Text and photos by Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times
On the sand dunes bordering Pushkar where thousands of camels and horses are traded every year, 12-year-old Sanjini is flocked by a group of DSLR-carrying foreigners. They want to photograph her because of her light-green eyes and her tribal outfit. She obliges, but sets her condition – `10 per click. “Don’t take my photo without paying me,” she shouts.
Sanjini, who belongs to the nomadic Kalbelia tribe, explains his demand. The people with big cameras who click her photos, she says, earn a lot from that, and hence she and her family should also get a part of the money.
Though the week-long Pushkar Mela is internationally popular for what’s known to be the largest camel fair in the world, residents feel that along with the animal trading what adds to the splendour of the event is amalgamation of different cultures.
The sleepy town of Pushkar, around 140km from the state capital Jaipur, is pushed out of its slumber during the fair as animal trading and religious and commercial activities mingle with each other, they say.
A few metres away from Sanjini, Sukaram and his two friends sit by a bonfire and smoke marijuana on the last day of the fair.
Walking for seven-eight days with four camels and traversing around 180km, these three camel traders came to Pushkar from their village in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district. But to their disappointment, their camels didn’t sell. They await the disheartening return journey.
And, about a kilometre or two away from where the likes of Sanjini and Sukaram were settled in their temporary tents, tourists enjoy hot-air balloon rides and camel safaris. Further into the town, its narrow lanes appear to be uninterrupted market places – selling handicrafts, tribal artefacts, traditional dresses, leather products, jewellery, and shoes among other things.
Moreover, the 52 ghats surrounding the holy lake, around which the town has developed, sees a swarm of pilgrims who arrive to take a religious bath in it.
There are a large number of tourists who have come to see the camel fair and other exotic things related to animal trading. In addition to that, there are tourists who have come to take the holy dip in the lake and perform puja on the ghats,” says Raj, a 50-year-old man from Makrana, who has been running a winter-clothing store in Pushkar for the last ten years.
Pushkar, developed around the holy lake, plays an important role in Hindu theology and mythology with associations with both Shiva and Brahma.
But, even as Pushkar Mela maintains itself as a happening tourist attraction, many feel that the identity of the town is gradually changing because of the out-and-out commercial treatment of the event.
“With every passing year, the Mela is becoming more of a commercial venture. The calm and serene town which Pushkar otherwise is, gets erased suddenly during the Mela,” says an ITBP jawan, who stayed for eight years in Pushkar (from 2003 to 2010).
(This report was published in the Jaipur edition of the Hindustan Times on November 8, 2014)