Bikaner Desert Safari: Is It Worth the Try?

A Bikaner Desert Safari is one way of exploring and getting to know the Bikaner environment and Rajasthani culture. Is it worth the try? Is it ethical? Read on as I try to answer these questions by sharing some information and my experience with you.

 

About Bikaner, Rajasthan

 

Unlike its neighboring Rajasthan cities, Bikaner is relatively less frequented by tourists and more laidback, the very reason why I chose it over Jaisalmer in my 9-day travel to Rajasthan.  Bikaner in northern Rajasthan, India is a desert town with remnants of medieval grandeur through its forts, palaces and mansions.

The city was founded by Rao Bika, the first son of Maharaja Rao Jodha, who in turn is the founder of Jodhpur.  Despite being a deserted area, Rao Bika established his kingdom in Bikaner, where he took advantage of its strategic trading location between Central Asia and Gujarat.  The area is also blessed with adequate ground water, making it habitable.

The city of Bikaner, Rajasthan is also known as the Camel Country.  Bikaner has the largest camel research institute in Asia. The center is both a breeding farm and a research center geared towards the improvement of camel health and production, and camel eco-tourism. Being a camel country and in close proximity to the Thar Desert, a Bikaner Desert Safari with camel ride is at the top of things to do in Bikaner.

 

Ethics of Camel Ride

 

Before my trip to Bikaner, I have given considerable thought on the issue on camel ride ethics, discerning whether I should go for it or not.  I searched through the internet looking for answers and asked some friends who have already experienced a camel safari.

Michael of the Bemused Packpacker has addressed the question by referring to guidelines formulated by a committee of animal welfare organizations, tour operators and NGOs on ethical animal-based tourism.  You can find his article here. Travelers who wish to experience a camel safari or any animal-based tourism for that matter are enjoined to actively do their own research while being guided by animal welfare standards one should look out for.

bikaner desert safari

The other side of the coin is an absolute no to riding any animals for tourism activities.  The case goes by the fact that they are being used for profit at the expense of limiting the animal’s freedom.  Desert people have been using camels as a means of transport for a long time now.  The argument is that even so, you are still depriving the animals of their freedom as you support a business that “hires” camels for your own enjoyment.

camel safari bikaner

Eventually, I decided to try it after carefully choosing a tour operator.  I have to be honest that I am still not 100% sure whether I did the right thing.  Sharing with you below how my first camel safari in Bikaner went.  I went with Rao Bikaji Camel Safari Group.  To the unquestioning tourist who would normally consider comfort, hospitality and enjoyment, the experience is undoubtedly remarkable.  Factoring in responsible travel, I would say the camels are well taken cared of.  Their conditions aren’t perfect, though and I wished I asked more of the right questions. More about this later.

 

Overnight Stay in a Bikaner Desert Camp

 

The camel safari I took included an overnight stay in a Bikaner desert camp, which is close to the start off point where we are to meet our camels and their keepers.  Yogi, the tour company owner, drove us for less than an hour from Bikaner city to the camp.  I was with the company of two other solo travelers and the tamest Tiger I’ve ever met (Note: he barks).  We set off at almost 6 PM, and then met another staff, our cook, when we were near the camp.

The desert camp isn’t that secluded from the town proper because we could still see some street lights from a distance.  Nevertheless, the camp was devoid of noise.  The best part was the unobstructed view of the stars above.  Yogi played some instrumental Hindi music while all enjoyed sharing stories and laughs over traditional Bikaneri namkeen snacks and some drinks.  Traditional Indian food was served for dinner when everyone mutually decided that it’s time to have so.

After some funny Google translates going on (our Brazilian company could speak little English), we decided to call it a night and slept comfortably in a traditional mud house.  Guests can have several options for staying in the camp: 1) in a mud house with bed and toilet, 2) tent with bed and toilet or 3) sleep outside on a folding bed under a blanket and all the stars in the sky.  Electricity is available courtesy of solar panels.

bikaner desert camp

Traditional mud house

bikaner desert camp

Bed inside the mud house

bikaner desert camp

Tents with bed and toilet

 

Camel Safari: Bikaner

 

We woke up at 4:30 AM so we could start with the camel safari before sunrise.  Yogi drove us outside the camp to have some hot chai and biscuits before heading back to the desert to meet our camels.

