Pushkar Mela, The Pushkar Camel Fair

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One of the premier events in Rajasthan is the Pushkar Mela, the annual Camel Fair. This is the largest camel event in the world. There are five days of camel (and horse and other domestic animals) shows, races, bargaining, and trading. If you ever want to buy a camel, this is the time and place to do it. I might buy one, but I can’t figure out how to fit it in my luggage for the flight home to Tiruvannamalai.

The Pushkar Fair has two components — the camel trading and religious rituals. The camel events and trading, the main attraction for tourists, happen early in the festival (during the initial five days). The Fair winds up with the focus shifting to pilgrims bathing in the holy lake. For many tourists, two or three days in the heat and confusion are enough.

Highlights (See here for more details)::

  • Day 1: Camel Race
  • Day 2: Camel Decorating
  • Day 3: Camel Dance Contest
  • Day 4: Turban Tying, Mustache Competition
  • Day 5: Wrestling Competition
  • Day 6: Champion Cattle Competition
  • Day 7: Closing Ceremonies
  • Day 8: Sacred Bathing in Pushkar Lake

We were there over three days, right at the start of the Fair.

The day we arrived

We arrived in the afternoon, the day before the fair started. We drove behind several trucks transporting horses.

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At the entrance was what we thought was a check-in station for people bringing in their animals.

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People were unloading horses.

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I am sure that the horses were hot and ill tempered after the long drive from wherever they were.

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There was a big arena. This would be the main show area for the Fair.

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Horses are being exercised today.

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The First Day of the Camel Fair

The next day, the opening day, we walked around the Fair to see what we could see.

Two of the amusements are types of camel rides. Many people take camel cart tours of the fair area. We did not. I wish now that we had.

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Riding on top of camels is also popular. It is tough holding on when the camel gets up. First you are tilted far in one direction, then the other, as the camel rises on front legs, then the back. Hold on!

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A big activity is the buying and selling of camels. After you buy a new camel, you can come here to get all the fancy decorations you want to dress it up.

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With all the people here, living and sleeping with their camels, there is a big need for fuel for cooking. Camel dung is collected, mixed with straw, made into patties and then dried. This is cooking fuel for hundreds of families. 

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The women seem to move as colorful groups. They like red.

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We saw some horses that were absolutely beautiful, like this one.

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The happy owners of the horse. I am not sure what the tools in their hands are used for. Does anyone know?

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This horse looks like “My Little Pony.”

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Carol snaps a camel portrait.

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Here is her photo. I like the flower on the camel’s nose.

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Boys chase after Carol to have their photos taken.

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Camels get a drink while a boy takes his bath from the water trough. 

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More camels.

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They do much camel decoration here, on both ends of the camel.

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Dark camels and light ones are different camel breeds, good for different jobs. Note the background. There were many more animals than we saw. Again, as I go through our photos, I am sorry we did not take the camel-cart tour of the fair. We would have seen much more.

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Besides the animals and many vendors, other entertainers are here. Below are two snake charmers. Don’t worry, most of these cobras have their fangs removed. Animal rights activists are against this form of entertainment, but it is ancient in India.

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Women riding a camel cart. They seem happy to be here.

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A horse is being readied to show. This horse has a lot of spirit. And is, I think, beautiful.

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A man holds a colt.

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Acrobats come to the fair to entertain. This young girl does contortionist moves as she balances a (beer) bottle on her forehead.There is much criticism of this practice. These are usually traditional families that have entertained for generations. They move from place to place and the children do not go to school. Rather they are trained from a young age to engage in the family performances. We have seen performing children and families like this all over India as we have travelled from place to place. 

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A beautiful, and, I think, spirited, horse is led out into the arena. This is one of the biggest days for horse selling, and before a horse is bought, the prospective buyer wants to see how the horse moves and can be ridden.

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Here is a horse being taken through its paces.

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They all show this funny (to me) riding style, leaning back and feet are not in the stirrups as the horses are moving straight forward.

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After being controlled so carefully, this horse seems to want to let loose.

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It is hard to contain all the energy that an agitated horse can release.

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Camel rides for the visitors: Riding one in the foreground, loading a cart in the background. I bet the family on the camel rides around on their motor bike in the same way.

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More entertainment, an animal show with monkeys that are dressed up and playing roles in the show.

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One monkey is dressed as a man, the other as a woman. The trainer has them under his control for the whole show.

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A nicely decorated camel pulls this cart.

