb

      Hi Audrey, yes, for once we stood firm. We ended up doing Bikaner too. We just had to compare the two. You know what, neither are worth writing home about. But they are worth blogging about:)

  3. IsabellesTravel

    I`m sorry to hear you guys had a bad experience. It`s good that you talk about it here and that other travelers are warned about these possible scams…

    I enjoy all your posts from your trip in India. It`s great to be able to read (and sometimes watch :) your adventures!!

    Can`t wait for another story. Keep sharing ;-)
    .-= IsabellesTravel´s last blog ..Kasa Beach, Tanzania =-.

    1. davendeb

      Thanks Isabelle! It is good to let people know about the scams out there. We are sharing our stupidity so that others can learn from our mistakes:)

  4. Jen Laceda

    Oh, what a rollercoaster ride that was! I guess if everything went on smoothly ALL the time for ALL of us, we wouldn’t be reading all these interesting (sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes mixed) travel tales! I’m glad you’re safe, though. I would have (QUIETLY) panicked inside if I were left in the middle of the desert. My “city mentality” will convince me that I am getting robbed in the middle of nowhere and I will die a slow, painful, dehydrated death. I just know my adrenaline will be kicking up 100%! And that is why I love travel…it’s such a wonderful paradox :)
    .-= Jen Laceda´s last blog ..The Mind-Boggling Street Foods of the Philippines =-.

    1. davendeb

      Jen, so true! Once you make it through something, you feel amazing. All of those thoughts went through my mind I have to admit. You just never know what anyone is up to! Dave and I were just talking about why we travel the other day because we haven’t enjoyed the past 2 weeks, but then we came to the conclusion that we feel more alive when we travel than we do any other time in our lives. It is wonderful. Even when things don’t go as planned.

  5. Melvin

    I’ve got a big smile right now…. it’s soooo much fun to read what is happening to you, as it’s just the same stories we experienced. :)
    The guides are tough! But you’ve solved it! Well done!
    I’m pretty sure that you are right with your theory, that the guides just made 2 tours out of it.
    Keep the great stories coming…
    All the best
    Melvin
    & many thanks for your great india railway travel tip!
    .-= Melvin´s last blog ..Greeks love to socialize! Enjoy the atmosphere of Athens’ nightlife =-.

    1. davendeb

      I am so happy to hear that. Not that you had a bad experience also, but that we were not alone. Sometimes when you are all alone in the middle of the desert, you tend to say “why does this always happen to us and not anyone else?” That is the great thing about running a blog, you get to find out that it does happen to other people and that you are not alone:) You are very welcome about the tip! It is perfect for your informative and awesome site so glad we could contribute!

  6. Jennifer @ ApproachGuides

    Ugh. We know this pain. We experienced a similar situation at Wadi Rum.

    On our site have listed a few great contacts in India that we have used and might come in handy for you in the future. You can find the listing on the bottom of the page. http://www.approachguides.com/local-tour-guides-agents-drivers/

    In addition, if you (or anyone else) come across any great guides, drivers, etc that you want to recommend, please fill out the form on our site and we will post them. There is currently no aggregate service (that we know of) that offers traveler recommended local (in-country) guide/driver recs.

    I look forward to hearing more about your adventures!
    .-= Jennifer @ ApproachGuides´s last blog ..Beijing: Stepping Back in Time =-.

    1. davendeb

      Jennifer, that is a great idea. IF and when we come across a great guide, we will definitely fill out your form. fantastic!

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  8. Shawn

    Well thats tourism. From observation I think some cultures struggle relating to the business of tourism. I like the Arab cultures very much, but when it comes to tourism many people struggle with the concept, it’s always a money issue, sounds like India is slightly the same.

    Hey I have a suggestion, I am sure you are aware I like to stay in an area an extended time. Possibly when your are finished traveling India it would be nice to here where would you nest for an extended amount of time for like three to six months?
    .-= Shawn´s last blog ..The Village Life, Part Seven, The Traditional Side including a Border Run. =-.

