Pushkar Chaos: Camels, Sadhus, Snake Charmers, Lepers and Little Blue Boys Dressed as Lord Shiva

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I entered the bizarre world of the Pushkar Fair: Camels, sadhu holy men, pilgrims, touts, tourists, snake charmers, lepers and little blue boys dressed as the Hindu god Lord Shiva. They were all there.

The full moon of November brings a bit of insanity to the local atmosphere--fireworks, glitter, Rajasthani fashionistas--all side-by-side with the filth. But that's India.

The novelty of the Pushkar Mela (or fair) never seems to wear off--this was my fifth visit in two decades. Each year the camel fair culminates on the final full moon day, Kartik Poornima. It's a holy event, but one that seems to have become the capitalistic god-focus for the ever-growing onslaught of vendors from afar who are drawn to Pushkar's sanctified lake this particular week . . . and to the money they can garner from selling their trinkets. Hotel rates can skyrocket as much as 500 percent during the event.

India, Rajasthan, Pushkar, blue boy dressed as the Hindu god Shiva during the Pushkar Camel Fair

But this particular year perhaps the gods were incensed. Humankind hasn't been kind to the environment. And so the gods must have decided to drain the holy lake of Pushkar. It was empty. Bone dry. Well, there was a little bit of water in one corner that the local authorities had pumped in for the festivities. And at the traditional bathing ghats there were some manmade cisterns for the hordes of dipping devotees who had come for a ritual submersion in the lake. Like the Ganges, no matter how polluted the water might be, devout Hindu followers seem determined to immerse themselves. At least there wasn't any pollution in Pushkar's lake since there was hardly any water--only the dust from 20,000 departing camels.

These stately beasts of burden are the main drawing card for this annual mega event and no photographer wants to miss the smoky, dusty sunset photos that have drawn thousands to the Pushkar Fair over the years.

 

India, Rajasthan, Pushkar, camels at sunset during the Pushkar Camel Fair

 

Camels can be an arrogant lot. Or, at least, they carry that air of demeanor in their expressions. If they are disgusted with you, they might spit. Or they might kick. Their hips are six feet high and that means a six-foot arc for a flying hoof. So one must keep distance when darting between camels on either end.

Pushkar is a holy site and, as such, is totally vegetarian--not even eggs can be found on the menu. Drugs and alcohol are forbidden in the city . . . well, I did find a couple of restaurants that served beer under the table. Actually, they served it on top of the table but discreetly from a teapot so as not to offend local sensitivities while at the same time being able to cash in on Western pocketbooks. Many of the foreign tourists had a teapot at their dining table. And the authorities seemed to ignore the cannabis that was readily available to service the ever-present contingent of dreadlocked, new age hippies who are drawn to Pushkar throughout the year.

India, Rajasthan, Pushkar, four shopping Rajaasthani women wearing colorful saris

Marijuana is blended into what's called a "bhang lassi," your typical sweet lassi (a yogurt-based drink) but this one comes with a bang. Hey, maybe that's how they came up with the name. So one afternoon when I was offered to imbibe, I partook. "Medium or strong," I was asked. "Strong," of course. A word of caution: Never, never have a strong bhang lassi just before a sunset shoot of backlit camels disappearing over the horizon in a golden cloud of dust on their way back home. I almost didn't find my own way back home that evening and it's a good thing my camera had auto-focus. My night was very surreal and my Photoshop work was extremely creative.

The former British colonization of India made English quite common here but it's humorous how it sometimes gets used. Traversing the desert on the way to Pushkar, my driver and I came across a low place in the terrain where a slightly raised bridge had been built. But it was obvious that during one of Rajasthan's rare flash floods the road might still go under water. The hand-painted yellow warning sign drew special attention:

"Submersible bridge ahead!"

And I always chuckle at Indian restaurants when given the choice between "Veg" or "Non-Veg." Funny how the non-veg selections not only include meat but always vegetables. Of course, this phrase refers to the dish not being vegetarian.

I was surprised to find relatively fast internet connections in Pushkar. The last time I was there in 2004 the internet speed went at a camel's pace. The influence of Bangalore's IT phenomenon has spread far and wide. Even so, it's said that perhaps ten million of India's tribal nomadic residents have no education and don't even know the name of the country in which they live. But that's one of the things that makes India so fascinating.

The main drag through Pushkar's old town is only about one kilometer long and in some places the street is just three outstretched arms wide. It's a madhouse when hordes of pilgrims arrive.

During the festival the entire city is temporarily wired with blaring loud speakers to keep everyone informed in Hindi and entertained with the Rajasthani version of Bollywood music at full pitch. On the evening of the full moon tens of thousands of pilgrims arrived throughout the night. They were welcomed with ear-piercing music just outside my hotel window from one of those speakers blasting away all night long. That's when I fully understood the CIA strategy of sleep deprivation and mind-numbing music for hours on end.

On my last night of Pushkar madness, I sat at a rooftop restaurant (teapots were at almost every table) while I pondered life surging past in the narrow street just below. I was fascinated by the endless procession of colorful saris and sadhus and turbans and holy cows and lepers dragging themselves along. A clutch of excited monkeys swung through the trees.

Off to one side I spotted a man with a handful of glowing iridescent blue and red objects. One-by-one he hooked them into a slingshot and propelled them straight up a hundred feet into the night sky. Then he nonchalantly looked around (not upwards) for ten or fifteen seconds before outstretching his hand to gently catch the glimmering objects as they gracefully fell into his palm. Like a boomerang effect, the glowing lights had come back to him. How did he do that? It was like an ethereal ballet in light. So magical. (No, I wasn't sipping another bhang lassi.) The man drew a sizable audience and I noticed he was selling quite a few of his glimmering objects.

The holy cows continued milling along amidst the crowd seemingly unaware of the spectacle.

And that's why I love India.

 

Copyright © Glen Allison ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

The fine art imagery of visual artist, Glen Allison, has been published more than 60,000 times in a majority of the world's leading travel magazines and guide books. He's a vagabond photographer and writer presently embarked on a nonstop, ten-year marathon odyssey around the globe to capture the world's most extraordinary destinations in dramatic light.

He never returns home; he has no home.

If you'd like to see more magical photographs from Glen's visit to Pushkar, you can view the original blog post "Pushkar Chaos." Indulge yourself by navigating around his website to vicariously join the ride. His images are available for stock photo licenses and fine art prints.

http://www.GlenAllison.com

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