You can experience a country in many ways; to me, one in particular – through the lens of its festivals – stands out the most. Whether it is Christmas, Holi or Eid, a country’s festivals help unveil the stories behind the source of their cultural values and how they influence everyone in the vicinity.
Except, this knowledge is rather ironic, since I took cultural festivities for granted for most of my life. Diwali after Diwali and Holi after Holi (oh, and we celebrated Christmas and Eid too), in spite of being bought up in an Indian family that valued tradition, it wasn’t until I grew up, that I understood the essence (and importance) of it.
Now that I am more inclined towards exploring countries through their festivals, I have developed an increasing affinity for it. Through a close filmmaker friend and various internet strolls, I came across one such festival not too long ago – Pushkar Camel Fair. Think traditionally dressed Rajasthani folks – turban-wearing males and ghagra-flaunting females – celebrating the very core of their culture. Lucky for me, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Yeah India is huge and Rajasthan is a far-away state from Uttar Pradesh, but the wanderluster in me knew I’d figure a way out no matter how short the notice (two days, to be precise).
Organized amid the vast spread of Pushkar’s Thar desert, blanketed by the scenic Aravalli Range, this festival is one to witness in person. Apart from hosting world’s biggest camel trade (cattle and horses too, for that matter), hundreds of local artisans set up small shops and stalls creating a bustling market place for tourists. Spanning to about six kilometres form one end to another, it is possible to rent safaris or camels to journey around. Whether it is local food (dal bhaati) or Rajasthani folk music – here, you can get an authentic taste of north-western culture. Besides, 200,000 tourists who visit Pushkar just to see the festival are to be kept entertained somehow, right?
There are marathons, competitions, sports and games throughout the duration of the festival – some quite silly, yet fun, like moustache competition. Special importance is attached to the fair’s origins, as it closes with the rise of auspicious Kartik Purnima (full moon) when Maha Aarti (prayer) is offered in Brahma temple – the only temple of its kind in India. Hindus from all over India make it a point take a dip in the “pure” Sarovar Lake that the temple surrounds. In fact, nothing beats the site of the sun gracefully setting behind the mountains as its hues reflect on the lake with the background melodies of the aarti energizing the place.
You’d wish for the day to end having explored since the early AM, but evening is where all the fun actually begins. While three well-lit Ferris wheels brighten the night sky, enough for you to spot them from miles away, the fairground itself holds yet another surprise. Voice of Pushkar, a music competition and various cultural performances (music and dance) are held on stage until 11pm. Meanwhile, vendors wind up and prep for the next day.
One long day after the other, this festival is bound to keep you on your toes. Whether it is the intimate interactions with the friendly locals, or the instagramworthy photos you collect, Pushkar Mela will create memories to cherish.
For more information, please visit pushkarmela.org
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