Travel story contributor: Abhinav Singh
The annual fair of Pushkar in Rajasthan attracts devotes, merchants and tourists from all over the world! What once was a simple annual fair meant for buying and selling of cattle has now transformed into a touristy exercise aimed at delighting foreigners with an overdose of culture shock. Of course, I too wanted to know and experience what the hoopla was all about. I arrived late on a winter night and ran straight to a huge stadium to enjoy some cultural programs which included Rajasthani songs and dances, Kathak, ‘hasya sammelan’ (stand up comedy) etc. Then there was also a gimmicky bride competition in which girls of all nationalities except Indians were dressed in Indian bridal attire and catwalked on the stage vying for the ‘Best Bride Title’. It was good to see girls of various nationalities dressed up like an Indian bride. I munched on the freshly roasted groundnuts and sipped the tea in kulhad (mud cup) from the many handcarts that thronged the stadium. Who hates the perfect winter treat? The unique earthy smell and taste imparted by the clay to the tea had a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ feel to it.
Videshi brides at the fair!
Refreshed, I moved out of the stadium and observed many makeshift swings. The swings were regulars like giant wheel, Dragon boat, Merry-go-round, Dragon-train, ‘My fair lady’ etc. What caught my attention was the kitschy ‘murga-dance’ (chicken dance). Did I try it? No I just ‘chickened out’! Then there was a dubious looking magic show running in a makeshift tent. The colorful kitschy posters screamed that ‘Jaadugarni Zareena’ (magician Zareena!) will turn a skimpily clad girl into rose flower/skeleton/a man/a snake/and what not. You name it, you got it! What took the cake was that her picture was photoshopped on a famous Michael Jackson poster from his ‘Dangerous’ days!
Hungry, I zeroed in on the most rustic looking ‘dhabha’ (no fuss..basic restaurant in a tent). I sat on a steel chair and waited for food to arrive on the rough wooden plank. I had ordered a Rajasthani Thali (pre-portioned plate). It was delightful to dig into ‘baati‘ (round balls of dough baked in wood fire), chopped radish, spiced up chilies, dal (lentils) and kadhi. Of course, it tastes best on a chilly winter night. Burp.
The next morning, drum sounds and fancily dressed people distracted me from the roadside pay-what-you-wish magic show. I rushed to the spot to discover people dressed up as Indian mythological characters and animals etc. strutted around in a carnival like fashion to entertain the tourists. My favorite was Lord Krishna spinning a steel plate on a finger and showering flowers from it. Also amusing was the peacock and a snake toting Lord Shiva playing with his damru.
There were women from abroad dressed up as Indian village belles. One of them was sitting pretty in a camel cart complete with bridal frills such as flowers, decoration and a ghoonghat (veil).
The stadium was buzzing with activities of all kinds, some organized, most impromptu such as the ‘baazigar’ show performed by the local artists. There was a family of 4-5 whose livelihood depended on the young girl’s (11-12 year old) skill in performing the typical acts, which included, no prizes for guessing, walking the tight rope, lying down on a table while balancing a bottle on her forehead and stepping off the table sans dropping the bottle. Then there were hawkers,sadhus,local kids,fancily dressed adults amusing foreign tourists.
There were two kinds of shops there: one that caters to the practical needs of the local villagers the other ones aimed at the gullible tourists. Though the villagers still are least bothered about the touristy tag this festival has earned over the years. For them this festival still means business and they are serious about it. So to cater to them a lot of cattle related items were on sale such as camel jewellery, straps, leashes, chains and other such decorating and utilitarian items.
Life as usual!
I also noticed the popular camel art on some of the camels. The hairs of the camels were shaven to give interesting shapes such as mountains, moons. And if giving shapes was not easy then painting on their body in black ink came handy. For me what was icing on the cake was a giant wheel aka a merry-go-round, perhaps going with the theme of the Pushkar fair!
Well, I left Pushkar with dust on my body and fond memories in my mind of this one of its kind festival!