Throughout the year, a constant trickle of pilgrims come to Pushkar to pay their respects at the temple of Brahma, to make their ritual baths from the ghats – the broad steps that lead down to the sacred lake – or to set afloat on the waters at sunset their oil lamps and offerings. The small town keeps up this sedate pace all year, until the month of Kartik arrives. Then, shortly before the November full moon Pushkar is briefly inundated with activity as thousands of visitors gather to celebrate the largest livestock fair in India.
For about ten days, the population of this small town, squeezed between the hills and the desert, swells from around 15,000 to nearly a quarter of a million. From the farthest corners of Rajasthan come men in turbans with neat moustaches, and women in their colourful saris, all drawn to Pushkar to take part in the sacred rituals that season the fair with spirituality and, of course, to enjoy the fun and carnival atmosphere, to meet old friends and make new ones at this great traditional festival.
At the heart of the fair is still the traditional buying and selling of camels, but today other livestock are on sale - horses, cows and goats. And not just livestock: you'll find necklaces from Naguar, rugs from Merta and and fabrics from Jodhpur, saddles and every last household utensil that you can think of, all there to entice the crowd. There's no doubt that they've come to do business, but there's time for pleasure, too, and there are dances, hard fought camel races between the dunes and even beauty pageants of the desert creatures, who parade decked out in their finery by their owners for the occasion.
They say that during the days of the fair all the gods visit Pushkar and bless the devotees, which explains why so many come to join in and, why so few miss the opportunity to wash away their sins with a ritual bath in the sacred lake under the light of the full moon.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air India, and Jet Airways all fly direct from Heathrow to Delhi, where it is possible to get an onward flight to Jaipur, the nearest airport to Pushkar. If you prefer an all-in deal, PushkarCamelFair offers a package that includes accommodation in luxury tents and activities such as balloon flights over the camel camp in the sand dunes.
The Pushkar Fair will take place in 2010 from around November 12th to 21st.
In 2011, it will be from November 1st to 10th.
Where to stay
Whatever type of accommodation you are looking for, you'll need to reserve well in advance as visitors will be travelling from around the world and the hotel offer in Pushkar is not particularly abundant. The Pushkar Palace is considered the best hotel, but an interesting and less conventional alternative is the Royal Desert Camp, an entire village of luxury tents set on the sands of the desert.