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The Aint No Party Like a Pushkar Party

The Pushkar Camel Fair

sunny 25 °C


Hello – We have been in Pushkar for the Annual Camel Fair for the past week and it has not been disappointing. Every year the fair attracts 100,000 camels and 1000's of horses, cows, goats and elephants for buying selling, racing, showing off and general debates about the size of your camels humps, or how many people you can fit onto your camel. Myself and Annie have already been on a camel ride, but we thought we would try out the camel taxi! I'm fascinated by camels, there are so many uses for them! The camel taxi (basically a camel which pulls a four poster bed on a truck) took us on a journey around the fair for about an hour and only cost us 250rupees, which was a bargain. Annie received many complements (and she did actually look beautiful in her newly acquired dress) from turban wearing camel and horse men along the journey. As the sun sets over the camel field you can hear the moans and groans of thousands of camels and the arguing and busking of local camel traders and gypsys. What a sight to see and hear.

We arrived on 31st October, a few days earlier than expected because we'd heard good things about Pushkar – not just the camel fair. Pushkar is a holy place, and this means that it is a vegetarian city (including no eggs) and no beer/drugs/dressing provocatively, and it is set within a valley and centred around a holy lake with holy men and ghats aplenty. Holding hands is strictly forbidden as is other forms of affection and inappropriate dressing and nudity. Despite these very strict we saw at least three contraventions within two minutes of walking round the lake – a little old lady smoking what can only be described as a crack/opium pipe whilst having her babs out in the lake! Annie skipt around her whilst I got a full on view of the merry lady who nemaste'ed me to complete the comedy picture, and had to laugh out loud trying to keep myself from falling in the lake!

The entrance to Pushkar lake is littered with 'holy men' giving you flowers, whom then lead you to the side of the lake to participate in a Puja, which is basically a prayer to the Gods for health, goodwill, prosperity in your family and friends. You need to repeat a mantra over and over again (however Hindu's do this 108 times – for this is a good number) then have to give money dependant on how much you love you family and friends – basically, its a bit of a gimmick to give money – I've never been emotionally blackmailed before from a 'priest' as he called himself, so I called his bluff and told him to shove it! Actually, I gave 60 rupees for me and Annie. This whole procedure is called a Pushkar Passport! And yes, it is a con for the toursist, but I actually enjoyed the mantra. Sorry to say that Dad, Ian Sue Sophie Will, you were only worth 60 rupees! I'm sure Dad would be more proud of me for not getting conned out of £50!

The camel fair was meant to start on 2nd November, but in true Indian relaxed style the fair started on the 3rd November and a few hours late. In fact most of the fair including the fairground and parts of the circus were also incomplete. The program started with some dancing girls, and then a camel race around the stadium. I did not care much for the dancing but the camel race was more impressive.

The Chak de Rajastan Football Match!


