The Camel fair In Pushkar, India

The bus coming from Jaisalmer dropped me on a desert street in Pushkar, at 3 o’clock in the morning. Immediately I find myself surrounded by several early-raising contractors who start to offer me cheap accommodation. However, I have not left anything to chance and now I’m waiting for owner of a hotel to pick me up. He is brother of owner of the hotel in Jaisalmer, where I have been accommodated. Of course, this is one all that Indian scams, the variety and inventiveness of which I start to get used to. “Brothers” are not brothers at all, but just ordinary business partners. This is a joke similar to that of an Indian promising to pick you up from the train station at 3 am. And both the client (It was me in this case) and the promising one are fully convinced that this will never happen. And so it was of course – the so called station was desert. I start nervously to call various phone numbers (using Mtel operator in Bulgaria) and finally wake the “brother” who, within 20 minutes appears on a roaring motorcycle, places me on the rear seat and takes me to unknown direction.

That was the worst 11-hour midnight trip with bus at all in my simple 43-year life and the memory of the narrow cage of the sleeping compartment on the second floor of the bus (long distance buses in India can have two floors, however they don’t make them more comfortable), the cold wind getting in trough the windows and the infernal smell of stuffy bodies of passengers sleeping on the bus floor could not be easily erased even by the cold shower later on in the room in Pushkar where ‘the brother” dropped me. I get an aspirin, charge batteries of the camera, tell to myself my usual mantra stating that everything will be OK, thus trying to alleviate the raising sensation that I’m getting ill, I lay down and try to get to sleep.

The next day I’m transferred to a bungalow at a price hundreds of times above the normal for such a place, but I realize that I’m in a middle of a garden where the mountain can be seen, the weather is great and bit by bit my good mood comes back.

The Pushkar town (see picture gallery) is a little, cozy and dirty like everything in India, but somehow I liked it more than Jaisalmer. I go down the shopping street, full of small shops, places for food, bookstores and barbershops and somehow I like this place more and more.

The small town is located in a valley in approximately 14 km from Ajmer, in Rajasthan state. On one side it is surrounded by hills and on the other side by sand dunes. The climate is extreme, in summer temperatures may reach around 40-45 Co, while in winter, sometimes they may fall even down to 10 Co.

Pushakar is one of the 5 most important places of pilgrimage of Hindus. The others are: Badrinath, Puri, Rameswaram, and Dwarka. Legend has it that during a battle lord Brahma killed the demon Vajra Nabh using a blossom of lotus, the stamen of which flew to the ground, fell in three places around Pushkar, where the beautiful lake appeared. Story further tells that there were around the lake more than 500 temples and 52 palaces (many Rajasthan rulers – rajas and maharajas, were maintaining these places for their religious purposes). The Brahma temple is here the most important one and, in fact, it is unique of its kind in India.

Bit by bit before my eyes opens a hilly valley strewn with tents, camps and camels as far as one could see.

Dirty street, full of small shops selling food and various other goods guides me to the party location.

The market is organized every month of November during Kartik Purnima full moon and it is an event of epic proportions, where more than 300 000 people come with about 20 000 camels and other cattle. Representatives of almost all tribes of Rajasthan are present there, especially those of Rabadi tribe, their families, many tourists, amateur and professional photographers. The place and the event are so much “photographic” that I felt fear of loosing permanently my interest to photography after having taken so many pictures of all that flashy and weird graphicness.

The camps are located around the herds of camels some of which having more than 100 animals.

Men usually are squatting in groups and discussing the trade this year. They are complaining that the business this year is not going well. Many traders decided not to travel to the market this year, in order to stay and protect the sown fields (mainly millet) from the unusually intensive reins earlier. Other say that this year the camel prices are lower than those of previous years and the reason for that is the drought in some regions of Rajasthan. Travel to the market for many of the traders may take up to 2 weeks.

