Camels, Music and Dance amidst Sacred Baths and Religious Ceremonies
Being an avid traveler and having coursed through almost all well-known places throughout India, Pushkar Fair was something that had been at the top of my “to-travel list” for pretty long. It was only last year that I finally got to be a part of it. I’m not going to share with you aspects that Google readily throws at you the moment you search the word Pushkar. What I share are a few aspects that truly touched me.
While the farmers and traders with their camels dominate the first part of the Pushkar festival, the second part is all about the people. We move on from animal races and challenges to religious ceremonies performed at the local lake and an assortment of music and dance activities taking place nearby. The ancestral traditions of Pushkar are brought back to life in vivid pictures during the renowned festival.
Schedule for the 2022 Pushkar Festival
Pushkar Fair 2022: 01 November, 2022 – 09 November, 2022
Pushkar Fair 2023: 21 November, 2023 – 27 November, 2023
Pushkar Cattle Festival: November 4 – 6, 2022. During these six days the emphasis falls on the villagers, their horses, camels, and other livestock. Trading will reach a peak while many other activities and shows will take place, including competitions to choose the most beautiful camel! The principal days to attend in 2022 are November 4 and 6, so arrange your itinerary accordingly and make sure you are in Pushkar around those dates.
Pushkar Cultural Festival: November 7 – 8, 2022. A lot of the cultural activities sponsored by the Rajasthan government take place during this time. Expect wonderful folk dances, live music shows, and other cultural activities. However, you will be able to experience these kind of performances and displays in many hotels where you stay during your visit to India (and in more comfortable conditions). Beware of agencies that book a visit to the Camel Fair during these specific dates; you may be disappointed because the majority of herders and their livestock have already departed.
Pushkar Fair: November 9, 2022. This day is considered the most Holy Day when a multitude of Hindu pilgrims bathe in the waters of holy Lake Pushkar. The entire town becomes extremely overcrowded and it is not advisable for guests to partake in any of these activities. This most holy day in India’s Hindu lunar year coincides with the day on which Dev Diwali, the Festival of Lights of the God, is honoured and celebrated in Varanasi, holiest city of India.
When to Travel to Pushkar Camel Festival
If you are interested in livestock, especially camels, make sure you arrive some days prior to day one of the festival. The official dates for the fair actually coincides with the days when the cultural activities sponsored by the state government take place, but the camel traders always arrive and leave earlier. Therefore the beginning of the fair is the finest time to survey the animals all done up in their extravagant decorations.
Make sure you also use this less crowded spell to wander through the pop-up, makeshift city of vendor tents to purchase a few interesting gifts.
We would advise foreigners to join an organized, guided tour or an individual dependable tour guide since groups usually receive special prices at hotels and some attractions. Do not attempt to make a booking at a conveniently situated hotel nearby yourself; you might be shocked at the outrageous prices they charge. However, budget –style accommodation often offers good deals; that is if you do not need all that luxury.
The Camels Arrive
Camels, their herders and the traders start to arrive and set up their camps in the desert dunes some days prior to the start of the fair and as the days go by, more people and livestock arrive, the camp grows, and energetic trading commences. This is the best opportunity for those award-winning pictures for Instagram profiles since you can wander around freely to observe everything and everybody. By the 4th and 5th day the area is crowded with visitors, with an exhilarating atmosphere, alive with the sounds of camels, and other livestock, and the voices of herders and traders.
Activities and Competitions
As the days go by and more visitors arrive the festivities intensify. You can watch camel races, bridal competitions and even a contest for the best moustache. The fairgrounds offer numerous artisan activities and there is excitement in the air with rides on camel carts, numerous vendors selling their goods, musicians making music, and gypsies to entertain tourists and visitors.
This is when the herders and their camels start to retreat back into their familiar desert as they conclude their business.
In the meantime, the town itself too starts to expand and reaches the peak of its capacity during these festival days, especially around the temple areas. Pilgrims arrive from all over to take part in the religious activities and make their offerings. At the fairgrounds all official events geared for the tourists continue, with rides in the amusement park, music shows, folk dances and many other kinds of entertainment like turban tying competitions to amuse locals and visitors alike.
Where Holy Men Roam the Earth
You’ve probably heard of many things about India. Maybe you’ve heard about its culture, about its food, or even about its heritage sites. One thing’s for sure – you’ve definitely heard of the country being associated with mysticism, of its rich religious and spiritual background. And nothing proves this fact more than taking a walk around the Pushkar fair, where holy men and mystics are aplenty.