    1. davendeb

      Hi Shawn, I think it will be a few more months before we are ready to settle. But I think that it is a great idea to do what you are doing. Settle in a place and really live as the locals live. It is an amazing thing to do and we will possibly do it one day soon with you as our inspiration!

  9. Trisha Miller

    You guys did something many tourists never do – you stood up to the guide and insisted that he live up to what what promised, what you signed up for. Guys like Bilal count on the fact that most people won’t say anything (and sometimes that’s because the tourists don’t know any better) in order to get away with their scam, or just sub-par service. Good for you!

    This trip of yours is really turning into an amazing resource for anyone who is thinking of taking a trip to India – this is a perfect example, because it’s somewhere I’d like to visit someday, and I’d even want to ride camels. Now I know what to look out for. I think it’s wonderful that you’re not glossing over anything, and sharing every experience – good or bad. That’s another thing some people are loathe to do when they travel – tell the stories about the negative aspects of their trip….bravo to you!
    .-= Trisha Miller´s last blog ..Suzy: Week 22 – The Interview =-.

    1. davendeb

      Thanks Trisha, sometimes it is hard to admit the things that go wrong, but it is so useful to everyone else. It would be nice to write about how we are super travelers and nothing ever goes wrong, but the truth is…things go wrong for us all of the time. But as you said to us in an earlier post, it is the ups and downs of travel that really make you feel alive. And we certainly feel alive in India. Far more than we do in our sanitized world in Canada.

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  15. Angela

    OMG what a story! I just got back from India, I did the tour of the Rajasthan state and went to Jaisalmer desert too, but my guide (who was with me from the first to the last minute of my 10-day stay) literally made each and every one of my wishes come true! It was just perfect, maybe that’s why I have such a good opinion of locals there.. Had I lived your experience, maybe I would be more skeptical now about their integrity. My guide also gave me very useful tips on how to behave when other local guides approached me with offers, he certainly spared me from stumbling on some typical tourist traps..

  16. T-roy

    As much as I read up on it, as much as I went through your site before hand… I failed to! FAIL FAIL FAIL and my camel tour was the worse thing I have done yet in India. Food tasted like sand, was bored out of my mind, I paid to much (that was my fault for not bartering harder) and I didn’t see much. In fact the only photos I took was of the Danish girls with me on the tour (which says a lot as I can photography anything but I can only shoot so many shots of my camel before I get bored).

    I was in Jaisalmer and I can pretty much say I’m done with these camels tours. I’ll be writing about it later on my site but it will be mostly a bunch of photos of Danish girls jumping at sunset!!! Then again, some might like that more anyways! lol :)

    1. davendeb

      Oh No. I am so sorry that you didn’t have a good experience either. Now that it has been awhile since we went on our camel safari, I am glad that I did it. It is pretty cool to be able to say that you went on a camel trek in the Thar Desert. There is a bright light after all. Looking forward to your photos;-)

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  19. Edward

    Dave,

    This must have been quite an experience. Were you able to book services from Bilal over the internet? if so do share some details.

    Keep blogging….

    Edward

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  21. Anthea Markstein

    Hi debndave, I'm travelling in Algeria at the moment and I've always wanted to ride a camel through the Sahara. I was disappointed to have the same experience as you describe having in Egypt while I was in Morocco (where a guide walks in front of your camel and leads it through the desert). I was beginning to think that this was the only way it is ever done! Did you end up having any success while you were in North Africa or was your disappointing Egypt camel safari the only one you did?

    1. debndave Post author

      Hi Anthea, we’ve done camel safaris in Egypt, Jordan and India. They are all the same, pretty disappointing, however, this one in India turned out to be ok after we complained a lot and got what we wanted… Our own camel to ride without a guide walking in front. He eventually got his own camel that we followed.

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