The Colors of Pushkar
India’s Premier Camel & Horse Fair
The morning is arriving at Pushkar ka Mela. Camels, horses, cattle, natives, and tourists begin bartering for a morning drink and a place in the sand. It is the time of year to admire India’s finest herd animals. The Pushkar Fair is a ten-day fortnight event held from the Kartik ekadashi to Kartik Poornima, the full moon day (the 15th) of Kartik (October–November) in the Hindu calendar. Animals begin to arrive just after Dilwali, the Festival of Lights. It attracts tourists from around the world as well as being an important highlight to India’s livestock trade.
Pushkar is one of India’s oldest cities. Revered by natives for its religious significance and ornate temples, Pushkar rests on the shores of Pushkar Lake, in the State of Rajasthan, India. The Fair is positioned in a large dry river basin; the pebbled terrain is quickly pummeled as the legacy of Pushkar begins. It is a time to meet up with breeders from northern Rajasthan, Punjab and other India States. It is a time to view decorated camels and a new crop of Marwari.
Anish Gajjar, equestrian extraordinaire and co-founder of the Equestrian Club of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, India, comes to Pushkar every year to buy and sell horses. This year he has brought horses to sell and is in the market for horses for several clients. Surrounded by sabled sands and emerald tents, he has come prepared for this year’s event. Gajjar smiles, “I arrived on November 1, set up my tent and occupied the space for the horses to arrive the next day. That night was simply amazing under the stars. I slept out in the open under a mosquito net with the half moon over me, horses all around and the aroma of people cooking their food on stones set as stoves using firewood and horse dung for cooking fuel.”
The next morning, Gajjar is up early. “Mornings are cool and fresh. People get about doing their thing, watering their horses, getting ready for the day. Waking up, I go down to the tea stall for a cup of tea and meet some other breeders there who have just woken up, people busy with their morning activities; someone taking their horse for a drink or a ride, others clearing out their camps and getting ready for visitors during the day. Then I go back to my hotel room in Pushkar town where my luggage is parked and I shower, have breakfast, charge my phone and leave again for the Fair.”
With his easy demeanor and signature hat, Gajjar arrives back to the fairgrounds. “Inquires come in for my horses. I meet up with prospective buyers and haggle. Once free, I move around the Fair with other friends checking out horses worth picking up or exchanging for my stock. Along the way I meet lots of breeders, traders, tourists and friends.”
This year Gajjar brought along Zubedia (aka Zuby) a Marwari mare belonging to fellow equestrian Virendra Kankariya. Riding Zuby through the fairgrounds, he is able to spot several camps that are selling quality horses. With her copper-penny coat, Zuby stirs keen interest; prospective horse breeders and nearby stallions take notice of her beautiful Marwari sashay. After an enthusiastic ride around the grounds, Gajjar returns her to his camp for a rest while he inspects the fairgrounds by foot.
Walking through the sands of Pushkar is exhilarating…and tricky. Watch out for the occasional dropping, a natural occurrence at livestock gatherings. The fairground is an immense congregation of people and animals; tethered camels chewing away at their cud, foals anxious for their next meal and sultry stallions in-waiting. The livestock has been adorned with elaborate bells, fancy tassels, fine jewelry, gilded mirrors and colorful beads to intrigue prospective buyers. The air is filled with the ambience of dromedary moans, cattle moos, and equine neighs, as well as their mixed aromas. Stopping by enticing vendor tents, Gajjar decides to purchase new tack for his stallion, Nawaab; a new English saddle, headstall, reins and green saddle blanket. Pushkar attracts quality leather and textile vendors, at discount prices.
Pushkar Fair covers about one square mile. Gajjar explains, “Pushkar town has two ways to get in, on one end of it is the mela (fair) ground where the animals are camped. One can enter the mela ground through four different access routes; one from the main road, one from the town, one near the stadium and one from a side avenue.” Tents are rented for the event, but the event is free to the public. There are no fees to buy and sell livestock.
Finding the right horse is essential to Gajjar’s success as a horseman. His equine expertise has awarded him a global reputation as ‘Horse Man of India’. He is in his element at Pushkar. He has waited all year for this event and relishes the time spent in the midst of India’s finest equines. To purchase a horse, it must meet his strict standards: disposition, conformation, condition, color, and price. It’s alright if the horse is untrained. As a horse trainer, Gajjar shines, “Training is an issue that I sort out later after I buy the horse.”
Moving through hundreds of equines, he carries his measuring stick. It is a stick he fashioned himself to measure the height of a horse. Gajjar lifts the rod into view, “The stick is my own design. It’s made of aluminum pipe with a folding wooden stick (round, in two semi-circle halves) inside. The wooden stick opens up into double and measures up to 17 hands. I always use it when buying a horse.” Disguised as a gentleman’s walking stick, it is a handy gadget for a professional horseman.
At the end of the day Gajjar can be found at his camp, removing sand from his boots. The evening brings tourists searching for Gajjar who anxiously greets them and welcomes them to his multi-colored canopy. He will be their guide and explains the traditions and dynamics of the Fair. They are intrigued by the Fair’s gritty beauty, passionate mysticism and calm chaos. It is a trip they will always remember and Gajjar makes their visit worthwhile. “I get a lot of foreign tourists visiting my camp. They want to understand the way Indian horse markets work. I know the market trends and at the same time can take them around safely and translate when needed.”
As the Fair comes to an end, Gajjar finds time to say goodbye to cherished old and new friends. “Over ten days in Pushkar, I managed to sell six horses and bought three new ones,” he grins. A challenging work environment for some, but not for Gajjar, who knows every nook and cranny of Pushkar. His memories and essence will remain – until he returns again next year.
Pushkar means blue lotus flower in Sanskrit – a flower with robust petals of decorated camels, prancing horses and haggling men. Pushkar is the epitome of livestock Fairs; ancient temples, mystic aromas and exotic traditions enamored with natural beauty. If you are traveling to Pushkar next year, visit Anish Gajjar’s camp. He will guide you through the Pushkar sea, introduce you to the intrinsics of India’s horse industry and take you on a voyage you will never forget.
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Hailed as India’s greatest tribal gathering, Pushkar Fair is one of the world’s largest camel fairs, and apart from buying and selling of livestock it has become an important tourist attraction, drawing thousands of tourists.
Pushkar Fair 2012 : 20-28 Nov. 2012
Pushkar Fair 2013 : 9-17 Nov 2013
Pushkar Fair 2014 : 30 Oct.- 6 Nov 2014
Pushkar Fair 2015 : 18-25 Nov 2015
Photography by Uzair Kasbati and Manthan Mehta
Gina McKnight is a children's literature author, freelance writer, and poet, who lives in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains which promote inspiration and passion for her creative writing. A life-long lover of the written word and a graduate of The Institute of Children's Literature, Gina is a sponsor and facilitator of writing contests in Ohio and in India.