India’s Tilwara Horse & Camel Fair: An Interview with Anish Gajjar, Equestrian Extraordinaire
It’s almost time for the annual Tilwara Horse & Camel Fair, held in southwest Rajasthan, 145 kms from Jodhpur, India’s heartland for Indian breed indigenous horses. The fair commences at the end of India’s ‘Holi’ festival, usually in the month of March, and continues for a fortnight.
Tilwara is a pivotal event for India’s horse calendar and culture. The event consumes the area of the seasonal Luni dry riverbed, adjacent to the small village of Tilwara. The fair is a combination of hoofbeats, dusty whirlwinds and tents. Bovines, equines and cameline inhabit the arid fairgrounds. Exhibitors, horse owners, trainers, and traders place tents strategically around the perimeter of the riverbed, allowing easy navigation through the menagerie of people and animals.
Energy levels are high in anticipation of finding the perfect companion to halter and trailer home. Competitors are anxious to triumph victorious as they enter the many competitions to measure the qualities of their superior entry. Vendors await the customer envying new saddles, bridles and colorful accessories.
The famous Tilwara Horse Show is slated for the last three days of the fair, attracting horse owners from every corner of India. With nearly 3,000 majestic Indian horses represented, the noble steeds come together for an elaborate concentration of intrigue, beauty and demonstration. The aristocratic, indigenous horses of India are exalted, showcasing their royal heritage, smooth gait and grand disposition.
Anish Gajjar, horse trainer, and co-founder of the Equestrian Club of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, is the quintessential equestrian. A charismatic, accomplished and congenial horseman, Gajjar attends Tilwara every year, anticipating the myriad of magnificent horses and the opportunity to connect with India’s finest horsemen. In a recent interview, Gajjar discusses the dynamics, culture and horses of Tilwara.
What draws you to the Tilwara Horse & Camel Fair?
Pushkar in November and Tilwara in March are the 2 major fairs organized in Rajasthan every year. During the winter months, various big and small fairs are organized around the country, but after the Tilwara fair in March, the next big horse fair that comes up is the Pushkar fair in November. So this is the last of the year, and due to hot summers and pouring rains from April to September, not many fairs are organized. This is why one can find good animals worth buying at reasonable prices. Also, the structure and layout of the fair is very well organized. One can pass through and have a wide choice of what one is looking for. Also, for me as an individual, this fair is closer to home at an 8 hour drive, which makes it easier to transport horses to and fro. Also, this is the central point for Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab attracting hoards of buyers and sellers, who find it convenient to visit the fair.
What are your accommodations for the duration of the Fair and how do you tolerate the heat?
Tilwara being a small village does not have hotels. The nearest town is Balotra, which is also a textile centre, and has comfortable accommodation available. This is about 15 kms from Tilwara. Although I stay in a tent right in the middle of the fair with almost 3000 horses tied around me. There are camels and cattle being traded here too.
Rajasthan usually has very little rainfall and most parts of it are arid. During the day, men and animals live in dry heat at the fair. Till a few years back the river Luni used to flow in parts of the riverbed, but now, it has been reduced to a tiny rivulet. However, there is no water shortage at the fair since water tankers are available to provide for the water requirement of thousands of men and animals.
Due to the tents being without any electricity facility, there are no fans or coolers to keep you cool. It becomes impossible to venture out of the tent area between 11am to 5 pm, so I mostly spend time socializing at neighboring tents of breeders and traders between that time. The rest of the time, I’m walking around the entire fair checking out what is selling and what are the going prices. It is also possible that a particular horse may change owners during the same fortnight and maybe available for re-sale. By evening, we invite (horse lover) friends to our tent and have dinner together over interesting conversations of happenings at the fair during the day.
What horse breeds are represented at Tilwara?
Marwari, Kathiawari, Sindhi, Hill Ponies and Crossbreds.
The state government organizes horse-judging competitions. Did you participate in any competitions?
No, I usually prefer not to participate at breed judging events. Being an organizer of breed shows, it wouldn’t be right to enter my own horses in the competition.
What are the categories for competitions and what are the judging criteria?
Competitions include breed shows for Marwari breed of horses and Rewaal Chaal competition. Rewaal is a gaited walk taught to Marwaris. It is said that a rider riding his horse in the rewaal can hold a glass of water steady at a speed of 50 kms per hour and not a drop would spill… the horse is that steady at such a fast speed. The difference as compared to the trot is that the horse walks in parallels instead of diagonals.
Within the breed show, we have several categories like Marwari Stallion, Marwari Colt 2 teeth, Marwari Colt Milk teeth, Marwari Mare, Marwari Filly 2 teeth, Marwari Filly Milk teeth, Best Horse of the Show. The horses here are judged by the conformation standards of the Marwari breed criteria.
Does the Fair attract tourism?
As opposed to Pushkar Fair, where one sees over 100,000 tourists visit the fair within the span of a week, the Tilwara Fair does not attract any tourism. People visiting this fair come solely for the purpose of trading, showing, networking or just to buy or sell something from their stables.
What is the highlight of Tilwara for you as an equestrian?
As an individual, I get to meet breeders from Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat, who all gather at the fair within the fortnight that it has been organized. I also can pick up the right horse at the right price from the Tilwara Fair. Also, staying in a tent for almost a week, 24-7 helps me unwind from the usual routine, meet like-minded horse lovers and stay connected to the activities at the fair at all hours.
Editor’s Note: Images for this article courtesy of Manthan Mehta.
As co-founder of the Equestrian Club of Gujarat, Anish Gajjar plays a key role in promoting quality equine care and management in his community. As an equine enthusiast, Gajjar organizes and sponsors local horse shows and competitions to showcase the splendor and grace of India’s indigenous horses. He organizes endurance rides as per EFI rules with renowned horsemen and horsewomen judging them. Riders from all over India congregate at Ahmedabad for the competitions.
For additional information about India’s indigenous horses, visit the Indigenous Horse Society of India