Come November or the month of ‘Kartik’, the eighth lunar month of the Hindu calendar and considered one of the holiest, cattle traders herd up their livestocks and start the long walk to Pushkar in time for Kartik Purnima (Full Moon). Each year around thousands of people converge here, bringing with them some 50,000 camels, horses and cattle. The place becomes an extraordinary swirl of colour, sound and movement, thronged with musicians, mystics, tourists, traders, animals, devotees and camera crews.
The annual Pushkar fair is held in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan. Organised along the famous Pushkar lake, it completely transforms this hot, dusty, sleepy town. The place is a riot of colour buzzing with activity, not to mention the endless sea of humanity that continues to ebb and fall with the rising and setting of the sun.
The main purpose of the mela is to serve as a cattle fair, a place where locals from the surrounding towns and villages get their cattle – camels, horses, cows – for trading. It is also a time of some social respite and a break from the daily demands of living under the influence of harsh weather conditions. So expect the local men and women to come here in all their traditional glory – men with their bright turbans, long mustaches, dhotis and an array of rings pierced in to their ears and adorning their wrists and ankles.
The women match them every bit, bedecked in their bandhej and tie-and-die odhnis, beautiful ghaghra cholis and traditional jewellery.
Weeks before the mela, the traders start arriving into Pushkar with their herds of camels, horses and cattle stock. The marching camels led by their owners pose a big attraction to shutter bugs who transcend from all corners of the earth.
Apart from the buying and selling of livestock, it has become an important tourist attraction. Competitions such as the “matka phod”, “longest moustache”, and “bridal competition” are the main draws for this fair which attracts thousands of tourists. In recent years the fair has also included an exhibition cricket match between the local Pushkar club and a team of random foreign tourists.
Deal or No Deal ? Trading begins a week before the official fair (a good time to arrive to see the serious business), but by the time the RTDC mela (fair) starts, business takes a back seat and the bizarre sidelines (snake charmers, children balancing on poles etc) jostle onto centre stage. Even the cultural program seems peculiar, with contests for the best moustache, and most beautifully decorated camel. Visitors are encouraged to take part: pick up a program from the RTDC office and see if you fancy taking part in the costumed wedding parade, or join a Visitors versus Locals sports contest such as traditional Rajasthani wrestling.
There is no dearth of entertainment at this cattle fair. There are camel, horse and donkey races, giant Ferris wheels, longest mustache competitions (oh yes!), acrobats, jugglers, fire eaters, sadhus, and an endless array of bright and beautiful local handicrafts on sale. In short, everything Rajasthan is so well known for can be seen here.
The days are spent roaming the fair grounds, picking up souvenirs, watching the races, examining the cattle, and eating local delights. As the sun goes down, the dazzling heat of the day gives way to a chilly night with people huddling close to bonfire and enjoying the beauty of Rajasthani folk songs and dances such as bhavai, chari and ghoomar.
The whirling skirts, the matka dances, the beautiful songs keep the audience enraptured. The last days of the fair are dedicated to religious ceremonies and taking of the holy dip in the waters of the Pushkar Lake. Another beautiful aspect of the festival is the deepdan ceremony during which thousands of diyas are floated on the lake after sunset. It is easy to imagine why Pushkar is so great for photo ops!
Going back after the fair, only to return ! The fair usually takes place in November and because dates change according to the lunar calendar, the following are indicative only: 18 to 25 November 2015, 8 to 15 November 2016, and 28 October to 1 November 2017.
Pushkar Fair is a riot of colour and culture. What you will bring back from your experience are three things – entertainment, entertainment, and entertainment! My bags are already packed, what about yours?