Writing from: Pushkar, blah camel blah
There is some doubt as to when the actual Pushkar Camel Fair begins, we found as we phoned around hotels trying to find somewhere to stay for the big event. We eventually settled in New Rituraj Palace (which is lovely, by the way), a small hotel with rooftop rooms (and tents for last-minute room needers who don’t find the rooms they need). Mainly because the lady on the phone told M “Of course the camel fair begins on the sixth. The animals are arriving already!”. In my head I could see camels in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses stepping off the bus and hailing rickshaws…
Pushkar is a teeny place set in the sometime shade (at the right time of the day) of Nag Pakar (Snake Mountain, which sounds like somewhere Skeletor resides). For two weeks each year it is overrun with camels, horses, cows, tourists, and people selling stuff to tourists or selling beasts to beast buyers. It is set around a sacred lake, lined with ghats (steps down to the water where people go in to have a bit of a holy bathe), and is one hell of a wish you were here sight when you wander down to the lakeside at sunset.
Growing from one side of the tourist heart, across sandy stretches beyond, lies the stamping, lowing, braying, neighing sandstorm that is the Camel Fair itself.
First come the horses. Lines and lines of snorting beasts, flicking their manes and kicking discontentedly at the ropes around their feet. Each one brushed to a dazzling white, brown, black, or some of each, standing out against the desert dust and travel-filthy tents that surround them.
Some stand alone with a few weary sellers, obviously the pride and hope of a smaller farm, while others fidget side by side with ten to twenty similar steeds. Tinier weak-kneed ponies with flower-draped ears wobble at the end of these rows, blinking at you with buy-me eyes, and larger pure white horses with pink-rimmed blue eyes and Hindi symbols smeared on their haunches stand out from the rest, clearly the best of the bunch.
Around cooking fires sit journey-wrinkled men who smoke, eat, and snooze under sunbleached tent tops, haggling, swapping stories of the road to Pushkar, and readjusting their piled headscarves to keep the sun from their eyes.
The smell is all dust, animals, and greasy food fried in king-size woklike cauldrons, burned black from daily use. The sun is so hot that the dung smell barely rises to your nostrils, but the sand, disturbed by sellers riding bareback on flightly four-leggers to show them off, scatterings of tourists and locals alike as a camel or horse breaks for freedom in the tangle of tents and stamped-flat clearings, and animals impatient for space or dinner, fills the too-warm air, invading your lungs with every in breath and making your nose itch.
Off in the distance camels stretch into as far as the eye can see. Single humped, double humped, dark furred and light, rough haired, and two toed. Chewing with lower teeth jutting out from the split in their floppy camel lips. Adorned with cascades of all-coloured pompoms, plaits, and beaded trinkets, looking proud and silly all at once. Some carrying tourists with I-don’t-like-this-but-I-am-paying-for-it-so-will-damn-well-make-it-look-like-I-am-loving-it smiles on their red and white sweat-glistening faces.
I stand in the swirl of it all, coughing, wheezing, and occasionally sneezing, but with my eyes in a hundred places, wanting to ask how much for the curl-eared newborn pony to my right.
My lungs clearly are not happy to be here, but I have antihistamines galore, and the rest of me is stomach-flippingly pleased to be standing in the middle of it all getting sunstroke.