Travel: The pleasure of Pushkar festival of Rajasthan
The desert sands of Rajasthan in India glow with dusty gold at sunset.
The smoke from the campfires transforms the scene into a play of shadows speckled with silhouetted turbans, humps of camels and tents.
The evening breathes in the scent of manure, burnt wood and spices – and the sounds of whistling horses, the snorting of camels and the tinkling of silver anklets.
I am in Pushkar, one of over 200,000 visitors – pilgrims, tribal shepherds, tourists, artists, and camel, cattle and horse traders – as the city celebrates Rajasthan’s largest and most exuberant festival. .
Located in the folds of the Aravalli hills, Pushkar is a small, quiet village for most of the year. But at Kirti Purnama (the new moon) every year, Pushkar activates.
Pushkar Lake is the main stage for the festival exhilaration of Brahma, the mighty creator.
The next morning, I weave through a shifting mass of Hindu pilgrims, tourists, film crews and foreign journalists, to the water’s edge, where groups of saffron-robed priests face the sun. rising as they sing hymns to the sound of drums and weeping conch shells.
Women, fully clothed, sit submerged in the shallows, floating their marigold garland offerings on the surface of the lake.
The men collect the sacred waters in their hands and chant mantras, while raising their palms cupped to the sky. They then reverently drink the water which is said to have miraculous spiritual and physical healing powers.
Sadhus with tangled dreadlocks and handy tridents sit in the lotus position on the banks; some ascetics are completely naked, with gray ash on the face, hair and body.
The sun rises over the lake like a huge blood orange, and the surrounding desert scrubland takes on the color of burnt shadow.
A disembodied voice echoed over a speaker, warning people to keep an eye on their belongings and children, and not to get too close.
No one pays any attention to it.
I make my way through the narrow alleys of Pushkar towards the fairground.
The village women float like benches of butterflies, dressed in shimmering peacock blue, iridescent green, vaporous veils and bright pink and scarlet skirts, their necks, arms and ears adorned with filigree silver jewelry.
Sidewalk vendors sell a screaming cornucopia of goods: bracelets, perfumes, embroidered cloth shoes and even tasseled horse saddles.
Brightly caparisoned camels weave their way through the crowd, pulling wagons mounted with effigies of Brahma and his wife, sitting amicably on swans. Loudspeakers scream film music. Cows, with painted horns and colored skins, are being driven and people tossing coins at their owners.
Puppeteers captivate audiences with traditional music and stories.
Hawkers sell balloons twisted into the shapes of gods and demons, and buskers play their stringed instruments. The noise and confusion are chaotic and exhilarating at the same time.
On the racing arena, camels and horses are prepared for competitions. A young man wearing a T-shirt with “Hard Rock Cafe” printed on the front sits next to me and starts a conversation.
He introduces himself as Jaisingh Rathor and goes on to explain that the horses, now lined up at the other end of the field, are unique to Rajasthan.
Originally bred by the princely family of Jodhpur for the polo field, they are now an integral part of India’s cavalry regiments.
They are small, sturdy, and have ears twisted inward as a hallmark.
He watches curiously as I film the camel parade. The animals go around in circles, like a merry-go-round, their heads reigned tightly to control their pace and direction.
They gradually pick up speed, pushed by the cheers of the crowd.
The Gypsies are said to originate from Rajasthan, from where they deployed to Hungary, Romania, Italy and Spain.
I stop to listen to a group of musicians perform a series of love songs and plaintive lamentations accompanied by the clicking of castanets and riffs of stringed instruments – all strangely reminiscent of gypsy music. Then, a troop of dancers appears.
The women flash the embroidered mirror work in the swirl of their skirts and the men in peacock blue and pink strut turbans as they drum their feet to the rhythm of a tabla.
The dance troupe recreates the pageantry and drama of ancient Rajasthani myths and legends and a woman swinging five terracotta pots stacked on top of each other, dives and swings in a traditional village folk dance.
I leave Pushkar with regret.
It has been four incredible days, with a host of colors, movements, myths and legends all brought together in one of India’s most exuberant and spectacular festivals.
Travel Writers’ Tales is an independent travel articles syndicate. For more information, go online at travelwriterstales.com.