If you ever travel to India, try your hardest to time it around the annual Pushkar camel fair. Not only does it take place in Rajasthan – one of my favourite areas of India, which includes Udaipur, Jaipur, Agra, and Jodphur – it is about as colourful as India gets.
From Jaipur airport, be prepared for a 2-½ hour hair-raising ride along the highway to Pushkar. My husband and I encountered close shaves with oncoming trucks, camel carts, and cars driving up the wrong side of the road, despite the concrete wall separating the lanes. To quote a local, “In India you must have good horn, good brakes, and good luck.”
Also be prepared for your accommodation not living up to expectations. The supposedly 5 star Swiss-made tents at Pushkar’s Royal Desert Camp were anything but 5 star! After trekking through scorching, bur-filled sand in the heat of the day to our tent, we were greeted with lumpy mattresses.
Oh, and be prepared to become a vegetarian teetotaller for the duration of your stay. I hadn’t done my research, so I was unaware that Pushkar is a holy town where alcohol and meat are forbidden. Think of it as a health camp and don’t make the same mistake we did by giving your driver money to buy contraband beer from a distant ‘wine shop’ (an odd name for a shop that doesn’t actually sell wine). He bought himself a bottle of cheap whiskey with the change and disappeared for two days.
Luckily, the centre of town is closed to cars during the fair, so we didn’t need our driver. Instead, we relied on the camel cart drivers to ferry us across the desert each day. Well, ‘rely’ is perhaps too strong a word. The first driver we hired promised he’d return to collect us in four hours after we paid him for the return trip. He never returned. It probably had something to do with the inflated tourist price he fleeced from us, the equivalent to a week’s normal wage. He most likely took the rest of the week off.
The centre of Pushkar was colourful and chaotic. Hindu pilgrims immersed themselves in the filthy water at the ghats surrounding the holy lake. Waves of people visited the many surrounding temples. The daily schedule at the Mela Ground offered everything from camel races to moustache competitions and Indian bride line-ups. There were Indian holy men, hawkers, five-legged holy cows, Rajasthani women in beautifully decorated saris, camel traders donning bright turbans, and thousands of camels. Due to the holiness of Pushkar and the general hospitality of Indians, the only hostility we encountered was from a stoned, dreadlocked, European hippie in his sixties dressed as an Indian holy man. Curiously no one was asking him for blessings.
So, Pushkar was not a trip without incident. But that’s India. You’ve got to love it.