Two Days at the Pushkar Camel Fair

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Pushkar Camel Fair – 2 Day Itinerary

Dirty. Hot. Smelly. Loud. Crowded. Colorful. And pulsing with energy.

Every year, when the November moon is full, a camel fair takes place in Pushkar Mela Rajasthan, a small desert town in Rajasthan, India.

I had yearned to experience the Pushkar Camel Fair for decades because it’s one of the great tribal gatherings in the world. It lasts for nearly three weeks and also includes a popular Kartik Poornima, a Hindu Festival.

Decorated Camel's Head at Pushkar Camel Fair

Planning to see the Pushkar Camel Festival

In March 2017, I booked a small-group tour with Explore!, a UK company I often use, which included the Pushkar camel fair in its itinerary. I waited impatiently for twenty months before departing in 2018, but if I hadn’t booked early, I’d never have got a spot.

The time lapse meant I could do research, study photos, and get excited. Of course, my 17-day tour included many other places in Rajasthan that I’d longed to visit — Jaipur, Jaisalmer, and Udaipur to name a few.

However, the Pushkar Camel Fair was the main draw for me. For centuries, the Pushkar fair has been attracting camel, horse, and cattle traders to buy and sell from tens of thousands of animals crowding the grounds just west of the town. I was there for the camels. And the photography.

The camel camps (one is at upper right) are spread around this Pushkar Camel Festival street where many temporary market stalls offer take-out food, camel décor, pots and pans, and much more for the traders and their families.

Pushkar Camel Fair

Today the Pushkar Fair is also a major cultural and tourist attraction because, over time, events have been added, as well as bustling bazaars. The town swells by about 400,000 visitors over the festivities and beds are scarce.

Pushkar lies on a sandy plain beside a sacred lake and is surrounded on three sides by mountains, which act like a cauldron. It’s a place of shifting dunes, relentless heat, and little moisture — part of the Thar Desert.

Our small but comfortable tour bus wiggled through narrow roads on the outskirts of Pushkar eventually pulling to a stop at a gate where eight men in turbans and dhotis waited to assist with our baggage. We had arrived in time for lunch at the Royal Desert Camp, our home for two nights.

My Accommodations at the Pushkar Fair

My tent was more like a marquee with two camp cots and included a somewhat spartan but private bathroom. Hot water only ran in the morning and evening, but we did have electric light when there wasn’t an outage. Meals were buffet-style with a good choice of dishes, but no alcoholic drinks were available.

These tents at the Royal Desert Camp are spacious with two camp cots, electric light, and a basic ensuite, seen through the gap behind the bed. I enjoyed sitting outside late in the day as the temperature cooled down after a day at the Pushkar Camel Festival

The camel carts were an efficient shuttle for the half-mile (0.8km) to the Pushkar Camel Fair.

The camp’s free shuttle service to the fair was camel carts — we bounced along the rutted, sandy track on over-inflated tires while our driver hung onto his camel’s tail — uncomfortable but fun.

Pushkar Camel Festival – All you can see

I meandered through the half-full camel and horse camps that first afternoon as my camera slid in my sweaty hands and overheated. Images crowded my vision — camels being shaved and painted for the beauty contests; some being decorated for the Best-dressed Camel competition; a musician playing a haunting tune on an unknown instrument; tribesmen haggling over a young camel; and a tribal chief and his sidekicks assessing some thoroughbred Marwar horses. I was pleased we arrived for the first few days of the fair because later the trading slows down as the camels and horses depart with new owners.

The camel camps were beginning to fill up when I arrived at the beginning of the Pushkar Mela Rajasthan. By the time I left, they were overflowing.

The camels come from miles around and the carts, overloaded with camping gear and kids, are used as tents. Families cook, eat, and sleep underneath. There’s no sanitation or running water in the camps and no garbage collection either, so I watched where I stepped. Smells assailed me from all sides — burning dried camel dung, wood smoke, and Indian food.

Entire families arrive in overloaded camel carts along with their camels. It’s clearly a social event too, meeting friends and relatives whom they haven’t seen since last year's Pushkar Camel Fair.

The temporary markets around the camps were filled with stalls selling camel decorations, bridles and saddles, cooking pots, logs, and food — everything the traders and their families could possibly need for their stay.

As the Day Winds Down

As the sun set, smoke from the cooking fires filled the air, camels were fed, and men sat around smoking and gossiping while women cooked their meals. After taking many more photos, I was weary and dirty as I walked back through the market to catch my camel shuttle. I couldn’t wait for a shower and dinner. The temperature was dropping.

During the Pushkar Camel Festival at dusk, the camels are fed, and men smoke and gossip around the camp fires as women cook their evening meal.

This beautiful young woman cooks on the ground while her toddler son eats at the Pushkar Camel Festival.