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Day Two of the Camel Fair

For us this was to be our big day at this year’s Pushkar Mela. Tomorrow we are to head back to South India.

As we walked to the arena where today’s Camel Decoration Contest was to be held, we saw a few people dressed like sadhus, begging by the side of the road. In India, this is seen anywhere that many people frequent.

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Now we are on the arena grounds. The decorating contest will start pretty soon. We walk around to see what we can see.

One of many camels here, decorated nicely (but, I think, not enough to be in the contest. Again I am taken by the red flower on its nose.

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Another decorated camel, taking on a rider.

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This is a nice one. I wonder if it will be in the contest?

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Another pretty camel pulling a cart.

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This camel is just standing and being displayed.

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Great job on this camel’s neck!

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The camel pictured above starts to bounce up and down on its two front feet. It is dancing for us! Beauty and talent, too. It keeps up the rhythm for a few minutes while his handler plays a drum. Amazing! Now we are sorry we can’t stay for the Camel Dancing Contest, to be held tomorrow.

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The whole dancing camel after its performance, shown here for the onlookers (and many photographers).

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Now drummer boys get to a special corral in the arena, set off by two rows of wood pole fences.

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Now the camels are readied for entrance. This is a big fancy one, with a big red and blue umbrella.

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There are signs on this camel showing the picture of Ashok Tak and touting the “Collectors Paradise Museum.”

It turns out that Ashok Tak has a special place in Camel Decorating. This is an ancient Rajasthani art, but had fallen out of use. Starting in the 1980s, Ashok Tak started to reintroduce this practice, got it added to the Camel Fair program and started training people how to do it. He is the master; before this year he had won seven competitions in a row.

From an interview of Ashok Tak in bracemagazine.com:

“I studied in Ajmer and then in 1984 I came back [to Pushkar] and started my shop. I would keep going to traditional festivals, looking at colors and traditions. I saw a festival in Bikaner in the 1980s – camels were dancing to the drums. It spoke to me. It was so interesting that an animal could do something special like this. It was my dream… I am now doing all this, taking parts in festivals to promote tourism in Rajasthan, decorating camels and keeping traditions alive. In the days of the Maharaja, camels were used for transportation. In marriage processions, the groom sits on a decorated camel and comes to the girl’s place. Decorating camels is a dying art. The camel is supposed to be like the ship of the desert.

“Before, nobody was decorating camels in Pushkar Fair. I started as an example. I was putting in efforts not only in Pushkar but across Rajasthan, giving complimentary performances. I thought, why not in Pushkar also? For me, camels are good to work with, they are very friendly. If I see a great camel, it gives me some kind of special feeling.”

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A close up of Asok Tak’s camel decorations. One thing that he uses that no one else does is woven straps. He likes to use old and antique decorations. Over the years, Tak has collected decoration equipment worth more than Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000). I think he collects these by going out to villages, buying for his shop.

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There is one camel decorated very differently from all the others.

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Finishing touches are being added by the contestant, a Japanese woman. I wonder, “What is her story?” For a Japanese woman to be in Pushkar to enter in the camel decorating is not a usual occurrence I think. 

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Meanwhile, on one side of the arena something else is going on. I go over to check it out. Some kind of a game is starting. Like a lot of Indian events we have gone to, there are many things going on at one time.  Though the main event right now is the camel decorating, these men want to play and compete.

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The first thing I notice is that there are many Westerners playing. There seem to be two teams. I suspect that one is Westerners, the other Indian.  This fair has been going on long enough and attracting enough Westerners that they plan events the Westerners can take part in.

It is a speed and agility game. There is a pyramid of circular white stones set out in the center.

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I think that someone throws a ball at the pyramid, scattering the stones. These men are getting ready to go.

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Ready for the throw in.

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These players are trying to reassemble the pyramid. The team that does this first wins. I am sure that there is more to the game than this, but that is what I could figure out. If anyone knows more, please comment and let us know.

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Back to the show. Ashok Tak is getting on his camel.

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He clearly parades toward the competition ring. He is a showman, and knows how to work the crowd.

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He opens his umbrella. I think here that the umbrella is more than a shade device; it is also a way of showing higher status.

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Here is the unconventionally-decorated camel, ready to be taken to its place in the competition ring.

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The Camel Decoration Contest

Now the contest is starting. Several camels are in the ring now, with the umbrella-wielding Ashok Tak in the center, the drummer boys to the right.

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One thing I notice is the decoration on the camel’s front legs. I think this must be Ashok Tak’s camel, since he is the only contestant that uses those kind of woven belts. I see that there are small bells tied to the ankles, and some kind of bracelets around the feet.

