The Taar Desert deserves to linger there a little longer than for a few selfies. The landscape soothes the soul and the sky opens every evening on a hypnotic spectacle: stars by the billions...
It is called the great Indian desert or the Mârusthali. It starts in Rajasthan and stretches towards Pakistan, so a lot of sand awaits the visitor on 200 000 km², but not only. The Taar Desert is changeable, it is sometimes a plain of bushes or short vegetation which composes the landscape.
This desert is like all deserts: addictively beautiful
Here live men, Bedouins, nomadic tribes called desert gipsys and wild or domestic animals. It is for this beauty that the expedition deserves every effort. The sky is fascinating at all hours of the day and night, the landscapes follow one another but do not look alike.
From Jaiselmer, it is easy to find a local agency that will take the traveller on a mop for a few days. The camel driver is often a customary desert Indian, at best he comes from a Bedouin family.
The adventure is lived in local mode, not touristic. The “desert vessel”, the dromedaries, have to be beaten and debatted every day and the explorer spends a lot of time on his animal.
Everybody gets involved: lighting the fire, cooking the chapatis, grilling the meal, preparing the tchaï (tea), organizing the bed in the sand and who knows, sometimes running after a stray goat to get some milk out of it!
The Taar Desert is a well supervised adventure. The Indo-Pakistani border is always under tension and remains very closely guarded. There is no question of having fun defying the neighbour!
The most commercial agencies take foreigners to tiny villages where children have learned to ask visitors for money before they can walk. On the other hand, spending time in a community of gipsy (still nomadic but less and less) is a nice visit to make to meet this desert people.
The important thing is to choose your guide and equipment carefully. With a bit of luck, the guide is known by the inhabitants of the desert, he is known and respected so the welcome reserved for the foreigner who accompanies him will be very good.
For my part, the guide who made us discover the desert came from a very esteemed family and his friends, learning that he was around, hastened to come and see him in the middle of the dunes at nightfall. We were able to enjoy real Bedouin evenings in the warmth of the fire with the locals.
The Taar desert is worth it: it is hot during the day and cold at night, no bed or tent, no shower, no toilets and 100% Indian meals (chapatis with laughing cow, hard-boiled eggs, very few vegetables, bananas…).
But one thing is sure, you don’t need any comfort to be amazed, this exploration is worth all the sacrifices!
Women alone in the desert
In the middle of the journey we meet an American woman travelling with her camel driver. This young woman went through an agency we will call Coconut Agency.
It is time to take a break, we drink tea together. The young woman then asks us if we would include her in our crew.
So I leave immediately and ask Danou, our guide, if he agrees. Without letting go of his smile, he raises an eyebrow and asks why. Good question I didn’t ask myself…. I go back to see Miss America and learn that after a few hours of camel riding, her camel driver stops and explains the next steps: “We will unpack the camels, set up camp, make food and (I quote) after a bit of sex? (in English: after, maybe sex?).
She panics when she realises that she is all alone in the middle of the desert with a f*** stupid) man. She vigorously refuses and spends a terrifying night lying in wait, horrified at the idea that the camel driver will do it (which, thankfully, he didn’t). We accept without hesitation that she ends her trek surrounded by friendly and respectful people. Danou, our guides, kept her smile but thought no less. He took care of the safety and respect of all these ladies during the rest of the trip and everything went perfectly.
- It is better to go to a well-known and respected agency.
- We must not generalise, not all Indians are obsessive fools. When we reported the young woman’s story to our agency, the manager got realy angry. He went to the Coconut Agency to fight with the guide so that he would never be hired again.
- Not all guides are the same, so don’t hesitate to meet the person the tourist will be travelling with before you sign.