Rajasthan, the romantic desert state of India, hosts many colourful festivals throughout the year. Many of these festivals draw on the heritage of nomads, traders and magnificent Rajput warriors, to deliver a truly unique desert experience.
Surely the most famous is the Pushkar Camel Fair held on the full moon each November. The fair is an epic spectacle with more than 10,000 camels, horses and cattle, nomadic herders, traders and tourists all gathering to trade, as well as enjoy the carnival atmosphere. Other than that there are bazaars, storytellers, jugglers and enough excitement to keep you enthralled for days on end.
In 2015, the official dates are from November 19-25, however it is advisable to book accommodation in advance or arrive a few days early. Thousands of fair goers are competing for accommodation in desert tents, farm homestays, heritage hotels and simple guest houses. The simplest way to reach is via and Indian Railways train to Ajmer and transfer to the Pushkar line, or go by road along the winding route through Snake Mountain (Nag Parbat) on a local bus for a cheap and authentic start to the festivities. The nearest airport at Jaipur is about two and a half hours away. If using taxis be prepared to haggle hard at festival time.
The Pushkar Camel Fair was originally intended to attract local camel and cattle traders during the holy Kartik Purnima festival around the November full moon. Today it is one of the biggest festivals in India attracting not just the traders but tourists from all over the world. And no wonder!
The camels are dressed up in finery such as jangling silver anklets and are brushed, groomed and shaved before being entered into beauty contests, races and trade discussions. The best camels attract high prices indeed and the owners go to great lengths to present their assets in the best possible condition. Surely everyone should see the camel beauty contest at least once and test their camel judging skills.
It’s not all about camels though. There are the usual attractions of any big fair such as magicians, acrobats, jugglers, and the ubiquitous snake charmers – stand well back! Then there are the carousel rides for the young – and young at heart. You can test your haggling skills at the arts and crafts bazaar where all kinds of local handicrafts such as bracelets, textiles and clothes are for sale. For the more culturally oriented you can enjoy the performances of Rajasthani folk music, classical music, and dancers. A highlight of the festival is the moustache competition. Rajasthani men are famed for their impressive and elaborate moustaches, of which they are justifiably proud, strolling though the bazaars twirling and preening themselves in preparation. Moustaches are a serious business in Rajasthan.
There is occasionally a random cricket match between the local Pushkar cricket club and a team comprising of foreign enthusiasts. It’s no Eden Gardens, but still a lot of fun and keenly contested.
Pilgrims also come to the festival to bathe in the holy waters of Pushkar Lake, which is said to absolve them of their sins. Bathing on the full moon day is especially auspicious. This is the day the god Brahma is said to have created the lake; the temples fill with pilgrims, and temple dances are performed.
There are twice daily walking tours of the fair, photography tours, and you can even gaze on it from above on a hot air balloon tour.
Isn’t it time you experienced this centuries old fair, in one of India’s oldest cities?