When it comes to hot air balloon rides, we feel jinxed. When we went to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival with 800 balloons aloft at a time, our flight was cancelled due to unreliable winds. In Turkey our hearts were crushed when the hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia was cancelled due to rain. But at 7am here in Pushkar our basket lifted off the ground and we sailed over town, the festival, and the productive farm lands all around. People waved and children ran along our path. A camel and some cows were frightened and one group ran panicked through a farmer’s field. Rain is unreliable and sparse here, but with wells farmers can grow all sorts of things. Flowers are a speciality of the area. We flew a long time before the sound of the camel festival dimmed and the tranquility of the countryside took over. We landed in an unplanted field and dragged along until we hit a small tree which almost tipped us over. But the pilot told us what to expect and how to brace ourselves and we can finally say we’ve been on a hot air balloon.
It was easiest for me to wrap my mind around the overwhelming experience that is the Pushkar Camel Festival, if I compared it to the Illinois State Fair. IL = cows, pigs, chickens; here - camels, horses, and feral pigs. Fried Snickers bars = sugar cane. Tractor pull - camel race. Cotton candy - cotton candy. Plastic swords, noise makers, sparkly hats - could be found at either venue. Ferris wheels at both, but here there are five to accommodate the massive crowds. 100,000 visitors vs. 500,00 visitors. Quaint - overwhelming.
Although we did not see an impressive amount of camels, we were lucky enough to be here for the closing ceremonies. When we arrived masses of people were sitting in the sand around the arena. Krishan waded through them and lead us past the barriers to the other side where we could sit in the shade on plastic chairs rather than on the ground as the locals were. Pushkar is tourist friendly and no one seemed to mind our break with protocol and orderly behavior as we walked in front of them and strolled through the arena where the show was to take place. Along the way we took photos of the audience, each face more interesting than the next. They seemed delighted that we found them photo worthy.
The show started with hundreds of sari clad dancers who boogied to the traditional music trumpeted over blown out speakers. They were not a well oiled machine and kept glancing at each other for confirmation of the next move. A bit like the high school pom pom squad, nervous at their first state fair performance. Then there was a colorful camel parade with dancers, soldiers, whirling dervishes, dignitaries dressed in their royal best. Some cows with very full udders were led to the middle of the arena. Prize winning perhaps? Some did not take kindly to all the attention and tore away from their handlers and raced toward the crowds. That could have turned into a dangerous stampede, but the crisis was averted. Cowboy types raced camels; then they raced horses. There was a huge tug-of-war between the locals and the tourists. The dark faces around us glowed with joy when their side conquered the visitors. Between each act was lengthy commentary which we could not comprehend of course, and we left before the show ended, but not early enough to avoid the thick crowds who were coming and going in all directions. It was so crowded it felt like my feet left the ground at times and keeping an eye on Krishnan and when it was time to turn was a real challenge. Some group members seemed frightened and it did give me an ominous feeling, but I think that’s because we’re not used to such crowded chaos. No one meant us any harm. They were also trying to get to wherever they wanted to go.
After a lunch break we headed back for more. The crowds continued to be overwhelming and my fanny pack was opened twice by hands who were looking for more than my water bottle, Ken lost a small camera. Maybe a pick pocket, maybe it fell out - definitely a bummer. We were headed to Pushkar Lake to watch the memorial services people arrange with local holy men. It involves buying a candle and setting it afloat in the lake to honor a dearly departed at sunset. We watched from the calm oasis of a hotel terrace. People were bathing and swimming in the murky green water. Lights came on on the buildings surrounding the lake. A tranquil end to an overwhelming experience.
On the walk back we brainstormed on T-shirts they should be selling here:
I got pushed in Pushkar.
I survived the Pushkar camel festival.
And so on.