Time for a camel break. Whether blogspot will cooperate with text around photos remains to be seen.
The first foray into the fairgrounds is on a camel cart rather awkward and difficult to climb into. It takes a half hour to get there, four people on a cart, bumping along like peas on a drum. Children begin appearing out of nowhere to beg for money and shampoo. They are from the gypsy camp relegated to the outskirts of the fairgrounds. Pleas of “hello, hello” vary with “mama, mama.” A couple of them play Frere Jacques on their screechy little string instruments. Older and bigger hawksters start pestering us.
The small town of Pushkar has an annual religious festival devoted to the god Brahma, along with the famous livestock market.
Camels take precedence; horses and cattle are a minority. Thousands of people milling on the fairgrounds have staked out their spaces for tents and the animals they want to sell or trade. Many come from remote villages; some have never seen foreigners like us before. All the camels I could ever imagine, extending to the horizon. This desert area has been drought-stricken for three years. Cement pools here and there hold water for many purposes. Presumably it is well boiled for the ubiquitous chai.
One day at 6:30 a.m. is my specially requested sunrise camel ride. This is what I came for. Digestive tract slightly more under control. On the spot financial calculations somehow result in charging me double the hourly rate. Lack of coffee probably made me acquiescent. Impassive camel tender Sadao leads me and Rahma the camel toward the familiar fairgrounds again. Solitary men here and there are squatting in the semi-darkness, enjoying a certain morning-type relief. Women seem to be invisible. Beware of thorny bushes along the track so not to rip your legs to shreds. Some camels are mean that way, deliberately rubbing up against injurious obstacles. But Rahma seems as oblivious as Sadao. Likely they didn’t have any coffee, either. Light from the sun slowly filters through the haze.
Sadao signals, time to turn back. Along the track he temporarily abandons me. This is more like it. I’m free to choose my forks on the trail, having figured out the steering mechanism. I’m sure the man recognizes an experienced camel rider. Meanwhile, the temple of Savitri, wife of Brahma, glows on a hill in the rising light. Glancing over my shoulder I glimpse a back fling of clothing as Sadao does what comes naturally onto the sand. Several tractors are warming up and zooming off to work (in the fields irrigated by our waste water?). They are playing pop Indian music at earsplitting decibels. Rahma and I are in synch. Sadao catches up to me just before we reach tent city. Hawksters are at me brandishing photos. They are rather good; fast turnaround.
A dozen of us go for a sunset camel ride, in a different direction. My camel is gratifyingly colourful but the local photographer-hawksters are mysteriously absent. We stop near a nomad tent with goats to watch the obligatory sunset. One camel handler lights up a cigarette. We see his camel likes to inhale the cigarette smoke. Puts his head down, sniffs heartily, and then tosses his head back in apparent enjoyment. Me with dead camera batteries. Is this how Camel cigarettes began?
Reading the newspapers later, we learn that some camel vendors will turn their unsold camels loose (and they did). In this economy the price of feed has escalated and they’ve lost the potential income from a sale. They can’t afford to take the animals back home and maintain them. It’s said they love their camels and treat them like family. Very very sad.
© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2010