OF TURBANS AND MOUSTACHES

PUSHKAR FAIR- RAJASTHAN

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On my first visit to Pushkar Fair, way back in 90s and within two years of starting a career in the Travel business, I found the place extremely intriguing and captivating. While the group of photographers from England that I traveled with had a field day, I simply gazed at the silhouettes of camels against the setting sun. I had no inkling of what the future had in store for me and that I would be returning not once, not twice but on many occasions in the years to come. A long hiatus of nearly 2 decades and I found myself visiting the annual fair regularly & religiously for 6 years in a row. Last three visits were as an amateur photographer, trying to control the twitching finger that would click everything that came in front of the camera lens.
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I must confess that over the years, the breed of clickers from the world over has outnumbered the cattle. Many say that the fair has outlived its life but still I found more than a few reasons to travel there year after year. Every time I went, it was on an excursion with a few close friends either to enjoy some photography, local food, or both. On a drive from Delhi on NH 8 for 3 hours, followed by a detour on Ajmer highway for another 3, one comes across hundreds of authentic Dhabas (local eateries) that make a fantastic stop for local food such as freshly baked Tandoori Rotis (Indian bread from the clay oven), Dal Fry (yellow lentil with garnishing of cumin seeds, onions, tomatoes & green coriander leaves) and Paneer Bhurji (minced cottage cheese spiced with green chillies, green coriander leaves, tomato, onions, turmeric powder and a few other spices). With many frequent visits to Pushkar, not only during the festival but also otherwise, i had inspected more than fifty of such Dhabas and i knew which one offered the best ABC to best XYZ.

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Despite the losing popularity, overflow of photographers, reduced number of cattle and too many campsites all around, the Pushkar fair always generated enough interest for me for it remains the largest gathering of cattle anywhere in the world. Recently, the Rajasthan government has made it mandatory for all folk men to stay at the fair till the very end to ensure that tourists didn’t return dejected.

For photographers the subjects abound in camels, desert, sunrise & sunsets, nomads, gypsies, acrobats, horses and stunning portraits of Rajasthani men & women, who walk for days and days from remote tribes and hamlets to the fair site to trade their cattle. The entire experience of staying in a tent in the middle of the desert, riding a camel cart to the stadium, sitting by the Pushkar lake in the evening seeing devotees take a holy dip, smelling the smoke emanating from the live kitchens outside the gypsies’ sleeping tents, sound of a local musician playing his strings, a walk through the most colorful bazaars, resounding of temple bells etc. is something that has a magnetic appeal that would attract travel buffs like me again and again.

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Come November and there is Pushkar in the mind and in the air. All other plans take a backseat as a two night stay here transforms one into a fairy-tale atmosphere, far from the chaos of city life and traffic. The Rajputs with curly & long moustaches and colored turbans make Pushkar a destination worth exploring. The folk women flaunt their striking fluorescent skirts & stoles while the jewelry they wear, especially an arm full of bangles is something that is hard to ignore.

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The roller coaster is a landmark no one can miss. Easily visible from every nook and corner 24/7, the giant-wheel is like a shadow that no one can escape.  It bears a beautiful look in the night with  fluorescent lights wooing the children.

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I returned from Pushkar this year with a few data-cards full of beautiful images & memories and also having made a promise to myself to return next year.

Vagabond Shoes,
Nov’ 2013

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