Three of us each had one camel assigned.  Angeli, 6 years old, female, was my camel for the Bikaner desert safari.  The other two camels are males, 8 years of age.  We started the trek into the desert after we were comfortably seated.

 

Sunrise gazing

After less than half an hour into the trek, sunlight slowly began its first appearance on that day.  It is not much wonder why people love watching sunrise or sunset.  During these times, the colors changing and unfolding before your eyes is just magical.  Every sunrise or sunset is also unique. The one we witnessed in the Bikaner desert was a glowing sun in perfect circle against the clear sky.

bikaner desert safari

 

Water break for the camels

While the sun hasn’t fully risen yet, we passed by a small water tank for the camels to drink. A camel is said to have the ability to survive six to seven months in the desert without drinking water.  However, that doesn’t mean they have to endure this before giving them access to water.  While the camels were having a water break, I took the opportunity to get off my camel and take a few sunrise shots.

camel safari bikaner

Rest stop for camel drinking

camel safari bikaner

 

Bikaner desert – what it’s like?

Bikaner’s desert is quite different from what I’ve imagined.  Being my first time to visit a real desert, I have initially imagined Bikaner desert to be a vast barren area of sand dunes.  It is, however, characterized by scattered vegetation.  We even passed by an area where the desert field was used for peanut plantation.  I didn’t mind, though, as what I was seeing is something different from what I normally see back in my tropical home country.

But if you are mainly interested in seeing the sand dunes, then the Bikaner desert may not fully satisfy.  The upside is that there are less tourists (we were the only group at that time).  In addition, the presence of flora makes Bikaner desert rich in biodiversity.

bikaner desert safari

Those white objects are animal bones

bikaner desert safari

Couldn’t believe there’s a peanut plantation in Bikaner desert

 

Biodiversity

The camel trek is called a camel safari. If taken in its true sense of the word, the journey would not only focus on the camel ride but also on observing wildlife in their natural habitat.  We did see both wildlife and domestic animals during the camel safari such as deers, birds, cats and, uhh…cows (as popularly known, they’re everywhere even on busy Indian city streets).

Two deers spotted (sorry, this is the farthest my lens could zoom in)

bikaner dersert safari

Alin, alin, alin ang naiba?

There were also various trees and shrubs along the way, providing habitat and food for desert fauna.  Going back to the photos I’ve taken after my India trip, I now wonder whether we have encountered Khejri trees in the camel safari.  The trees from the sunrise photo below closely resemble a Googled photo of a khejri tree.

bikaner desert safari

Wondering whether these trees are Khejri trees

Why the interest on Khejri tree?  A few days before I arrived Bikaner, I visited the Bishnoi village in Jodhpur. They are known to have protected Khejri trees from being cut down many years ago, for use in the Maharaja’s new fort construction.  That fateful event resulted in the massacre of more than 300 Bishnois.  Read here if you want to know more about the Bishnois of Rajasthan.

It would have been a great value addition to the camel safari if the guides can also orient us about desert wildlife for a better appreciation of Bikaner desert environment. A possibility is that our guides cum camel keepers are knowledgeable on the desert flora and fauna. It’s just that the language barrier is a problem.

