The camels of Pushkar
20 Dec 2011
Hundreds of camels are tethered over a broad, low valley. Tents gradually emerge from the haze; they dot the landscape, low regular triangles counterpointing the tall animals. Some men are already sitting, hunched, talking and smoking. There is little movement yet; but the sun appears and rapidly builds enough energy to penetrate the dust and the smoke of the early fires.
I wander, tentatively at first, with more certainty as I am greeted with smiles. I ask if I can take photographs.
"Yes", they nod with the peculiar Indian nod, moving the head sideways rather than backwards and forwards.
The pace accelerates. Men and boys take camels to the drinking troughs. The women scamper round gathering dung for the fires.
The men are slim and hard, black-skinned, many white-haired, attractive in white shirts and sarongs. They wear turbans, some white, some orange or yellow. They make me wait while they twist their moustaches and light their pipes.
There are tall camels and short ones, stocky, some slim as greyhounds and some solid as carthorses. Short hair, long hair; groomed, tattooed and tasselled; clipped, curled and combed.
More camels arrive. I move out to photograph a herd on the move. Shouts of herders and a few anxious hands encourage me out of the way. I try to talk to the men, I gesture and tell them what fine camels they have; they laugh. They enjoy their images on the screen on the back of my camera. They lavish care; they comb their animals, paint them and clip their hair in patterns. This is an important event.
I walk back in the late afternoon. It is hotter. It is also dustier from the arrival of more camels and the continual shuffling and moving of the ones already there. Fires are stoked, dung is added, tea is brewed. Camels are hobbled and the men light their pipes. The sun sets and the camels, tents and turbans meld again into the haze.