Thar Desert tours in Rajasthan

Opportunities to grab some quiet time on a tour of Rajasthan’s cities can be in short supply; however, escaping into the Thar Desert is an altogether more restful experience. This is a fascinating land where camels and cattle appear at every turn and peacocks call from the branches of sacred village fig trees to announce the arrival of guests. Top tip: bring binocs to spot Indian gazelles and black bucks on the ground, and eagles, vultures and falcons overhead.

Where is the Thar Desert?

Rajasthan encompasses more than 60 percent of the Thar Desert, with the rest of the 200,000km2 extending into the neighbouring regions of Gujurat, Punjab and Haryana, and over the border into Pakistan. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jaisalmer, named the ‘Golden City’ thanks to its yellow sandstone architecture, is Rajasthan’s gateway to the Thar. It features several Jain temples and a huge, sandstone fortress which emerges from the surrounding sands like a languorous honey coloured lion. Jaisalmer is 575km west of Jaipur and can be reached overland via overnight stopovers at the former trading post towns of Mandawa and Bikaner.

What is it?

The Thar is the largest desert in India – but don’t expect just a sea of sand. Landscapes range from shifting dunes and sparse arid plains to fertile hillsides, acacia trees and plentiful jojoba plantations. Blackbucks, gazelles, caracal cats, long-legged bustards, eagles, kestrels, sand grouse and Bengal foxes all inhabit this wild landscape, especially within the boundaries of the Thar Desert National Park. There are also lots of small, traditional villages (dhanis) tucked amongst the dunes. In fact, the Thar Desert is the world’s most populated desert, with an estimated 40 percent of Rajasthan’s residents living between the Aravalli Hills to the south and the borders with Pakistan and Gujurat to the north and west.

Why go there?

Exploring the Thar Desert on your Rajasthan holiday gives you the chance to escape the car horns and chaos for at least a few hours – much longer if you’re camping out here. You’ll be able to watch the sunset over sand dunes with a hot cup of freshly poured chai. You’ll get to travel by Jeep or on the back of a camel in between villages, and share food around a fire. As the sun begins to set the sky turns the desert into an open air planetarium with just the crackle of the fire and the call of desert foxes the only soundtrack, as you count shooting stars before settling down for 1001 dreams.

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Rajasthan desert adventure

Rajasthan desert adventure

Explore India's desert state, tigers and Taj Mahal

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THINGS TO DO IN THE THAR DESERT

Make the most of Jaisalmer

Winding along the desert road towards Jaisalmer really sets the scene, and on arrival you’ll discover a city criss-crossed with narrow corridors and alleyways leading to market stalls and intricately carved doorways. The vast Jaisalmer fort is the second oldest in Rajasthan and features the royal palace and intricately carved Jain temples. The folklore museum, on the banks of Garsisar Lake in the Mehar Bagh Garden, is definitely worth a visit.

Visit the local villages

To find out more about traditional lifestyles and rural Rajasthan’s passion for music, dancing and poetry, visit one of the desert dhanis. Learn about how the villagers manage agriculture and cattle rearing in often bone dry conditions, and discover how irrigation and wind erosion are both huge issues that affect these desert communities living off the land.

Camel safaris

Riding a camel over untouched silken sands is quite an experience and definitely not to be missed on a visit to the Thar Desert. All across the highway you’ll see camel owners offering rides to tourists, but do book with a responsible tour operator who will ensure camels and owners are treated with respect. Typical camel rides last a couple of hours, with two riders per camel.

Overnight camping

This is the best way to truly appreciate the folds of the Thar Desert with campfires, food and star-filled skies adding to the sublime solitude far from the chaotic city streets. Temperatures can drop severely at sundown so pack long sleeves and layers to ensure you keep cosy by the fire.

WHEN TO GO TO THE THAR DESERT

The best time to go to the Thar Desert is during the winter months of October to February. The heat is absolutely unbearable from the end of April, and most holiday companies won’t run tours into the Thar during May, June, July and early August.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Murali K] [Camel and rider: Jack Wickes] [Acacia tree: Dinesh Valke] [Jaisalmer: Gwen Fran] [Camel safaris: Thar Desert]
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