At 66, Retd Army Officer Helps Travellers Experience the Magic of Jaisalmer’s Desert
After 24 years in the Army, Colonel Mahendra Mohan Prakash Singh started Oasis India Camp to help tourists from across the world experience the magic of Jaisalmer’s desert, in a way that is both luxurious and replete with adventure.
After 24 years in the Army, Colonel Mahendra Mohan Prakash (Retd.) says he wouldn’t have had it any other way. The years spent in the armed forces have a tang of adventure and thrill that shaped the officer’s life in more ways than one. Though the 66-year-old officer credits his time in the Army for introducing him to the adventurous side of life, he says the roots for his passion for the outdoors were sown in his early years.
Growing up in a boarding school in Himachal Pradesh, the Colonel was no stranger to hiking and camping. He’d often marvel at nature in all its beauty and wonder, and this love only grew when the Colonel joined the Army in 1980.
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“Being in the cavalry unit, our training used to take place in the desert. Since 1983 I had been on the western border of India, where our winter training would happen. But I still recall how we’d take a three-day break for the Jaisalmer Desert Festival. It was a wonderful time.”
When he retired in 2003, an idea began to take shape in his mind. He wanted to introduce people to the side of nature and culture that he had become familiar with through the years. So when his Army life was over, there wasn’t a question of what he wanted to do next. “A part of me already knew.”
The oasis in the desert
Today, the culmination of that idea is the Oasis India Camps based in Jaisalmer, which attempts to give its guests an unmatched camping experience in the heart of the desert. As guests unwind under the starlit sky in the heart of the dunes, immersing themselves in the local life of Jaisalmer Colonel Mahendra’s heart is full.
When Colonel Mahendra began picking out a place where he wanted to see this project come to fruition, the desert was his first choice. “The vast expanse of sand dunes has always held a fascination for me. And this is where I wanted to start the camping experience.”
He started with two camps, and now has a total of 143 dispersed across the desert for guests to experience a stay that is as luxurious as it is traditional.
There are memories galore that the Colonel recounts as he talks about the camping experience. “One of the memories I treasure is the sandstorms of Rajasthan. I remember one New Year’s Eve during the camp a sandstorm struck and everyone was holding on for dear life to anything in sight. By the end of the storm, my blazer and tie were a brown tinge. But despite the storm, we managed to have a grand affair that night.”
A bucket list of adventure
The Colonel notes that the package is tailored to give guests the “ultimate desert experience”. “The camps are situated right opposite sunset point and guests have a field time watching the sunset from the dunes. There is a camel ride that they can enjoy too. After a traditional welcome is given to them by the locals, high tea is organised wherein the snacks are Rajasthani delicacies.”
As the cultural evening progresses, guests are treated to Rajasthani folk dances, live musical performances by local artists and a buffet dinner.
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Living in the desert means adventure is in every corner. The packages also include safaris and adventure sports such as parasailing and biking. Locals in the desert enjoy having the guests come watch them as they cook, engage in pottery and more.
One of the most popular attractions at Oasis India Camps is the camel wool-making session. As the locals spin the wool, guests can watch and even partake in the activity. In the evenings, when the weather is cooler, guests are taken to the border posts of Longewala, where India and Pakistan fought the 1971 war.
“There are numerous watch posts in the desert to observe the surrounding wildlife,” shares Colonel Mahendra. But what guests are really here for — the grand finale, if you will — is the Jaisalmer Desert Festival, which is a whirlwind of colour and excitement.
A festival that beckons everyone
The month of February is more beautiful in the Sam Dunes of the Thar Desert than it is anywhere else in the world. Anyone who has witnessed the Jaisalmer Desert Festival will testify to this. Also called the Maru Mahotsav, this festival is a platform to showcase the cultural prowess of the state through dance, music, sporting events and art.
Throughout the three days, guests are spoilt for choice when it comes to food and activities. Puppet shows, folk dances, polo matches, handicraft markets, dune bashing (driving over sand dunes in a sports vehicle), sightseeing through Jaisalmer, and even competitions that award people for having the longest moustaches — you can experience it all.
Meanwhile, Colonel Mahendra is excited as the next chapter of his life promises to be as fulfilling as the first. “The armed forces was a beautiful chapter in itself.”
He also recalls, “We had normal tents with no facilities or attached toilets, etc. Today I have realised that people come from a different perspective where they want luxury, and so the camps have now changed from their original versions into luxury resorts.”
He adds that being a part of this beautiful camping experience in the desert also means that he does not miss his Army life so much.
“I spend some of my time in Jodhpur, where I am based, and the rest of my time at the camps in Jaisalmer. This is the dream.”
Edited by Divya Sethu
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