Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mayhem at the Camel Mela

With twelve weeks in India at the tail end of a trip, I had only one plan: to make it to the annual Camel Mela in Pushkar.  I had read that it's a week-long festival in November and that there would be somewhere in the region of 20,000 camels, thousands more cows and horses, and masses of people at it. It sounded like total madness, something not to be missed, plus it gave me the perfect excuse to go back to Pushkar again.
Pushkar, Rajastan

I arrived to Ajmer train station at 5am and took myself off to the waiting room ‘til it got bright.  By quarter to six though, I was fed up waiting and decided to make a move.  After a fair amount of haggling over the price, and refusing to pay extra for my rucksack, I got on a bus and was the only white face in a sea of turban-wearing, lungi-glad Rajastani camel-drivers and cattle-herders, all headed for the Mela.  I couldn’t have been happier, they were all staring at me and I just sat there grinning back at them like an eejit!

When I got to Pushkar, finding somewhere to stay was difficult enough.  The town was hoppin', so lots of the guest houses were full and any that did have rooms, had seriously upped their prices for the Mela.  I was pretty tired, and having just been on two back-to-back overnight train journeys, my patience wasn’t the best.  I did find somewhere to stay though, and after a ‘welcome chai’ with the guest-house owners, I took myself off for a much needed shower.  

There's nothing like a good aul cold-water bucket shower to wake you up! Feeling well refreshed, I wandered off in search of the Mela ground and I got super excited when I saw a camel! I was wandering through the narrow streets wondering where all the action was when suddenly I came across it all. I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, it being a camel fair, but I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer number of animals and all the crazy paraphernalia that went with them!  There were animals and people all over the shop!

I got lost amid all the neon turbans and the stalls selling camel nose-rings and bells for their ankles, but I found the Mela ground just in time to watch the horse and camel dancing competitions.  Hilarious!  I sat down in the shade and absorbed the madness!  One camel spat at the judges, much to the amusement of the crowd.  Needless to say, he didn’t win!  Ah, Pushkar! What a great place!  

Horse Dancing Competition
As part of the fair there were dancing competitions, turban tying competitions, moustache competitions and snake charming competitions.  There was ice cream made with camel milk and paper made from camel dung.  There were free camel rides as well as a full-on fun fair.  There were people collecting fresh dung to sell as fuel.  There were lots of bargains to be had but there were also scams a plenty.  

Moustache Competition

Dung for Sale!
The Fun Fair in Full Swing!
There were hundreds of make-shift tents and restaurants to cope with the influx of people, lots of extra buses and 24hr entertainment for all the festival goers.  On top of all this, the week-long Camel Mela coincides with a religious festival, which comes complete with all the usual Indian trimmings, just to add to the madness.

The beginning of the week seemed to be when most of the serious buying and selling of the animals was carried out.  The middle of the week was mainly for the tourists, Indian and foreign alike, with lots of evening entertainment and plenty of events to get the crowd involved.  The last day of the fair coincides with a full moon and it is at midnight on this night that the religious part of the festival reaches its peak.  The devout have been fasting for the previous twenty-four hours and then at midnight there’s a mass-bathing in the holy lake, in the centre of the town, followed by a big feast and lots of loud singing, chanting and drum-beating.  This all continues into the wee hours of the morning.  

The next day the town clears out at an alarmingly fast rate and everyone goes back to the regular humdrum of their daily lives! Pushkar, is once again, returned to the sleepy little town that it is and all traces of the fair are wiped out, until the next Mela!

Nice Calm Sunset over the lake, after the Mela.

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