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This camel has colorful ties and tassels on its legs and ankles.

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This one, the unconventional one, has almost nothing at all, just a blue tie around the front knees, reminding me of the garter that Western women wear under their wedding dress.

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Another camel is brought into the ring.

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A big crowd is watching. Somehow, since I have a camera I am able to get in front of almost everybody, and am able to move around pretty freely.

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Each of the camels in the ring gets to do a turn, so they can display to the crowd and judges.

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Here is a new one, with many white yarn balls as an embellishment, and a small umbrella.

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We have five camels now. I am starting to get the idea that I should probably move, otherwise all I will have is a bunch of photos of camels’ butts.

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The camels are meeting the crowd, starting with Ashok Tak. He is the grand champion, winning many years in a row.

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Wow! Look at this one. With colored rope, yarn balls,and tassels, they have gone a long way with this camel!

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What does not show in the photo below is that the white squares down the front of the camel are mirrors. Nice, and in the spirit of warding off the evil eye. Decorative and functional, too.

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Nothing else is like the unconventional camel. I love the patterns that are shaved into the camel’s coat. The decoration seems kind of abstract, too. Someone has good creative powers, I think.

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Camels, lots of decorations.

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Stately camels, heads raised high. Look at the neck of the one closest to us! Wow!

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The unconventional one is in front in this photo. His neck is covered with green leaves (I bet some sacred leaf). There is white gauze hanging down from the camel’s halter.

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Camels are being displayed to the judges.

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Here is one with a covered saddle on its back (no rider though. Only Ashok Tak is riding his camel. I wonder why?).

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Handlers and camels wait.

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Now (without much commentary) the final camel show for the judges …

Ta Da (drum roll).

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Now we wait for the judges to make their scores, and these all to be tabulated and the winners announced.

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While we wait there is a special announcement.

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Mr. Ashok Tak is retiring from the competition.

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And he is given special recognition, a Life Time Achievement Award, for his seven victories and his contribution to this event. With it comes with an honorary plume.

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Which he can now display on his turban. He is the Champion of Champions! Huzzah for Ashok Tak!

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I am number one!

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Now to wait a bit more for the results.

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A camel is called. This is the second place winner, a camel from Bikaner. 

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This other camel contestant is not impressed.

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The second place finisher struts his stuff.

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Unconventional Camel is Number three! The judges recognized this creativity, even though it is really “out of the box” thinking.

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Here is the winner, decorated to within an inch of its life.

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The all-time champion Camel Decorator, Ashok Tak.

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The winner of the 2013 Pushkar Camel Decoration contest, Hukma Ram from Pushkar, with his camel, Raki. Congratulations. I bet you thought that you would never defeat Ashok Tak.

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The Mustache Growing contest

We were not able to stay for the Mustache growing contest. Here are a few photos from the web for last year’s Mela:

From Online Wall Street Journal, “The Best Mustache in Pushkar:”

Men sitting for the judging.

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Three contestants, from left to right: Girdhar Vyas, Rajander Joshi, and Ram Singh. Mr. Vyas was the winner.

Mustaches up to 70 inches have been entered into the competition. Mustaches are judged using three criteria: presentation on the face, quality and color, and maintenance.

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One contestant joyfully displays his luxuriant growth. (From http://travel-ideas.makemytrip.com/pushkar-fair-of-colour-camels-chaos/)

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And another (from http://www.indiamike.com/india-images/pictures/pushkar-camel-fair-winner-longest-mustache-contest) I love this weathered face with the happy eyes.

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Of all the things we have done in our seven years living in India, for me the Pushkar Camel Fair was the most fun. After this trip, I certainly would recommend taking the time to see Rajasthan. And to plan your trip around the Pushkar Camel Fair. The city, which you will see soon in another post, is more like an old Indian city than most we have visited in Rajasthan. And the camel fair, the largest of its kind in the world, is surely an event unlike any other you have seen. It is a different life for those in the Rajasthan desert, where the camel is an essential of life. This Fair is the time that they all get together. They meet to trade, swap stories, maybe to find brides and grooms for their children. The women can find a new saree or piece of jewelry. This kind of gathering has been going on each year for probably more than one thousand years. There is something special about being able to share in this experience.


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One Response to “Pushkar Mela, The Pushkar Camel Fair”

  1. marilynsandperl Says:

    What fun, Richard! I felt like I was right there!

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