The camel price varies from 15 000 rupees to 1 million rupees depending on the age and the physical condition, as well as on other indicators. To take care of camels seems to be an expensive activity – 100 kg of food for camels cost about 600 or 700 rupees, and one camel eats 20 to 30 kg per day. Even if camels may pass hundreds of kilometers without eating, however they eat as frequent as people do when they don’t walk, says one of the traders. Usually, women are squatting around fire in front of the tents and prepare Indian delicious things, while children, naked and dirty, run around and enjoy their careless Rajasthan childhood.

Typical activity of younger girls and older women is to gather camel excrements, which then are dried and used as a fuel. It is a wonderful view to see smiley girls, wearing clothes in various colours and carrying on their head large pans full of shits. Nice!

The activities of younger boys are related mainly to camels, to take care of them, to take them to water, to train them … at first sight a more respectful job compared to that of younger girls. But there is no inglorious work, the duties are clearly and strictly distributes exactly as they have been 42 generations ago.

Teenagers take care of camels with so much love, that in a moment I see myself sat on the ground watching a boy who trains a camel, makes it squat, caresses it, cuts its hair and arranges its adornment. They seem to be one whole. They are equal.

Indian camels from Thar desert are distinguished by their slower march and may pass hundreds of kilometers without eating and drinking water. However, the thing they really need of is the raw sugar and it has always to be available. Basically, there are two kinds of camels – camels from Jaisalmer, which are used mainly for riding and camels from Bikaner, which are used mainly for carrying of heavy loads. Both kinds are used for plowing as well. Beside the work, camels in the rural regions of Rajasthan are used for various ceremonies, as for instance marriage (mainly for the bride), fests etc. Of course, animals are adorned relevantly with lots of trappings – Pilan, Morkha, Unt ka Tang, Gorbandh etc. In fact camels participate in every single aspect of the Rajasthan rural family and neither holiday nor ceremony passes without them.

The clamor on the camel market definitely increases as the day progresses and along with it also the activity of various groups practicing alternative works is intensifying. For example local girls who are trying to attract foreigners just by standing before them reaching out hand and saying the cliché phrase “Nice to meet you”. And if you give your hand (a gesture that the polite foreigners do easily) sooner or later you are invited to give something else.

Teenagers, boys and girls “attack” tourists, offering all kind of trinkets, like bracelets, small figurines, wooden music instruments with one string, producing sounds that make you rather cry. Even the smallest sign of interest incredibly stimulates enthusiasm of these children to sell you something, walking with you longtime until finally you feel uncomfortable and you buy the needless thing.

Due to the huge flow of photographers in the market another business is also very well developing – girls or especially attractive (from photographic point of view) old women offer themselves as photo models. In the moment when you raise your camera to take a picture of some girl or woman, it is very likely to be asked for money for that. With the time I develop ability to take them from ambush and the game of cat and mouse with them amuses me a lot. Certainly, I could give them money for every picture, but imagine, I brought 1700 pictures only from that event, 50 rupees each – you can calculate. However photographers leave lots of money in Pushkar at this time of the year and somehow I don’t have big remorse.

Another particularly exciting event during the market are the camel races. Adorned animals defile like movie stars on the dusty arena of the local stadium and gather the audience’s applause. The party and the clamor intensify significantly, when camels start to perform features, to kick and to make other unusual movements. Among audience, instead of the sellers of sunflower seeds of our stadiums walk Indian preachers – sidhu, who offer their metallic pannikins for alms, especially when they see you raising your camera to them.

The market time is also the period when the extremely coloured Rajasthan jewelry and textile come into focus for sale. So many colours and beauty among so much dirt and oriental exotics make my camera hardly working. I have a feeling that the lenses are getting sweaty from that pressure. I sit in “restaurant” to taste the local food which few smiley Rajasthan women prepare on the ground just swept not long ago. I don’t care. I’m tired and so dirty that somehow that makes me feel good.