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World’s Largest Cattle Fair

Every November, in the pond-sized sleepy town of Pushkar, India comes alive with a riot of colors and a frenzied burst of activity, attracting visitors from around the globe to the famous Camel Fair.

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Renowned for hosting the world’s largest camel fair, the quiet town of Pushkar exhibits a rare and fascinating combination of religious fervor and cultural effervescence every November. Around 50,000 camels are sold, decorated, shaved and raced during the Pushkar Fair, the largest cattle fair in the world.

 
 The picturesque morning view of the Pushkar Lake.
The festival is quite a hit among foreign tourists. This year’s whopping 200,000 crowd inundated Pushkar’s 14,000 population. The profusion of colors that run riot in the desert sand, the glee and the contagious enthusiasm of the village folk charm every visitor. “Very few fairs in the world, if at all any, can match the liveliness of the Pushkar fair — the world’s largest cattle fair,” said Jamie Jay, a tourist from California, who has been attending the fair regularly for the last four years.

The ambience evoked during the seven-day festival is that of rustic Rajasthan, more so of rural India — vibrant, colorful and quintessentially Indian. Bards and poets recite and sing tales of valor and heroism of bygone days. Singers and dancers stage folk performances throughout the day. Various competitions, such as turban tying, tilak, water pot race, mandna, langari taang, Indian bride, moustache, and wrestling, etc., enliven the event.

 
A flock of pigeons taking a flight from one of the 400 ancient temples of Pushkar.
“I like the turban tying and tilak competition. They are so Indian,” said Daniel Schwenegger, a tourist from Denmark.

In addition, many animal competitions, such as camel decoration, camel dance, horse dance, fast milking, gir and cross-breed and champion cattle contests delight visitors. “The lumbering beast of burden, the camel all decorated in finery, imagines itself to be an ostrich, and rushes through the race like one. It’s such fun. I have never seen anything like this before,” said Australian college student, Diana Wheat.

 
Camel safari on the rugged terrain of the great Indian Thar Desert is quite a craze among foreign tourists during the fair.
Visitors are particularly enamored by the musical chairs competition. “As the music stops, the beautifully decorated camel is supposed to manage to stick its long arching neck between two poles, each camel owner guiding its entrant by means of a silken cord attached to its nose ring. This is really interesting,” said Mac Matusow, a 10-year-old boy from Denmark.

Hot air balloon shows, principally organized by foreign companies, are a major attraction. Body tattooing is yet another favorite activity among tourists.

The fair grounds reverberate with festivity, as rows of make shift stalls display a bewildering array of beautiful items. From rare Rajasthani specialities, such as woollen blankets of Merta, bead necklaces of Nagaur, textiles from Ajmer and Jodhpur, to brassware of Jodhpur and Jaipur, saddles, ropes, rare textiles, exquisite handicraft, clothes with elaborate embroidery, alluring miniature paintings, leather goods, mesmerising puppets and pottery, the fair has almost everything for every buyer.

 
The traditional horse dance being performed by Rajasthani folk artists during the fair.
An avid shopper from Belgium, Rousse couldn’t believe her luck for having arrived in India during this festival. “The colorful shops and markets here can be rightly referred to as an extension of Rajasthan’s vibrant culture. Shopping here is exotic, lively and ethnic. Moreover, the collection here is unique and wonderfully reasonable. Am so glad I am here,” she said.

Pushkar is a fantastic interplay of history and mythology. It is believed that the city floated to the surface when Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower on earth during a battle with the demon Vajra Nabh. The tiny tranquil town has as many as 50 ghats and 400 temples, built over different eras with varied architectural styles. Hindu pilgrims flock to take a holy dip in the Pushkar Lake, especially during Kartik Poornima when the fair is organized every year. This presumably washes away all sins. “One must perform puja and take a holy dip in the sacred lake at least once during his lifetime. Come, I can help you reach salvation,” hawked a local pundit on one of the ghats. Many foreign tourists participate in the religious rituals, including taking the holy dip and chanting prayers.

 
A participant shows off his long moustaches during the moustache competition.
The camel safari is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Exploring the rugged terrain of the great Indian Thar Desert while using a camel as my carrier was quite memorable,” recalled Jessie, a U.S. tourist.

It takes a little getting used to the ungainly movement of the ship of the desert while riding through the sandy landscape and passing through remote villages. One of the oldest ranges, the Aravallis are home to sandy fields, soft dunes, beautiful landscapes and mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets. “And it’s fun to explore them on camels,” said Jessie.

PHOTOS: JEET ALEXANDER
   

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Arts & Entertainment | Travel | Magazine | February 2011

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