This is that point of time in the year when the wind changes its direction, weather becomes cooler, air starts chilling, when the herdsmen of Reburies, Raika and Jojawa tribe of Rajasthan, covers miles by foot with their 15-70 camels to reach the annual camel fair at Pushkar.
The dawn of the camel fair looks hopeful
Camels of various breeds are brought here in marching columns at least a week before kartik purnima, the day of the full moon on which innumerable Hindus take a holy dip in the lake at Pushkar in the wee hours.
The herdsmen starts entering the city soon after deepawali with their cattle especially camels. The cattle ground is divided in two parts by a road towards the town. The majority of camels are camped on the foothill of ratnagir hill and the other side of ground has camels along with horses from Punjab & Haryana.
The herdsmen used to travel with their whole family and camp at these grounds, sell or buy cattle, do their yearly shopping of winter clothes, ornaments for women, footwear etc.
Urbanization and government policy have impacted it, now only men travel with their respective cattle and group of men from same community travel together.
Men exclusively dominate Camel trading. One of the jobs for local women is to constantly circle the fairgrounds collecting camel dung and take it to a 'dung shop' where it is laid out and dried. The camel owners and other fairgoers buy back the dung as fuel for cooking.
Joy of seeing open ground and many more of same race makes the camel excited and they start galloping and running for a moment and in the next moment they are quite, follow the line, march in a column…may be the realty of not returning as a lot strikes them…after all they do have heart and knows to express it as well…
The herdsmen make their camel look good, to attract best prices for them. They shave their hair, mow their mane, tint their head with henna and tattoo their butt with signs that are specific to each tribe.
Individual markings on the camel's face identify the town or village they hail from, as well as the trader or breeder. The price of a camel is around 15000 rupees and may even increase to 20000.
Buyers always check the camel's teeth, a sign of good pedigree and good health as well as his youthfulness. The camel drivers spend hours negotiating the best price for their animals.
Everywhere, we see them sitting on blankets at the feet of their flocks, piercing the monotony of tints of hundreds of brown camel silhouettes with their brightly colored turbans, which are seen circulating around the plain.
The negotiations are passionate and relentless. Suddenly, the tone rises, one of them pretends to abandon the negotiations, but is immediately called back with a higher bid launched by his interlocutor.
Between two steps, they drink tea, smoke shilom, discuss while looking at the horizon and then, large bundles of money are taken from the pockets of their baggy trousers, which are counted and recounted, and the deal seems to be done.
Even from a distance, their business is exciting to watch and even if we do not hear or understand anything, it is easy to guess the course of it by their gestures, facial expressions, pitch of sound and attitudes, which couldn't be more explicit.
Pushkar fair is integral part of a socio-economy system, where all the various groups and tribes depend upon each other for their existence. The herdsmen walks miles to sell and buy camel, the bhand’s camp close to them and known for their entertaining skills, the kalbeliya’s for their snake charmer dance, the Gadolia lohars (blacksmith) sets shops to showcase their products.
Tethering is a process of taming, disciplining and more than everything submitting to the lordship of the herdsman. Heart cries and rejects to see it but the camel have to go through it.
The semi-nomadic herdsmen consider their relationship with the animals as sacred and they are unique among camel herders.
The innocent face of thousands of camels and hundreds of their keepers who assemble here in their colorful garbs and twisted headgears, one can see the Joy and agonies.
These days many more female camels are being sold, the higher prices they command compared to male camels is due to increased demand for camel milk as well as their added value for breeding, for milk, used on farms or as transport and some time for meat too.
Time is changing, so the tradition. Traditionally it was a taboo to sell female camels, considered the life-blood of a herd, but these days even they are sold for slaughter. Now we’re at a stage here where in Pushkar most of the camels are actually sold for meat.
Pushkar fair is the only time of year when camel breeders and herdsman earn cash income in the desert state. The herders who are left are mostly from the older generation and things are getting changed and are only getting harder.
Both, the camel and his man, face an uncertain and bleak future. Once the camel gets eliminated in the process of the survival of the fittest, the herdsman’s life becomes more miserable. He is being hardly left with good options, other than that of migrating and becoming an unskilled laborer in an urban area.
The camels are tethered to the ground by the ropes and their paws are tied, by the respective herdsman so that they don’t mix with other camp. It seems the herdsmen are tethered to the fairground to comeback every year.
Waterholes and wells were the place where most of the talking, sharing and meeting happen. May be the sold ones too meet at such places…
I have been regular to camel fair for some time, my eyes look for familiar ones and their story comes back in front of my eyes, I see the same joy, pain, tiredness but as the time passes, their hopes are turning into a mirage.
As dusk falls on them, both huddle around fires and lament the downfall of their long walk, together they have walked so far, don’t have anyone to pass the baton.
Sunsets are not a rare commodity they come and go every night so I compare you not to a sunset for you come everyday.
These herdsman have caught into the rut of times, maybe it’s their last generation to walk miles for this fair in the hope of surviving for few more generation. It’s very hard to see a young herdsman; maybe it’s the sign…
In spite of these pressures, the pull of the charming fair is irresistible for herdsmen, and they return … every year.