Pushkar Camel Festival

Pushkar is a town built around a holy lake in the middle of Rajasthan. It has the only temple for the Hindu god Brahma in the world, with temples for Savitri and Gayitri on the hills either side. The legend goes something like this: Brahma was supposed to marry Savitri. The ceremony had to be performed at a specific astrologically auspicious moment, but Savitri was taking too long to get ready. So Brahma quickly found Gayitri to marry instead (she was quickly dragged through a cow to purify her for the purpose). Savitri was so pissed off, she cursed Brahma that he should only be revered in the middle of nowhere desert town of Pushkar. To appease her, they gave her a temple on the highest mountain nearby and Gayitri only got one on the second highest mountain. And pilgrims always visit Savitri’s temple first.

All this makes Pushkar one of the holiest places for Hindus. Every November at the Kartik Purnima full moon there is a big holy festival where people come from all over India to bathe in the lake and worship Brahma and many ceremonies are held. This is combined with the largest camel fair in Rajasthan. By this time farmers are pretty much finished bringing the harvest, so they converge around Pushkar to trade their camels, horses and cows. A huge camp ground of animals, people and traders of anything to do with camels is set up on the south side of the city.

Normally this is a peaceful quiet town, but during the festival its bustling with traders, tourists and pilgrims. So the streets are set up with shops and stalls selling anything from elaborately embroidered Rajasthani dresses, leather bags, flip-flops and pointy shoes, cheap jewellery and clothes to flower petals to throw in the lake as an offering and sugary sweets.

We spent a few awesome days holed up in the cosy little Shankar Palace guest house. From there we bumbled the streets, taking in the colourful atmosphere. The guys at the local dhaba were our biggest fans, exited like kids to have foreign tourists eat there.

 

And we wandered around the Camel Fair of course, watching the goings on.

 

This is how you test whether a camel is strong and capable of carrying and pulling heavy loads before you buy it:

Camel poo is bought and sold to be used instead of wood to make fires, a common practice in the steppe and desert where trees are sparse.

Decorating the camels with henna graffiti seemed to be the done thing. Black rings around the eyes and a mustache over the tail seemed to be the favourites.

The people are just as interesting as the camels.

Some people would dress up and hassle you into taking a photo of them and charge you for it, after you have taken a picture. The girls would hold out their hand, offer to shake yours. Then draw with henna on it and charge for the tattoo. Hm….. I don’t like the dubious tricking you into it part of this way of earning their money. They did look pretty wickid though.

The camel shows were strange and colourful. The aim of the camel decoration competition seemed to be to hang as many colourful things on your camel as you could afford to buy.

The camel dancing competition moves were even stranger.

The camel festival happens first. Then the traders start to leave and the town gets flooded with people for the holy festival. So we decided to escape before this happens, even though it meant missing the famous mustache competition on the last day.

PS.: Apologies for the badly fixed, horribly overexposed pictures! My clever little point and shoot that usually sorts the settings for me, broke. But since I’m better at sneaking to the front of the crowds to get a clear shot, I was entrusted with Aidan’s SLR. A big mistake that we didn’t realise until we were back at the guest house. Hopefully one day Aidan will work his digital magic on the pics and then we’ll replace them.

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