You’ll find no lack of Hindu priests wandering about the lake and the fairgrounds of the Pushkar festival. Locally known as sadhus or babas, these priests often approach visitors for donations collected in small tins. Whether you give it to them is up to you, but there’s no harm in dropping a few coins or so to help them pay for their food. Despite whatever cynical opinion you’ve heard about them, sadhus live a hard life when they follow the spiritual path. Devoting themselves to the faith means that they have to cut off their family ties and travel from city to city in pilgrimage for the rest of their lives.
A Holy Bath in the SACRED PUSHKAR LAKE
Having deep ties with the Hindu religion, the Pushkar Lake is considered to be one of the most sacred places in India. This is the lake believed to have been created when Lord Brahma dropped the lotus flower. On the Kartika Purnima day, the second half of the Pushkar festival continues with people taking a holy bath or dip in this sacred lake. The most auspicious time for the holy bath is the two days around the full moon.
Many believe that the Pushkar Lake has the ability to heal diseases, while others also claim that it has the power to wash away a person’s sins. So taking a holy bath during the Kartika Purnima is believed to help devotees in attaining Moksha or salvation. This compels many a devotee to visit the Pushkar Mela for a chance to have a dip in the renowned lake.
Being an observant person that I am, I truly found reverence in the eyes of the people who were lost in the holy act, expecting salvation from their worldly problems.
According to popular belief, a bath in the sacred Pushkar Lake during Kartika Purnima is an act equivalent of performing yagnas and austerities for a few hundred years. No wonder you can witness hordes of devotees lining up for this auspicious ritual and a chance to bathe in one of the 52 bathing ghats. Each of the ghats is considered to be sacred in its own right.
Explore the Fair in the Shady Comfort of Caravans
The fairgrounds of the Pushkar Mela are best explored on foot, but it can get quite exhausting. If not on foot, you might not have the chance to truly explore the stalls and tents set up around the area. At the same time, the hot sun and heated grounds can easily get to you especially if you’re not familiar to this type of climate. If you’re longing for some rest, you can join the multitude of tourists being pulled through the fairgrounds in comfortable caravans. You’ll be out of the sun, comfortable in the shade while still experiencing the essence of the festival.
If you’re keen on witnessing the fair from afar, you might even want to try taking a tour on a hot air balloon. Since an International Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place during the Pushkar fair, it’s a perfect chance to enjoy the scene from a distance. While up in the clear blue sky, you get a picturesque view of the fair as you’ve never seen before. The view of people shuffling around, musicians and dancers going about their duty as if lost to the rest of the world…some experiences are truly priceless. For me, the few moments spent in the hot air balloon were the highlight of the Pushkar experience.
Enjoying the Performances of the Kalbelia
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the pilgrims and camel traders, you’ll find some regular attendees of the Pushkar Mela. The Kalbelia or ‘Snake People’ complete the annual festival with music and dance performances to entertain visitors. The Kalbelia, as their name suggests, are a formerly itinerant folk that specialized in snake serums for centuries. After legislations and advancements in the sciences, they’ve lost that part of their culture but their name lives on.
With no other option but to settle, the Kalbelia now make a living through age-old music and colorful dances. A distinct characteristic of their nomadic lifestyle is still apparent even today as they choose to separate themselves from the rest of the town’s inhabitants, choosing to live in the outskirts and edges.
If you stop to enjoy the performances of the Kalbelia, you might even get to witness dancers performing the famous back-bend contortion trick. The dancer moves along gracefully to the sound of the pungi flute, which is the same kind of flute used in snake charming. Drums and female singers add to the melody, while the dancer mimics the sinewy movements of the cobra. Zigzagging and contorting her body in ways unimaginable. The sight is beyond breathtaking as you get lost in the moment and marvel at the performance while the rest of the noise fades into the background.
A Word of Advice
The renowned Pushkar Mela attracts visitors from all over the world. No doubt you wish to get a taste of what it’s like to be a part of the spectacular event. Yet, it can be quite overwhelming to attend the fair on your own. It was easy for me as I’m used to the Indian food and customs to a great extent. I say “to a great extent” because even for an Indian, it’s sometimes too hard to ingest everything that another part of the country has to offer.
To ensure that you get to thoroughly enjoy your experience at Pushkar, I recommend that you get a companion or a travel company that remains with you every step of the way. From food and travel to comfortable accommodations, you need someone that will make all the arrangements for you. The idea should be to spend your days in the midst of the fair and even in a tent while remaining safe and healthy all the time. All said and done, be a part of the Pushkar fair to truly experience India, its culture and history.