Silhouetted against a backdrop of rolling golden mountains of sand and a deep orange sunset, a dozen camels stroll just a few metres in front of me. The distant smell of rich spices catch my nose and the fading heat of the day gives way to a cool desert breeze.
But this isn’t the relaxing Indian sunset dreams are made of, surrounded by hundreds of tourists as I sit fighting back tears for the wheezing camels who are overworked and tired. This is the popular Sam sand Dunes in Jaisalmer, and it’s left nothing but a bitter taste in my mouth.
Naively expecting an authentic night of Desert jeep safari and traditional Rajasthani dance show, we parted ways with 700 rupees (£7) and set off with the adamant request of “absolutely no camel riding for us!” But on arrival to the overpopulated splatter of fine sandy dunes, it soon became apparent that avoidance of what we saw as unethical camel riding was impossible.
While some camels were dragged by a thin rope weaved through it’s nostrils, or whipped along the conveyor belt of tourist waiting, others ascended steep dunes dragging harnessed carts full of giggling families.
Most camels were panting and breathless and all bore scars and scabs on their overworked limbs. The sights and sounds of these poor creatures, being so heavily manipulated for entertainment, removed any enjoyment of the beautiful setting sun.
We left the sunset early with wet eyes and sad faces, retreating to our jeep. And though we didn’t actively participate in the camel riding intentionally, our contribution to the tour company left a hanging guilt over our heads.
The surroundings desert area of Jaisalmer is actually a must if visiting the area but in hindsight an easy to book, easy to forget, organised tour is not the way to go.
My advice: don’t scrimp on a trip like this and expect to pay nearer to £10-£14 for a more authentic tour. For the savings you make on £2 Thali dinners during the day, you can ensure a happier sunset; both for you and the wonderful Jaisalmer Camel.