Each year, over 300,000 people and 50,000 animals descend upon the desert state of Rajasthan in India to celebrate the Pushkar Camel Fair - a feast for the eyes, senses, and wanderlusting spirit.
The Pushkar Camel Fair essentially creates a town overnight, playing host to camel herders who are looking for a chance to trade and sell camels - a hot commodity in the desert. However, this is much more than just a camel trading fair, as it draws holy men, snake charmers, merchants, and colorful dance troupes to the area year after year, creating quite the spectacle. The festival is spectacular, in particular, due to the beautiful colors of the costumes of desert nomads and various inventive competitions.
The festival occurs yearly during the days around the autumnal full moon, according to the Hindu calendar. In 2014 it will take place from October 26 - November 3.
The Sights and Rituals
The festival takes place on the banks of the Pushkar Lake, an oasis in the middle of the desert. The lake is considered sacred according to the legend of Lord Brahma dropping a lotus flower on a demon, thereby forming the lake. During the festival, the lake waters are said to absolve the sin of anyone who takes a dip during the dawn.
Front and center is, of course, the camel trade. As the price of oil goes up in India, camels only become a more sought-after, less pricey alternative. Tribal people also rely on camels not only for transport, but for clothing, meat, milk, and even fuel in the form of burning camel dung.
In order to make the camels even more appealing, they are dressed in colorful costume and bangles. There is even a camel beauty pageant, as well as camel races and a competition wherein the camel is tested to see how many people it is willing to carry at once before kicking and bucking the riders off.
Beyond camel-oriented activities, the camel fair is also much loved amongst visitors who come to see competitions such as the longest mustache, the bridal competition, and turban-tying contest. There are also colorful merchant booths selling various cloths, jewelry, and of course delicious food.
Additionally, there are carnival rides including a common sighting - ferris wheels. Additionally there is a "cage of death" ride, where cars and motorbikes swirl around each other on an open-air cement course, attempting not to hit one another.
For a lovely view of the festivities, join the wandering sadhus who gather along the dunes at sunset to watch the beauty below.
Attending the Festival
The closest major city to Pushkar is New Delhi. From there, one can take a train to Ajmer railway station, or even take a taxi the full 250 miles between Pushkar and New Delhi - try haggling as the cost can be surprisingly low, even for a journey that long.
From Ajmer, it's possible to bus in the additional 30 miles or so. It also only runs about $2 (be sure to haggle, of course) to take a rickshaw the rest of the way down the winding roads.
Accommodation tends to fill up fast, but home stays are often available. Locals may also have tents and barns on offer. Accommodation may be basic, but the experience of attending this colorful and spiritual festival will only be made richer by the full immersion.

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