 

Rest stop

After about 2 hours into the trek, we stopped at an elevated part of the desert where the sand looks softer and less compacted, closer to the sand dune I had in mind.  Happy to give our tailbones a break from the herky-jerky ride, we removed our sandals to feel the soft sand beneath our feet.  While the camels fodder on the bushes, the three of us enjoyed the Bikaner desert through some crazy photo ops.

bikaner desert safari bikaner desert safari

This is the best part of the Bikaner desert we’ve visited, in my opinion.  

bikaner desert safari bikaner desert safari

This photo is owned by Fabiano Magalhaes

 

Back to our Bikaner desert camp

We started our trek back to the desert camp, this time passing through a village where our camel keepers live.  The villagers were friendly and waved at us while we pass by their homes.  Angeli’s camel keeper (my bad, I remember the camel’s name but not its keeper) takes care of two other camels.  I asked both the camel keeper and Yogi how many trips each camel does in a day for the safari.  Both told me that each camel takes only at most one trek in a day.  I hope this is really the case as it is not uncommon that camels are sometimes used relentlessly for tour purposes.

camel safari bikaner

Met up with a shepherd herding his sheep and goats on our way back to the camp.  I was amazed by how the animals were segregated and all queued in a straight line.

camel safari bikaner

Colorful village near the camp

camel safari bikaner

The entire safari took 4 hours from start to end.  The sun is starting to get scorching hot by the time we were near the camp.  Needless to say, starting early before sunrise is the best timing to prevent trekking under the strong heat of the sun.  We then had our much needed breakfast back at the camp.

 

What You Need to Know Before a Bikaner Desert Safari

 

What to Pack

Remember to always travel light.  It will benefit you and your camel.

  • Wear light clothes, long pants that are lightweight and breathable (ideal for protection against weather and insects). Pack extra clothes depending on how many days or nights you wish to stay.
  • Lightweight shoes or sturdy sandals
  • If going on an overnight camping, check average weather temperature during the night. Bring sweater, shawl or scarf for cooler nights
  • Small flashlight or head lamp, if camping overnight
  • Scarf or hat as head cover against the sun
  • Reusable water bottle filled with water. Also check with your safari provider. They usually provide limited number of complimentary bottled mineral water.
  • Camera, spare camera batteries and memory card
  • Toiletries (bring only the minimum amount)
  • Sunscreen
  • Binoculars

 

Best time for Bikaner Camel Safari

October to February or during winter is the best time for camel safari. Bikaner weather is pleasant and relatively cooler during these months.  March to June becomes very hot, with high chances for dust storms.  Hence, enjoyment of outdoor activities will be difficult. July to September is the monsoon season, in which months there will be moderate amount of rainfall and humid weather.

 

Duration of Camel Safari

Typical camel safaris last for half a day, consisting of around 2 hours camel safari and village visit.  Full day safari usually consists of 2 to 4 hours camel ride.  Prices will vary depending on whether you’ll take packages that include overnight desert camping with accompanying meals or traditional Rajasthani folk song and dance performance.  The price of camping also varies with the type of accommodations, whether tent type, mud house or sleeping in bed under the stars and moonlight.

You can have the option to start the camel safari in the afternoon before sunset or early morning before sunrise.  Safaris lasting up to 6 days with overnight stays are also offered by some operators, where farther villages in Bikaner are covered.  However, I wouldn’t be comfortable taking longer camel safaris as these could entail camels carrying heavy carts and heavier loads.

bikaner desert safari

 

Ethical Camel Safari: What to ask?

Consider asking the following questions to tour operators to help you choose which companies to support.

  • For desert camps, how do they manage garbage and human wastes? Taking away rubbish for disposal later in the city proper where garbage gets collected is better that burning them in the desert.
  • Where are the camels kept? Are they protected with appropriate shelter?
  • Are the camels adequately fed and hydrated? During the ride, are they given regular access to drinking water?
  • Ask the age of the camels. Only camels starting at 6 to 8 years old are considered mature enough for camel rides.
  • Are tour providers overloading their camels? Based on the Holiday Hooves Guide published by SPANA, an average adult camel should carry a maximum load of 150 kg.  One passenger per camel is ideal.  Bear in mind that aside from your weight, the camel will carry your padded seating and your drinking water bottle/s.
  • Are the camels controlled by sticks or bullhooks? These controlling devices can cause wounds, sores and scars. Also check whether the straps or tethers are too tight.  Skin damage could occur if these are tied too tightly.
  • Ensure that the camels are given adequate rest periods in between the trek and in between each tour.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Consider your own weight when choosing camels for your ride.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Listen to your camel keeper’s instructions on how to safely ride and get off the camel.
  • Don’t move around too much while riding the camel as this may agitate or annoy your camel.
  • Keep your trash until you’ve found a proper trash disposal area. Leave both the campsite and the desert as you find it.

