There is hardly another joy like that of watching a camel fold his front legs and drop to the ground. The thrill of sitting on its back when the droopy-lipped sultan of the desert gets up like a master of locking and popping, is second to none. But when it moves, pressing it soft imprints in the sand, streaking like a river through the landscape and swaying you from side to side—that is quite another experience.
Every year, thousands of travellers and adventure buffs wait with bated breath for the joys and thrills of the vibrant Rann Utsav. The sands of Kutch dance and shimmer with an unrivalled zing throughout the three-month festival. Tourists arrive from far and wide to savour cultural performances, music concerts, and wellness activities—but only those who have taken a camel safari can attest to the thrill one feels on top of the ship of the desert when it paces rhythmically on the seemingly endless crystal salt marsh glimmering under a milky full-moon night, much like Lawrence of Arabia.
If you pick a full-moon evening for your camel ride on the white desert, look out for chir batti: flashing, flickering balls of light dashing across the sky—the locals in the Banni grasslands of Kutch refer to it as a paranormal activity. Here are two other great places in Gujarat to enjoy camel safaris.
At other places, you may have sunset points. In Gujarat, arguably the best way to witness the sun slip behind the horizon is to do it through a camel safari. And it isn't just the Rann of Kutch that offers a chance to do it. Kalo Dungar near Bhuj and the famous Mandvi beach are just as suited for the adventure. Be it adults or children,groups of friends or couples, beach lovers swarm in to take rides along the coast with the waves breaking on the shore, just like in the movies. In the recent past, Vice President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu and legendary explorer and mountaineer Bachendri Pal have also enjoyed the experience.
The idea of going on a camel safari at the beach may sound alien to many, but did you know that camels aren't just land animals? Evolution has bestowed the Kharai breed of camels in Kutch with the ability to swim, and even though this is not part of the camel safari experience, it does justice to their title of the ship. But thanks to their soft feet regardless of the breed, in addition to the traditional and mercantile culture of the coastal fringes, Mandvi and Kalo Dungar (120km from Bhuj) have turned into camel safari hotspots, which, surprisingly are still relatively unexplored.
Mandvi, often frequented by visitors headed for Kandla, is a major draw because of its shipbuilding industry and batik work. Tourists also pay visits to the Kashi-Vishvanath temple. Throw in a thrilling camel ride on the Mandvi beach, and it instantly turns into an exciting day trip for all kinds of travellers. The highest point of the Kutch region, Kalo Dungar, also known as the Black Hill, is another fascinating destination that has camel safaris on offer. Dhordo, lying 48km away, a camping hotspot also known as Tent City, is also frequented by locals and tourists alike for the same reason.
Sunsets are mesmeric on the Somnath beach, which pilgrims and history and architecture lovers frequent for the beautiful temple of the same name—one of the 12 jyotirlingas in the country. And the rushing waves and the gorgeous beach form the perfect backdrop for pleasurably bumpy camel rides along the shore. The camels are decked up in traditional finery and the rides are surprisingly comfortable, with equally pretty howdahs. Adults and children both enjoy camel safaris on the Somnath beach, and they are quite affordable, too.
Don't forget to carry sunscreen because during the day, there is ample, baking sunlight. The other essentials are a nice summer hat and sufficient drinking water
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