The fair is internationally renowned and it rightly attracts many tourists, locals and the regional /national press. I'm told that the the first days activities are the best, which includes local dancing, a camel race and the Chak de Rajestan football match between the local team and a team made up from budding tourists who fancy their chances. Being fit and healthy, not to mention an excellent football player (dont laugh!) this match was right up my street. The match was due to start at 11am, and I turned up at 10am to register myself for the tourists team – I was the first on the list too! The Mela Stadium began to fill up, however only 5 tourists had registered by 11am, so I took it upon myself to rally people by asking every tourist in the stadium if they wanted to play. This enthusiastic act was rewarded by the organisers making me captain of the tourist team! Never before have I captained a football side, and I was determined to do a good job by organising the team, sorting out positions for the squad of 16. Our team consisted of English, Italian, Australian, South African, Israelis and a Dutch girl who was probably our best player. The time was about 1pm and we were given a proper football kit to wear, then we had to line up in the centre circle (which was only laid about ten minutes before with chalk from a bag) to meet the dignitaries (of whom we did not know), but looked really important. Being captain, I had to introduce the important people to the rest of the team and I was given a some flowers which I had to present to this important man! It was so crazy, I felt like David Beckham (only for a brief second!). The actual football match was for 25 minutes a half and playing on sand in the middle of the day, and was pretty difficult. Just before we kicked off, our Australian goal keeper pointed out that the only people out in the mid day sun are mad dogs and Englishmen – and he was correct, being India there were mad dogs on the pitch... and us Englishmen , as well as the odd cow... it is India after all! We started the match brightly, and I nearly scored within the first 2 minutes from a cross by the Dutch Girl which I had to leap high in the air, but unfortunately it just grazed the cross bar. This was to be my only chance in the match! Despite the good start and a few more chances from our team, we went 3 nil down by half time (our goalie had never played football before!) At the interval all of the national media wanted to do a half time interview with the captain of the Tourist Team – which was me! It was a real media scrum, about 5 cameras, 10 microphones (all with names branded on them like TV24 India, News Now, India Today, etc..) I have to say that I gave a good account of the occasion by thanking the organisers and the opposition. I said that even though I’m from Manchester, unfortunately I cant play football like Manchester City or Manchester Utd football stars aka Wayne Rooney, but I did say that people say I look like Peter Crouch. I cant help but think my little joke fell on deaf ears. Needless to say my name went into the Times of India (page 2) as 'Peter'. Anyway, we started the second half brightly and managed to bundle in a goal from 6 yards. The final score was actually 4-1, but we didn’t care, we all just loved being involved. I was interviewed after the match again by all the media again, and they just let me ramble on for about 10 minutes. It was such an amazing experience, we even got trophy’s and certificates presented in the stand by the mayor and other important people. My trophy is now proudly sitting in the hostel on thr highest shelf in the reception area, alongside the 2010 turban tying competition trophy! I loved every minute of the Chak De Rajestan Football Match – an incredible memory. Apparently I was on national TV at 7pm that day but didn’t see it.

Pushkar was a great place to stay and I would recommend anyone to go there because you get a real flavour of the Rajastani culture and customs.

Hope you enjoy the blog. Peace and Love. Andy x

Posted by Annie Thornton 01:08 Archived in India Tagged fair camel rajastan pushkar Comments (0)

Happy Diwali from Jaisalmer

Fireworks in the desert....

sunny 32 °C

Rejuvenated and ready for action, me and Andrew were feeling very positive about our impressive organisation booking our trains in advance and having dates set to be in each town. Imagine our horror when two days before Diwali we were packing ready for our night train to the desert and we realised we were still on the wait-list and therefore basically not on the train. We debated our options;

Option 1: 12 hours overnight in the unreserved section of a train that had set off from Delhi. Positives, this would get us to our preferred destination on time. Negatives: Although we are always prepared to spend a few hours in general class and can climb in the baggage rack and get down with the chickens like the best of them... the overnight trains generally have four people to a bunk at the first stop and any subsequent passengers hang out of the doors. Summarised: High chance of reaching destination, high chance of death.

Option 2: Bite the bullet and get a 'Delux Night Bus'. Now I know what you are thinking, Delux sounds good. Those of you who have visited India however will know that there is no 'standard' in India, 'Delux' is in fact the bottom of the scale. This is then followed by 'Super Delux', 'Superior Super Delux' and then 'Air Conditioned' which does to some level qualify the standard of all the previous classes). We took the bus and were pretty chuffed. We were given a sort of space age pod with a double mattress in and a door that closed and shut everyone out. Negatives: we stopped in Jodhpur and had to swop buses to one with considerably more passengers and considerably less room. It also happened to be full of passengers carrying Diwali fireworks, and happily lighting matches and smoking near the paper bags containing them. Again, high risk of death. However, we indeed reached our destination and were welcomed by comedy touts who gave us a cheap lift to the hotel we had already booked in hope of commission. They did not get any. Annie and Andrew (1) Unscrupulous Touts (0).