 

What Tourists Can Do to Support Responsible Tourism

 

Animal-based tourism generates income for the animal’s owners and tour operators, providing them an income stream to support their families.  Tourists also derive benefits from the enjoyment of this unique experience.  The downside is when these animals are poorly treated and overworked.

Looking at the long-term impact of the activity, disregard for the animal’s welfare can gradually lead to the deterioration of the condition of the animals from which we derive social and economic benefits. In order to prevent a lose-lose situation, there needs to be a balance between earning a profit and respecting animal welfare.

As tourists, we have a role to actively choose to support responsible tour operators.  Honestly, this is not something that comes as straightforward.  Sometimes, even if you ask the right questions, some answers only come once you experience the tour itself.  If we see that some practices needs to be improved, what we can do as travelers is to offer them recommendations. Similarly, we can positively influence other travelers to seriously consider responsible tourism in their holiday enjoyment.

 

Read other articles and destinations related to eco-tourism and responsible travel

 

How to get to Bikaner

 

Train and bus are the best options of getting to Bikaner.  Bikaner doesn’t have an airport.  Jodhpur, which is 251 km away from Bikaner is the nearest airport.

By Bus – Bikaner can be reached by bus from different cities of India.  Popular bus route connections from Bikaner are for Delhi, Ganganagar, Pali, Jodhpur, Agra, Ajmer, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Jhunjhunu, Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Kota.  Bus with sleeper coach is also available if you plan to take an overnight bus ride from Bikaner.

By Train – The railway station in Bikaner is well-connected to Indian cities like Delhi, Jodhpur, Punjab, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram and other cities.  Click here to check available routes and schedule, and conveniently book train tickets through 12Go Asia.

Where to Stay in Bikaner

 

I stayed at Karina Homestay in Bikaner, close to the famous Rampuria Havelis and within walking distance from the Kote Gate Market.  Check accommodations/ hotels in Bikaner and compare rates in all top online booking sites and read reviews through Hotels Combined here.

 

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Have you tried camel safari before? What are your thoughts about riding a camel in the context of responsible tourism? I would be happy to hear your thoughts.


 

Note: Rao Bikaji Camel Safari hosted this camel safari and desert camp. All opinions are my own, and no one from this company reviewed or approved the article. This post also contains Affiliate Links. This means if you book hotels, flights, or purchase product or services using the link(s) in this article, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  Thank you for your continued support!

 

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24 thoughts on “Bikaner Desert Safari: Is It Worth the Try?

  1. Candy

    I’ve never been on a camel safari so your tips and questions to ask are very helpful. I would have never known to ask about a camels age. Also a great tip to dispose of your trash properly. It’s so shocking how many people don’t follow this simple rule.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Thanks, Candy. You are right, it’s frustrating to see trash on the streets and witnessing people throwing off their garbage anywhere like it’s a normal thing to do. There has to be a change in mindset and values before a good solid waste management could successfully be done.

  2. trimmtravels

    Interesting that Bikaner has the largest camel research institute in Asia. Not sure I’ve ever thought of where that might be or if there was one even in existence. I always find it difficult to know if I’m 100% choosing the right tour operator when trying to ethically enjoy an activity involving an animal. I did a sunset cameral ride in the Sahara and it was amazing and can be a fun activity if done correctly. I can’t believe there was a peanut plantation with all that green in the middle of the desert, although I have heard that most deserts aren’t like the parts of the Sahara with the rolling bronzed sand dunes.

