11km northwest of Ajmer is located the small town of Pushkar, one of the holiest sites in India. Every year on the day of auspicious Kartik Purnima, the full-moon phase of October/November, Pushkar brings in thousands of pilgrims from all over the country to take a holy dip in the waters of the lake, which are believed to cleanse the soul of all sins.
Alongside this annual religious festival, a camel fair, hailed as the largest camel market in the world, is held where people buy and sell livestock when more than 200,000 traders, dealers and tourists throng here to the west of the lake.
The magical color of the camel fair, added by the mesmerizing desert landscape and legendary religious atmosphere, has made Pushkar one of Rajasthan tourist destinations in Rajasthan.
The camel festival adds magic to the atmosphere surcharged with activity. The transition of Pushkar from a peaceful desert town is absolute. Hordes of pilgrims, traders and thousands of tourists make their presence felt in a strong way. Hotels and restaurants are full to the capacities.
People from all over the state of Rajasthan throng at Pushkar and spend the days in the makeshift tents in the sand dunes. The night campfires, wafting delicious cooking smell and traditional folk music floating through the air create an ambience which beggars description.
Once trading is under way, camels and cattle are meticulously groomed, lined up and auctioned, while women dressed in mirrored skirts and vivid shawls lay out embroidered cloth, jewellery, pots and ornaments beside the herds, stopping trade occasionally to gather dung to fuel the evening fires. Cattle, poultry, sheep and goats are entered for competitions, and prizes given for the best displays of fruit and vegetables. Away from the main activity, the dusty ground is stirred up by vigorous camel races , noisily urged on by gamblers. Things become even more animated as acrobats balance precariously on tightropes and cartwheel between the crowds.
ide from its overwhelming size, the most striking feature of the Pushkar camel fair from a foreign visitor's point of view is that it is attended by equal numbers of men and women. With the harvest safely in the bag and the surplus livestock sold, the villagers, for this brief week or so, have a little money to spend enjoying themselves, which creates a lighthearted atmosphere that's generally absent from most other Rajasthani livestock fairs. As a result, photo opportunities are endless. Proudly dressed in their most colourful clothes and jewellery, both the menfolk and their wives and daughters tend to be happy to pose for the camera, being as interested in you as you are in them. The presence of so many exotic foreigners milling around in the crowd all adds to the holiday feel for the herders, for whom Pushkar represents the highlight of the year, eagerly looked forward to throughout the heat of summer and the hard work of the harvest.
The fair typically attracts up to 200,000 people. In recent years, however, numbers have dwindled due to the drought. Only a fraction of the normal number of herders showed up in November 2000, because so many of them had no animals to sell. More than ever, therefore, if you're coming to see the camels and traditional costumes, the best time to come is at least a week or so before the final weekend, when most of the buying and selling is done. By the full moon, the bulk of the herders tend to have packed up and gone home (unless the local tourist office has managed to induce them to stick around with the lure of free fodder, as it has done for the past few fairs), leaving crowds of pilgrims from neighbouring districts to enjoy the religious celebrations.