By 10:00 pm it was cold, and I piled two quilts on my bed to keep warm.

Up at sunrise for another busy day, I checked my camera and empty memory cards. We were dropped at the crossroad in the camel camps and walked into the town of Pushkar past more market stalls. These were selling clothes, food-to-go, even swords and daggers.

As I walk along the street into town, a street vendor heads to the Pushkar Fair camps to sell his wares about 9:00am. The stalls are also temporary here; later the crowds get crazy.

Visiting the Pushkar Camel Mela Sacred Lake

The town’s shops were opening too, blaring competing tunes from loudspeakers, and tourists spilled out of hotels as we made our way to the ghats. I could see a blur of orange and magenta as we neared the lake — marigolds and bougainvillea floating in the water.

Pushkar Lake is goal of the pilgrims coming to cleanse their sins. The small town Pushkar Mela Rajasthan surrounds it, and the ghats, or steps, lead the pilgrims down into the water.

Shoes off. I carefully stepped down the steep ghats.
“No photos of the women as they bathe,” a man yelled at me.
I hid my camera.

This is a holy place of pilgrimage where Hindus flock to bathe in the sacred lake, said to have been created by Lord Brahma when he dropped a lotus flower. The faithful cleanse their sins here and make offerings at some of the 400 temples, one of which is dedicated to Brahma, the lord of creation.

I hastened away from the man who yelled, took some photos of the town behind women who were not in the lake but had just dried off, and hid my camera again.

Here women are drying off and getting dressed again after they have bathed in the sacred waters. The colours of India are vibrant and captivating. - Pushkar Fair

On to the Excitement of the Pushkar Fair Stadium

My next stop was the stadium where all the camel contests and races take place. On the way, I saw a family of pigs ambling down the main street followed by a two-ton water buffalo and his handlers. He won his contest later.

Animals wander freely in India, but it was the first time I saw a family of pigs in the main street of the Pushkar Camel Festival. The two-ton water buffalo was being shown off prior to his competition the next day.

The arena was lively and my camera was overheating again. Young men showed off their riding skills on spirited horses, a tight-rope walker wobbled, horses and camels danced to ear-splitting music, peddlers hawked cheap wares, and the decorated camels waited patiently to be judged. I found it unusual that the crowds could be in the arena and not confined to the stands, but it certainly made for better photo ops.

Inside the stadium where all the competitions and races occur, I was able to walk freely inside the arena of the Pushkar Fair.

“No camel races today, start tomorrow,” a camel driver told me.

A snake charmer wanted money for a photo. The winner of the best-decorated camel was paraded around as others cantered past showing off for the next day’s races.

Hot, I drank a quart of lemonade as I people-watched. My too-short time at the Pushkar Camel Fair was nearly over and I thought, “How little it’s changed in centuries. If it wasn’t for the motorbikes and mobile phones, today’s would be exactly the same.”

At sunset, I walk wearily back from the Pushkar Fair to find my camel driver and return to the Royal Desert Camp for dinner and a show.

Useful Links for the Pushkar Camel Fair

Helpful Tips for the Pushkar Camel Festival

  • Dates of the Pushkar Fair vary every year according to November’s full moon. In 2019 it will run November 4-12.
  • Pushkar is 88 miles (142 km) by road southwest of Jaipur, the closest big city.
    There are no direct trains or buses to Pushkar, changes are required. By rail, it takes about 3 hours and costs USD $4.63.
  • The best way to attend is with an organized tour. I did it with a small-group tour company called Explore!, which I had used three times before. Book early, tours with the Pushkar fair sell out very fast — I booked nearly two years in advance.
  • Arrive at the beginning of the fair before the traders fade back into the desert when their business is concluded. The major events take place during this time.
  • Accommodation runs from cheap hostels to luxurious desert camps. There are no western hotel chains in Pushkar. Forget wi-fi in the luxury camps!
  • Weather is hot in November here — 90° F (32° C) in daytime, cold at night. Incredibly dry and very little shade. Carry lots of bottled water for your explorations.
  • The sand can be deep and loose, so walking is an effort. It’s dirty too, so wear enclosed shoes, never sandals.
  • To do Pushkar justice in a couple of days, you need to be able to walk at least two miles a day, probably more. If you’re here for longer, you can pace yourself better and see more.
  • Although street food is tempting, our tour leader would not let us try it.
  • Photography is incredible here. I rarely had to ask permission and only once had to tip someone who posed for me.
  • Beggars are a fact of life in India and surge around tourists. They can be a real pest. Our tour leader taught us to never look at them, stay silent (never even say no), and turn your back on them. It worked well.

Text and Photos for Pushkar Camel Fair ©Photos by Pharos (Julie H. Ferguson) 2018

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