Location: Pushkar, Rajasthan, India
Dates: 9 to 17 November. The festival concludes on the full moon of the Hindu lunar month of Kartika.
Rajasthan’s most famous festival is less and less about the eponymous camels and more about a rollickin’ good time, though the dunes outside of Pushkar are still a sight (and a smell) to behold when the cameleers come to town. Drawing in 50,000 camels and 200,000 people, the fair is ostensibly a time when Rajasthani farmers gather to buy and sell their camels, cattle and horses – most of the trading, however, is completed in the days leading up to the fair. When the festival proper begins, the camels go to the outer as moustache competitions and sporting events take centre stage. For the camels it’s a time of lounging about the dunes, riding visitors through the grounds and participating in races and dance (yes, dance) competitions.
For each of the seven days of the festival proper, there’s a programme of day and evening events, most taking place in the mela (festival) ground, and some out in the camel or cattle exhibition grounds (the number of cattle at Pushkar actually exceeds camels).
Visitors are embraced and incorporated into the fair, with events such as tugs-of-war or kabaddi matches pitting Indians against foreigners, and a turban-tying contest purely for foreign visitors.
Outside the mela ground, there’s a fairground-cum-market, where you can buy the finest of camel or human decorations before taking a spin on a Ferris wheel for a view over the vast expanse of camels.
If you prefer to see camels rather than people, the time to visit Pushkar is in the days before the festival. Trading has no set starting date, though cameleers usually begin to arrive about one week before the festivities commence. Many camel traders head home at the beginning of the festival but you’ll still find thousands of camels on the dunes throughout the event.
Many of the tented camps that spring up around Pushkar offer camel-pulled carts on which to tour the grounds, or you can simply stroll about pursued by the gypsy women, sadhus and snake charmers convinced that you want to photograph them – expect to part with a few rupiah for the pleasure.
Essentials: During the fair, accommodation prices in Pushkar can be up to 10 times the normal rate. Dozens of tented tourist camps are erected around town for the fair, but you will still need to book a bed well ahead of time.
Local attractions: Pushkar is a holy Hindu town and Kartika is a time of pilgrimage, so head to Pushkar Lake to view the faithful. Pushkar’s Brahma Temple is the only temple in India dedicated to Lord Brahma.
More info: Pushkar Camel Fair Office (+91 14581 2772914); Rajasthan Department of Tourism (www.rajasthantourism.gov.in).
The photographer Mimi Chakrabarti is an avid traveller and yoga practitioner. A mother of two young adults, she home schooled her children through a travel-and-learn program. Mimi is co-founder of SoulPurpose, a new venture that takes women on adventure travel.
This article first appeared in www.lonelypanet.com in September 2012.