Gypsies on The Dunes


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Heading For The Sam Dunes

I had arrived in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan with a plan to hire a guide and trek by camel through the desert.

Most tourists that visit Jaisalmer will book a camel trek or safari. Lasting anywhere from one to twelve days or more, most people end up on a three or four day trek. I opted for a four day.

The day before my trek I met a couple of women from Switzerland who were staying in the same hotel. Julia seems to be the leader of the two. She’s been to India multiple times and has arranged with her driver a visit to the Sam Dunes, about 50km from the Pakistan border. It’s her friend Angela’s first time here. “Would you like to join us?”, Julia asked. “We are going out to see the gypsies dance and to take pictures and watch the sunset”. “Sounds amazing, I’m in!”

We agreed to meet back at the hotel at 4pm.

I was actually under the impression that this was all organized and we will drive to the dunes get out of the car and walk to a performance area where we will watch gypies dance and then enjoy the sunset. Much like a typical “cultural” event. I was so ignorant.


Crazy Camel Men

We were driving in the car for about 45 minutes when we pulled to the side of the road. There were camels dressed up with carts everywhere. We were immediately attacked by camel men who were pounding on our windows rocking the car back and forth as they were throwing out bids for camel rides. For a moment I was feeling like this was some sort of uprising. This is not what I expected! Our driver Harry just laughs. I think he’s been here before. We managed to get out of the car and started walking in the direction of the desert. It’s a long walk to where the gypsies are and hiking up the dunes will slow down our arrival time.

We finally agreed to hire a camel cart to take us there. Several men were still yelling out fares as they chased us. We chose one of them. The loudest I think.

This is where I should have been a little more involved in negotiating the price.

The Lesson

You will learn if you don’t already know. Having a clear understanding of what you are paying for with an agreement up front will save you from a major headache later. This goes for any service in countries where negotiating is standard. More to come.DSC_4171

Desert Sounds And Dance

This is definitely a very touristy atmosphere. There were tented camps set up everywhere. The camel rides were as organized as any top tourist attraction. There were Rajasthani musicians everywhere ready to serenade you for a little baksheesh, tip. “As you like”, when you ask them how much. DSC_4169

The gypsies? They were everywhere. There was no “cultural performance”. They were all dressed in beautiful traditional costumes with make-up and show biz smiles. Wandering the dunes looking for easy prey. Yes, they expected tips. But, they really do deliver a show. Singing, dancing, moving through the sand. Their children are natural performers too.

These nomadic people have a long history here. They are musicians, storytellers, snake charmers. They sell goods and offer services.DSC_4151

The singing, the music, sounds tribal and rich with history. It’s ancient, full of roots and soul. In the middle of this tourist prey zone, there is authenticity here.

Gypsies Will Be Gypsies

Julia and I are taking pictures as each new group of ladies offers a dance. Baksheesh is handed over at the end of the mini performance. The transaction never seems to end. Hand them 50 Rupees, they’ll beg and plead for 500. Julia was clearly showing her frustration. I mean really pissed off! Yelling and waving at them to go away. “I hate it when they keep begging”, she said. I was standing back amused by the whole scene.

I liked the gypsies. They were always smiling. Always on stage. One particular women dressed in black who danced for us earlier waves and smiles at us as she moves toward another group, like a torpedo.

How Much For A Camel Ride?

The sun was setting. Camels were everywhere. On the tops of dunes and surrounding this whole temporary village in The Thar Desert. I was transported into every desert themed movie I’ve ever seen. Lawrence of Arabia, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The English Patient.

It’s a glorious sunset. The sand glows and the silhouettes of camels reshape the dunes.

Julia is tired and is wondering where her friend Angela is. She snaps at her when she finally arrives to meet us. I’m reminded from time to time that traveling alone is not such a bad thing. We all hopped on the cart and were driven back to the road by the camel driver.

When we attempted to settle up with him there was confusion. We were told $400 Rupees for both ways. “No, No, my friend. $400 Rupees each way” he said. This was a classic case of not having a clear agreement on price up front. I expressed my disappointment. Unfortunately no one really made it clear what was the final price. Harry stepped in to help smooth things over. We finally settled up somewhere in the middle. No bad feelings, we left the cart all feeling OK.

There was a small outdoor cafe across the road. We all decided to get something to drink before the drive back to Jaisalmer. The sun finally setting over these beautiful dunes full of song, dance, and life in Rajasthan, India.

About the Author John Saboe

I am a broadcaster, photographer, writer and videographer with a passion for travel throughout Asia. I love making connections and engaging with people. I am spiritual and seek adventure wherever I go.

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