Spending a night under the stars in the Thar desert in Jaisalmer
The first image that would pop into your head on hearing Jaisalmer would be of a desert and camels. And rightly so! The ethereal sand dunes which are synonymous to Jaisalmer, will surely transport you to Arabian nights folklore. These sand dunes are a part of the Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert; 15% percent of which also extends to Pakistan.
Spending a night in the desert is a must when visiting The Golden City. Jaisalmer has two sand dunes in particular which are accessible for commercial use. The first one being Sam sand dunes and the other is Khuri sand dunes. Sam is the oldest and now more touristic of the two, owing to better roads and accessibility. Khuri is known for being more rustic and less explored, so it undoubtedly makes for a fulfilling offbeat experience.
How to experience a night under the stars in Jaisalmer?
One thing that you won’t miss when you are in Jaisalmer, or when researching about the city, is hotels selling desert safari packages. There are plenty of them. It often becomes difficult to figure out which one to choose. Here’s the thing alright. The night in the desert is curated into an experience package mainly for its marketability. It definitely is interesting, because that is something you won’t find elsewhere in India. There are a range of desert safari packages which start from spending half a day at the dunes to spending three days. But the most popular is the one night stay in the desert. The dunes are about a 2 hour drive from the city center.
The tour starts with a jeep ride from your hotel post lunch. On the way, you visit the Khaba Fort, which houses ruins of one of the 84 villages abandoned by the Paliwal brahmins overnight, around 200 years ago. The next stop is a local village where you start your camel ride into the dunes. You can choose to skip the camel ride and continue on the gypsy. Fortunately, the camels in the Jaisalmer desert are well taken care of, unlike in some other destinations. Although riding a camel is an experience, we would not say it is unmissable. You could totally just continue in your vehicle.
Best time to experience a night under the stars in Jaisalmer?
The best time to experience the Jaisalmer desert are the winter months, so from Mid October to early March is when you should plan your trip to the Golden City. The most ideal time to be in the desert would be on a full moon night, when the moon is in its full glory. Although, it can be a bit of a challenge to plan accordingly. But if you can plan your days, then nothing like it. If you happen to be in Jaisalmer in summer or monsoon, then we would suggest skipping the night in the desert. In this case, you could opt for a sunset (half day) tour instead, as the experience is just not the same. If anything, you would rather be back in your hotel room, on your bed, with the air-conditioner on. It’s best to avoid visiting Jaisalmer or even the desert during summer season. The sweltering heat becomes intolerable and you definitely won’t be able to enjoy the experience.
What makes the experience special?
The best part about this experience is when you enter the dunes and get to witness the setting sun and the colours changing in the sky. The fierce yellow of the desert sun changes to shades of orange and pink, with the cool wind brushing against you. Skip the selfies and soak in the moment. You would not even realize how soon the sun bids adieu for the day. Then before you know it, the stars welcome you into their midst. Let your feet feel the cold sand, climb up and slide down the slippery sloping dunes. We totally loved this! It not only makes for a great leg day but brings out the kid in you. It is so quiet in the desert, you can actually hear the wind blowing into your ears. Just like it did when as a kid, you would hold a glass over your ears to hear it.
As the sun is setting, a camp fire is lit, because that would be the only source of light for the night, other than the starry night sky, which evokes surreal feelings of joy. A fresh meal is cooked by the bonfire and Rajasthani folk songs sung by the locals; a definite highlight. Once you have your tummy and your heart filled with joy, it is time to retire for the night. You can choose to stay overnight in the desert. In this scenario, you get to sleep under the stars, on charpoys (wooden cots), with mattress and blankets to tuck in with. Or you can opt for the tent stay, in which you are taken by jeep to the base camp where all the tents are set up. So if you want an absolute experience of the desert, then sleeping under the stars is just for you. Sure, you will have to compromise a bit on comfort but it’s totally worth it. Although, if you enjoy your space and comfortable sleep (the tents would have heaters) then the tents are a great option and worth the additional cost too. Next morning you are dropped back to your hotel post breakfast.
A usual Jaisalmer desert safari package starts from INR 1500 per person for a night under the stars. It can go upto INR 3000 per person. For the package that includes staying in tents, the price would start from INR 4000 per person. It can definitely go higher too, depending on the type of tented accommodation.
Khaba fort is on the way to Sam sand dunes. You can also visit the Abandoned village of Kuldhara, which was a part of the 84 villages, and is famous for being a haunted ruin. Another interesting stop would be the Jaisal Oasis, which is the second largest oasis in Jaisalmer. The story behind this is that it was used as a source of water by merchants traveling from Afghanistan. Interestingly, it’s still used as a water reservoir by villages nearby.
The Jaisalmer desert experience is something everyone can enjoy. You can skip the camel ride if you have back issues or just against use of animals for commercial reasons. Traveling with infants is not advisable as the sand is very slippery. The blowing wind simply makes it all the more unfavourable for small children. But other than that, experiencing a night under the stars is something we’ll recommend for kids and older adults alike, at least once.