Pushkar Camel Fair

Pushed at the Pushkar Fair in Rajasthan

[11/7/2003 journal] Another travel snafu – our driver and assistant don’t know their way. We were headed to the Pushkar Fair, and after wasting time trying to find Pushkar {!} we arrive in the middle of a tremendous traffic jam. We end up unloading the van to a luggage cart that accompanies us as we walk about 1-2 km up the road. Heavy foot traffic in both directions, mostly Indians, from many regions, judging by their dress; a few westerners. After a long wait, we’re told we’re staying at the Pushkar Palace, which is down a narrow road behind where we’ve been waiting. But when we get there we discover we’re only at a transit point and our real destination is on the other side of the traffic snarled town.

Our driver told us security wouldn’t allow him to drive to the tented Royal Desert Camp, though later the camp officials told us there was no such problem, and we saw several tourist groups arriving directly at the camp. Eventually, one of the local policemen got us and another party from Montreal shuttled to the camp, packed into a couple of jeeps. Once we arrived at the camp, though, everything was handled in an organized and professional manner, and the camp staff sorted out all our drivers’ mistakes.

Royal Desert Camp is a tent city about 3km outside Pushkar. The roomy tents were for 2 people, with beds and each had its own bathroom and small vestibule. There was plenty of room and you could easily stand up; carpets lined the sandy ground. The nights got quite cold and we used the heavy quilts. There were maybe 500 tents. The town is strict vegetarian as was all our food. Alcohol, tobacco and drugs are forbidden. It was one of the few places where the food wasn’t terrific. Meals were adequate, but bland, lukewarm vegetarian fare, a mix of continental and Indian – nothing like the wonderfully varied thalis of Gujarat and later, the south.

Our transportation into what was a small town for most of the year, was by camel cart, or you could walk – through the sand and heat. Crowds of people passing in both directions – village people coming in on packed jeeps or tractor – wagons. These would get predictably bogged down in deep sand and everyone’d get out to push. Some camera shy, others eager to have pictures taken, we just ake care to ask first. Herds of camels tethered to the horizon, nomadic tents with wonderful smells coming from the cooking pots. Catchment areas set up for dung collection for later use.

Families sit in tents or in shade of their wagons and tractors. Many groups are eager to have pix taken - even some who are still veiled. Kids everywhere, climbing on tractors and other displays. The crowds were enormous and persistent, at times a veritable river, almost scary. But always friendly and well behaved. People with many different styles of dress, and no color forgotten. Smells and sights contested in visual overload – shiny pots and mortars, translucent juice in glasses, vibrant colored turbans, saris and veils. Women bedecked from ear and nose to ankle with silver and gold jewelry. Shops along the way were open, but mostly ignored, making them a good retreat from the onward press of the crowd. Traffic was routed one way into and out of town.

“Each Ghat has its own miraculous qualities and powers of healing and this city of temples has over 500 temples built over different eras with varied architectural styles”, or so promised the guidebook. The reality was quite different; one of the few times we, as foreigners, were mistreated – picked up by a self-proclaimed ‘Brahmin priest’ who kindly offered to help us "find" the lake and its ghats. But once there it became a hard sell plea for large sums of cash – Audrey & I were separated and each given a different spiel – my guy took me to the water’s edge, and despite my protest that I didn’t want any private ceremonies he continued to press. This was different from the normal puja we’d encountered. Those times, an itinerant priest would offer a blessing – he’d wrap a colored thread around my wrist, say the blessing and dab some kumkum paste on my forehead. While always denying there was any expectation of money, a small baksheesh of 10-20R was usual. That’s India. This was different – it was crass and programmed to guilt – as part of the puja, the priest had me echo his prayers – at first nothing unusual, then including personal information about the health of family & friends [sensing what was coming, I quickly pruned our family tree], then moving on to me promising to donate large sums of money [ in my case over $100], all the while holding both my hands. After insisting for a short while, he finally gave up, and indignantly refused to take my more reasonable donation (although he did reluctantly accept it as I was finally able to walk away) One tiny blight on an otherwise exceptional trip – at all the other temples and shrines, mutual respect and consideration was the usual form.

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