So Jaisalmer awaited us. Negotiating a discount on the room we had already booked we were welcomed into the family at our guest house which had a view of the fort from the roof top terrace. Jaisalmer consists of what can only be described of a massive sand castle in the middle of the Great Thar Desert with a little town surrounding it. The fort is filled with Haveli, Jain Temples, beautiful buildings and winding bazaars around the palace itself. Unlike other forts we had visited, this one is still inhabited by the usual collection of men, women, armies of children, cows, camels, buffalos etc. This is somewhat multiplied by the limited room and the narrow streets. We were expecting hassle in Jaisalmer but did not find any. People were pleasant and really interesting. Eco tourism seems to be picking up here and we met locals who were running organic farming set ups in the desert growing watermelons (now until I saw watermelons growing in the desert I didn't believe it either, but as you are regularly informed by locals here 'in India, everything is possible!)

The whole spectacle of a giant inhabited sand castle is worth seeing and just watching the light changing on the sandstone throughout the day and night is entertaining in itself as it is so beautiful. Here I found the Rajastan I was expecting, and did not find, in Jaipur. Camels pulling carts through bazaars, turbaned men herding goats in the main square, all the colours of the rainbow, masala chay in winding alleys and sunsets sitting on cushions with the obligatory Kingfisher on low tables sat on russet cushions. I was, and remain, disgustingly smug with the whole scenario and I apologise for it!

The whole experience was multiplied as it was the time of Diwali, the festival of lights, and we were here for the 26th October, the big night! Now, we took a peaceful evening meal in the fort surrounded by oil lamps and watching children play with sparklers. Very peaceful and pretty. Then we went into the town and embarked in our journey into the real Diwali.

I was plagued by those government videos they used to show you at school every year near bonfire night, 'Firework Safety'. You know the kind, all centring around poor little Johnny who returned to an unlit firework whilst using a sparkler without gloves on and was simultaneously blinded and burnt his fingers. Either they don't have these videos in India, or the children here have no fear of Little Johnny's fate as children as young as three and four were setting off rockets and fountains in the street whilst their parents looked on clapping and cheering. Hundreds of ruppees must have gone up in smoke and rainbow flames in Jaisalmer that night.

We wandered off the main strip onto a residential street. Any other day there may have been a cow grazing on plastic and some kids playing chase. Today the whole thing resembled a mine field during a colourful but dangerous war. Every third step there was a firework two steps away, people ran wild laughing and shouting. Me and Andrew were both amazed and terrified until we were rescued from the street by a local family who took us indoors and gave us chappati and Diwali sweets on the floor of the kitchen. The whole family wanted photographs taking with Andy, without Andy, with each other, with the cow....

We saw out the night with more fireworks (apparently you can never get enough) with the hotel boys. We retired to bed and did not sleep as apparently even dawn does not dull the effect of a really big rocket... 6am firework display anyone? I can recommend a good one!

The one thing you will hear alot of in Jaisalmer is 'camel safari? camel safari?' and being the camel loving pair that we are, we thought why not and went off into the desert along with a German Yoga Teacher, his wife, two local blokes, a child they kept around to do the washing up, and five camels. Andrew immediately developed a bond with his camel, Jondeer (who might as well have been called John Dear for the amount of affection that the camel man and Andy put upon his fur). Jondeer was a prize racing camel and we went off to a village for the camel herder to prove this to us when we sounded slightly cynical. Jondeer came 2nd.... Pretty good, although 2 out of six camels took off in the wrong direction when the starter firework was set off (oh yes, fireworks have many uses!) My camel, Acora... or Our Cora as I preferred, was altogether more mardy and was not having any affection. My camel also was disgusted by any attempt to speed it us, or guide it's course. However, we reached an understanding; I sit up top and don't bother her, she will do all the work and not bother me.

Sleeping under the stars on the sand dunes was fantastic. Andy totted up three shooting stars through the night. With no light pollution we could see everything and Andy did his best impression of a professor to inform me what we were looking at. Now, imagine our surprise when out of the peace and quiet of the desert came the 'Off License Camel' loaded up with ice boxes and Kingfisher at an altogether not bad mark up considering the commute. A night to be remembered!

With a new found love for the Delux Bus and a determination to try and stay out of main cities where possible, we have skipped dusty Jodhpur in favour of the lake sides of Pushkar a bit early for more camel related fun.

Posted by Annie Thornton 02:11 Archived in India Tagged safari camel rajastan jaisalmer Comments (0)

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