IMG_20191108_110406The landscape is a myriad of colours, pulsing with life, dazzling, radiant. A burst of chaos amidst a sea of sand and Prosopis.


My nostrils flare to absorb the unfamiliar mixture of smells, from camel hide to tanned leather to sweetmeats to sweaty horse to cattle droppings that litter the sandy soil. The suns beats down, unforgivably hot, on our heads as we make our way into the Pushkar Mela, India’s largest traditional mela, or fair, in the dry western state of Rajasthan.

Each November, during the full moon of the Hindu month Kartik, the tiny town – really a village – of Pushkar, in Ajmer district of western Rajasthan, comes alive to the sound of camel bells. Thousands of livestock (cattle, buffaloes, bulls, camels) herders arrive in the fairgrounds to exhibit and trade their animals. This is a gathering in the most traditional sense; from camel races to bull taming exhibitions to a vividly lively market, the Pushkar Mela is a treat for both the Indian and the foreign traveller. Each year, the fair attracts over 200,000 visitors. And this year, the dates for the fair – November 4th through 12th, 2019 – perfectly coincided with my visit to western Rajasthan.

pushkarWe began our Pushkar experience with a visit to the only temple to the Hindu Lord Brahma, the Creator, in the world, surprisingly located in this small town. Our van driver and guide told us the history of Pushkar. The town has incredible religious significance for Sikhs and Hindus alike; it is mentioned in the Puranas, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana, and is famous for its gurudwaras for Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh. Until 1712 CE, Pushkar was under Muslim control. The Mughal ruler Aurangzeb was responsible for the destruction of many Hindu temples, all of which were later rebuilt after the collapse of the Mughal Empire.


After braving the hoards of pilgrims at the Brahma Temple (which houses a life-sized idol of Lord Brahma), we headed to Pushkar Lake and its many bathing ghats. Pushkar Lake is sacred, much like Manasarovar Lake in Tibet. Legend says that the lake was created when Lord Brahma dropped a lotus from his hand onto the depression in the soil, creating bountiful water. Hundreds of pilgrims were bathing in the lake; we too immersed our legs in the holy water and splashed a few drops on our heads.

IMG_20191108_094730Next, we took a leisurely stroll through the busy markets, which sold everything from sweets prepared in thick ghee to saddles and bridles for camels and horses. I was particularly drawn to the brightly coloured skirts and cholis that hung from rafters every few stalls. Children ran between us, holding bunches of gaudy flowers and pencils, which they tried to hawk at us. Three women sat on the side of the path with woven baskets in front of them; one of them opened her basket as I passed to reveal a hissing snake. TheIMG_20191108_110115 poor thing had its mouth sewed shut. Various stalls sold elaborate Rajput swords and shields, remnants of a bygone era of warrior tradition. Pushkar Mela is famous not only for its market and temples, but also for its exhibitions. A stadium of sorts had been set up in the middle of the fairgrounds, where crowds of bystanders cheered as camel races commenced. Other activities include women’s and IMG_20191108_122614men’s tug-of-war competitions, bull racing, horse racing, and traditional dancing and sword fighting. Wrestling matches are another favourite for many of the men visiting the fair. A large fairground is also set up for those seeking more modern thrills amidst the traditional entertainment. Three giant wheels, a swinging boat, and countless stalls hawking frothy pink and blue candy floss are visible even from a distance.

img_20191108_094422.jpgThe fair is also famous for its Marwari horses. This stately horse is a rare breed from Jodhpur, known for its ear tips that turn inwards. They descended from Arabian horses cross-bred with Indian ponies. The Rathores, rulers of Marwar, were the traditional breeders of the horse, which was only allowed to be ridden by members of the royal family or those in the Kshatriya warrior caste. One can ride these horses for a unique view of the Pushkar Mela.

IMG_20191108_123218A must-do in Pushkar is a camel safari, where you sit atop one of those precariously bad-tempered beasts and clop across the golden-brown sand. The sky seems endless at such moments, a swath of blue over an ocean of gold. Having ridden camels in the past, I was content to stand and watch a caravan of these beasts trot in the distance, carrying ecstatic tourists on their humped backs, their stately forms melting into that exotic place where the sand meets the shadows.

My visit to Pushkar gave me a newfound appreciation for the rich history of Rajasthan and the pride that its people take in tradition and glory. From the bedecked camels to the purebred horses, from the swords that gleamed in the sunlight to the glittery chaniya-cholis worn by the women, Pushkar Mela was a melee of colour and festivity, a glimpse of the true heart of rural India that is hard to find in our increasingly-urbanized world today.


5 thoughts on “Desert Carnival: Experiencing Rajasthan’s Annual Pushkar Camel Mela

  1. Wow! Your vivid description of the Pushkar mela brought the whole scene of the sounds and colorful visuals and varied smells and the hustle-bustle alive in front of my eyes. Great fotos too 👌👌👌


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s