Mandy and Jon's Journey 2005 travel blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I didn't realize until I saw one that I hadn't seen one before. Or had I? To be honest, I don't know if I've ever seen one before. Do they have them in the Brooklyn Zoo, or maybe that time I was in San Diego when I was twelve? Hmm. Certainly I had seen photos of them. Certainly I smoked a few when I was young and impressionable. But not until I was standing face to face with not one, but perhaps a thousand, did I realize I had never seen a camel before. And even if I had, I've never seen them like this, and I can imagine there are not too many people (we're talking global percentages here) that have witnessed camels on this scale before.

We came to Pushkar for the 'festival'. We realized only when we first arrived in Delhi that the reputed Camel Festival was occurring during our stay, and for better or worse, we decided to base alot of our travel plans around the opportunity to get to Pushkar for the necessary dates. This could have been a big mistake or, at least, a gross risk. We have sometimes learned that things built up are often disappointing, and although its fair to say that we hadn't got much outside input about what to expect in Pushkar we began in our minds to think it the most important holiday (or festival) in the world. Anyone who has been to the Yarmouth Clam Festival in Maine would understand the heart break of an inspiring named festival that turned out to be a let down.

It is easy now to know that this was worth it - not to mention the inflated price we paid for our hotel room. We came expecting to be blown away, but strangely, no idea or conception of 'what' exactly it would be that would do so. The Taj Mahal was great because it lived up to - even exceeded - its large reputation. Pushkar was great because we didn't know what to expect and got lots.

Pushkar itself is another holy Hindu city, and the lake at its center serves as one of the great holy sights. The Brahmin Temple, just above the lake, is the only one of its kind in the world, and again, has deep meaning for the Hindu people and those who worship Brahma most of all. Now that, to us, doesn't mean much, but the reverence given to the city during this time certainly added to the festive mood and in no small way added to the throngs of people brought to Pushkar. The camel fair is, in fact, only one side of the gathering. For this part camel traders, camel drivers, camel shepherds, camel shearers, camel trainers, and camels themselves come to Pushakr to be bought, sold, paraded, treated for illness, and essentially celebrated. On the other side of this auspicious event, and not shared by all, is the Hindu festival that culminates on the night of the full moon in the eighth lunar month. The Festival is always held on and around this date so that the secular activities of the camel traders coincides with the Hindu celebrations in Pushkar. There seems to be a symbiosis and a separation of the two, but certainly it is the biggest time of year in Pushkar - indeed in all of Rajastan. Either way, it is the hotel operators who celebrate most, because the huge surge of people allows them to not just double or triple, but inflate the room rates by ten times. Its a good thing they are so cheap to begin with.

So our experience in Pushkar revolved around the camels themselves. The town baazar was very exhilirating and active and we spent lots of time strolling about, taking in the crowds, the shops, and the general swirl. But our favorite activity was roaming the sand dunes outside of the village that served as the camel grounds. It is beyond description - at least here and now - to explain the experience of simply 'taking in' this sight. To your left there is this huge camel - I had never comprehended their shear size - standing peaceful under the hot sun. To your right are four more just like this one, kneeled down to the ground, decorated in their sunday-best with colorful tassles, mirrored-embroidered saddles, with pink and blue harnesses, and shaven along their rumps and legs with intricate designs. Most of the camels, when in the desert, draw large wooden carts and now - in camp - they serve as small shelters for the camel drivers. In front of the carts there is a small fire going, usually with a pot of water boiling for tea. If the drivers are not out inspecting the prospects (or the competition) they are huddled around the front smoking cigarettes and drinking hot coffee. Sometimes it seems like the lonely male camel driver is all you see, but often enough there are whole families living together in the small tent set up beside their camp. Grandma and grandson can be seen fetching water from one of the communal wells interspersed around the grounds. Mother and daughter may be cooking the evening meal or simply sit, the whole family, beneath the cart to escape the mid day heat.

Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary I felt like I has stepped back in time. Especially during the first two days, before the largest crowds of westerners descended, it seemed like a different time - if not a different planet. In that, as well, I felt mildly invisible as a tourist. The camel drivers - with little or no interest in you as a customer or consumer - smiled hello, or looked with intrigue, but no more. These people had come to Pushkar to sell their camels or buy some new ones, and their business took precedent over everything else. It was interesting to see a small group of men circle one of the camels. Like a judge at a dog show you could tell they were looking for certain characteristics, traits, and the general health of the animal. Indeed, by the time we left Pushkar I was beginning to notive some of the subtle differences between that camel and this camel. Some were clearly gorgeous, young, healthy, or strong while others were bedraggled, old, or prehaps ill-treated. For Mandy and I it was truly wonderful to walk around and about inside of this cultural event. Not unlike, perhaps, the Clam Festival we often enjoy up in Yarmouth it is a great insight into a community. It was, if anything, one of the most fascinating experiences we have had on our trip. It was a truly unique and interesting look into a section of culture that seemed totally honest. Again, there was lots of evidence to the contrary - from the small girls, gobbed in make-up who were so eager to offer you an "authentic" picture of Rajastani beauty to the camel-ride touts who wanted to offer you a "very cheap ride" on a very ill-treated camel, but all in all, and especially walking the grounds away from the village there was a richness you seldom see.

We spent five days in Pushkar doing the same things over and over, and although when we left we were both ready to go, we were glad that we made the effort to see the camels. Neither of us will forget that we did.



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