    1. findingjing Post author

      I agree that it’s difficult to choose the right tour operator. If we start to become aware, though, of the importance of becoming responsible travelers and how we can be one, then we are in the right direction. I’d love to see the Sahara Desert, too, and experience what it’s like to be in the middle of the sand dunes.

  3. mapcameratravel1

    Such an amazing article. I really like the pointers you have mentioned on what to ask. Have never done the camel ride before, but surely even if we plan to do so, we will make sure to be responsible travelers . Keep up the great work.

  4. Jenn and Ed Coleman

    There is so much responsibility in finding the right tour operator. People should do their research and make sure their money is supporting an ethical operation. Treating animals correctly is so much more important than saving a buck or two.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Well said, Jenn. I am guilty of choosing the wrong tour operator in the past, realizing later that I supported wrong tourism practices. what’s important now that we are aware is to head towards the right direction.

  5. Lara Dunning

    Deserts are magical places and I enjoyed reading your journey. I’ve thought of doing something like this, but it is hard to know if you are making the right choice so I appreciate the tips you include.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Thanks, Lara! It really is difficult to “screen” tour operators, especially that it’s often not a convenient thing to do. Glad you found the article useful.

  6. Navita

    Happy to read about the Bikaner and experiences here as you rightly mentioned that it is much lesser known as compared to some other cities of Rajathan. Loved the pictures and perspectives about the lifestyle and how to make the best of your travels in Bikaner. Thanks for sharing the tips to make an informed choice about the safari and enjoy a place which has so much richness of culture and biodiversity as Bikaner.

  7. Erica

    I enjoyed reading this. As someone who strives to be a responsible tourist, I’m always struggling with these decisions especially when they involve animals. It looks like you definitely did your research beforehand and I love to see that! Great photos as well.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Thanks, Erica! Same here, oftentimes it’s more convenient to just choose based on price and reviews, which often do not include the “eco” side of it. I struggle with these decisions, too, but little by little, we can make it a habit and way of travel.

  8. Carmen Edelson

    I really appreciate your honesty, even after the fact. I don’t think I would choose to ride the camels. You’re totally right about responsible tourism not being straightforward but fabulous articles like this certainly help 🙂

  9. kavitafavelle

    Thank you for posting this report, with reference to the ethical debate about whether or not one should do camel ride during your visit. I think for me, I would prefer not to ride captive animals, whether or not they are domesticated is a separate thing for me. I would like to do an overnight though, in a desert camp to enjoy the biodiversity you share, perhaps I would do a vehicle-based safari instead of animal-back.

    1. findingjing Post author

      I appreciate your comments and I would have to agree that avoiding the camel ride would have been the better option. I’ll keep that in mind when faced with the same situation in the future.

  10. Amy Chung

    What an eye opener of an experience. I appreciate your candidness about whether you ended up making the right decision but for me personally I would not have done it. I’d rather get on a 4WD and explore the region that way. The camp looks very reasonable and I reckon I would have loved that part!

    1. findingjing Post author

      Hi Amy! Taking a 4WD and avoiding the camel ride would have been the best option. I will strongly consider that given the same situation in the future. Thanks for your comments!

  11. Daniel

    I’m glad to see someone speaking up against riding animals which are held captive. The internet needs more articles like this one. Your pictures are absolutely amazing too! I’m sharing this article across my social media channels 🙂

  12. Shreya Saha

    You seem to have a great time in Bikaner. Camel safari and a night on the desert sounds very nice but I am too skeptical about taking a camel ride. I guess I may just skip it. However, I would like to know is it possible to stay overnight in a desert camp without taking any camel ride?

  13. Lisa

    This reminds me of the camel ride and desert stay we did in Morocco. I’ve not yet been to India, and this looks like an incredible experience. It’s good you brought up about the ethics of riding a camel, and quite rightly, we should do our own research before deciding if it’s for us. I’ve made a note of October to Feb being the ideal months to visit Bikaner, thank you!

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