Going to the Fair

Pushkar Camel Fair (Seven) by Carey Winfrey

For years, I’d heard India’s Pushkar Camel Fair described as a photographic cornucopia. So when some friends announced more than a year ago they were heading to Rajasthan, India at fair time, in early autumn, I urged them to add Pushkar to their itinerary. I pointed out that in addition to the fair, Pushkar is one of Hinduism’s holiest sites, a beautiful city surrounding a pristine lake that attracts pilgrims from all over the subcontinent. I think my friends were skeptical but they agreed to a visit. Mistake.

Not long before they arrived, in an effort to crack down on corruption and illegal cash holdings, India’s government announced the complete elimination of two denominations of currency. As consumers raced to to exchange a limited number of their banned bills for legal tender, banks were overwhelmed, ATMs emptied and commerce ground to a halt; even the sale of necessities like milk and bread plummeted. As for the 2016 camel fair, it was reduced to heat and dust. My despairing friends described the scene there as a few bedraggled camels tended by even fewer disgruntled sellers. And no buyers.

 

So when my wife and I scheduled our own trip to India this past October, we felt obliged, for the sake of our misguided (by us) friends, to include Pushkar on our own itinerary. I’m ever so glad we did.

We had been told the best time to visit the fair was a day or two before it officially opened and before it got overrun with photographers as well as fairgoers. Good advice as it turned out.

We arrived two days early, after a five-hour drive from Jodhpur (the city that gave it’s name to Britain’s distinctive riding breeches), and hurried to the fairgrounds just as the sun began tilting toward the horizon.

What a scene! Camels, camels and more camels. I had seen these strange, beguiling beasts before, of course—in zoos and other venues, in singles and pairs. But I had never seen camels in such profusion—virtual herds as far as the eye could see. Camels eating, camels drinking, camels horsing around, baying, looking bemused, becalmed and anything but bewildered. In addition to more camels than I had ever even contemplated, there were crowds of men, women and children relishing a camel-themed amusement park that included beauty contests (for camels) and balloon rides (for fairgoers). And everywhere I turned, it seemed, there were photographs to be taken. I sometimes felt I couldn’t press the shutter fast enough.

 

And as the days progressed, more and more photographers competed to get the best shots, getting in each other’s “captures” of men in turbans feeding camels, grooming camels, appraising camels, haggling over camels, selling camels, buying camels and herding camels. (Some may have even been smoking Camels.) Men and women were selling everything from trinkets to Triscuits and, odd though it struck me, women were collecting pellets of camel manure to dry in the sun and sell as fuel. Children ran loose, chasing drones, riding in camel carts and making dromedary mischief.

In total we were there—sunrise and sunset—for parts of four glorious days. By the time we left, I felt I’d seen enough camels to last me a lifetime, a conviction that persisted for several hours. Editing my camel pictures was the most fun I’ve had since taking them.