It's 6:30 am and we're sitting on the bus waiting for the tour members to settle up their bar tabs from the last two nights of 'glamping' here in the Thar dessert of Pushkar. We have stayed in large canvas tents, with twin beds, and adjoining flush toilets and showers (with hot water between 7 and 8 o'clock). The bedding provided was over-the-top. 2 very heavy comforters and a very soft blanket. In fact, the comforters were so heavy (maybe stuffed with camel hair?) that I had to discard one, in order to be able to roll over.
The peacock is India's national bird, and it is illegal to shoot or harm them. We have seen quite a number of them around the Puskar limits, amongst the wattle walls, and crude cement homes of the poorer people on the outskirts of town. Peacock feather fans are sold to tourists in the larger centres of Jaipur, Delhi, Mumbai, and Goa, but the prices have risen with the times and now they want $20 to $50 Cdn. When I bought mine it was maybe $2, several years ago.
A lost opportunity, we've just been told: our guide had suggested that we all put in $10-$20 to purchase a camel on the first day, then sell it on the second day for a profit. BUT, it all depends on how many camels show up for the fair. The advertising says 50,000, but each year these days, less arrive. Our guide figures maybe only 20,000 this year. And so with less stock, prices rise as the days go on, and fewer camels arrive. Apparently we could have made a profit this year. BUT what if we couldn't have sold it in one day? Who would take it home, and feed it?
So....we have seen more camels than I ever knew existed. Camel carts, baby camels, herds of camels, camels dressed in colourful nets of finery, camel bells, camel harnesses, camel feed, camels at sunset, camels at sunrise, camels working, camels lounging, and saddled camels to take each of us for a ride in the big fairgrounds.
Dust everywhere from the talc-like sandy soil. Horses of all descriptions, but mainly Wazeri horses with unusually pointed inward tipped ears. Pure black and pure white claim the highest prices. The white mares are ridden by grooms during the wedding ceremonies, and the black horses are important for selling off horseshoes to people to keep away the 'evil spirits'! Crazy horse riders racing their mounts at breakneck speed up and down the sandy fairgrounds to show off their steeds to obtain the highest price for sales. At one point I stepped the wrong way, and created a crowd inspired collective gasp as two horses bore down on me. The white dhoti clad group of men assembled behind me found it most amusing.
A film was being shot in the midst of all the chaos, with dancing girls, men with horse costumes around their waists, and a loud processional 'band' of drummers and extra loud tooting horns, preceding a palanquin. We were in the midst of it all, and riding our camels when they entered the fairgrounds, scaring the animals, and making any conversation impossible.
So, as Sharon remembers, I had previously had a very uncomfortable camel ride last trip out into the dessert, so was not intending to ride again. However, these camels had double saddles, for two people to ride together, on fully padded frames. Unlike my previous experience with the long brass saddle horn which poked my abdomen with every camel step, leaving a 2 week bruise, this time, I clambered up behind Brian, and had a great time with our feet in rope stirrups to hold us in place more easily. The tricky bit with camel riding is the technique of holding on with every muscle while leaning back as horizontally as possible during the getting up, and the dismounting, of the camel's rising and laying down. This was very tricky with double riders and especially with Brian's backpack between us. But we managed, and now I know that it really can be fun, and doesn't have to be a punishment.
We walked through the camel drivers' encampments, got to take lots of photos, and ask all the questions we could think of to the owners and their families, through our interpreter guide. We headed up a hill amongst many camels to watch the sunset and to get a view out over the whole dusty, hazy, twilit scene, while being harassed continually by aggressive hawkers, and being serenaded by a gypsy couple - her with a nasally voice, and him on a folkloric sarod-type 3 stringed, bow played instrument.
We were constantly harangued by Muslim venders, to the point of my purchasing some garnets simply to be rid of the constant talking in my ear for over an hour as we walked along. And I wasn't even one of the most harried members of our group.
We went to the only Brahma temple in the world, or so we were told, and I did puja for everyone I could think of. There were deities of Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, Brahma, and others, with hundreds of pilgrims. Then we went to a lake where no photos were allowed, to do puja for anyone who has passed away. We joined the throngs in the main Pushkar market, and enjoyed lemon sodas on the rooftop patio of the Rainbow Restaurant, while others continued shopping through the streets.
It was all very hectic, exhilarating, exhausting, and entertaining. It was good to be in a group. Tomorrow we head out to the Ranthambhore Tiger Preserve.