CAP­TUR­ING THE WAN­DER­ING SOULS OF PUSHKAR

Airports India - - NEWS - TEXT: UMA NAIR PHOTOS: DHEERAJ PAUL

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Dheeraj Paul en­thu­si­as­ti­cally treads on the sands in the desert state of Ra­jasthan, where thou­sands of peo­ple, traders and their camels travel to the small town of Pushkar for the an­nual Pushkar Mela, or the Pushkar Camel Fair , which is di­vined by the wax­ing and wan­ing of the moon.

An as­ton­ish­ing 30,000 camels con­verge on the tiny desert town of Pushkar, for the an­nual fair. While fas­ci­nat­ing, it is a pe­cu­liar sight, and a great op­por­tu­nity to wit­ness an age-old, tra­di­tional In­dian fes­ti­val. The orig­i­nal in­ten­tion be­hind the Pushkar Camel Fair was to at­tract lo­cal camel and cat­tle traders to en­gage in busi­ness dur­ing the holy Kar­tik Purn­ima fes­ti­val, held here, around the time of full moon in the Hindu lu­nar month of Kar­tika.

COW DUNG CAKES AND CAMELS

One of the old­est and largest camel fairs in the world, Pushkar has grown to be­come a de­sired at­trac­tion for for­eign tourists in re­cent years. Cow dung cake fires with dry ro­tis roast­ing, or even lentils cook­ing, camels wait­ing for new masters to own them, no­madic trav­ellers set­ting-up stalls that re­sem­ble a flea mar­ket– to­gether they cul­mi­nate the en­er­gies of this pop­u­lar fair.

When the shades of night fall on the Pushkar Fair, lens­man and men­tor Dheeraj Paul, turns his shut­ter on to the traders who flock the fair in the north­ern desert of Ra­jasthan.

IN­TER­AC­TION OF THE PEO­PLE

“Camels, other live­stock sell­ers and buy­ers come here and in­ter­act ,” says Dheeraj, “It is the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween

peo­ple and the dark si­hou­ettes of the night sky that have al­ways fas­ci­nated me.”

A trader opens his thick chad­dar to ban­ish the dust within his camel stand, qui­etly wait­ing for their master to re­cline. To catch the sil­hou­ette of a pair of camels against the shades of night­fall, is a mo­ment of ten­sile tac­til­ity. Watch­ing women buy ban­gles and trin­klets at the night stall is just as fetch­ing as watch­ing an al­bino horse dancing in rhyth­mic twirls.

CAMEL AND CACTI

“The no­madic traders con­sider the camel as God’s bless­ing,” states Dheeraj. “It browses, eats veg­e­ta­tion that oth­ers don’t, like the arid thorny bushes and cac­tii. The camel doesn’t com­pete for food, but for these no­mads, the camel is the ve­hi­cle of sus­te­nance-it is the plough, car, and trac­tor.”

Dheeraj’s images re­flect the thoughts of Con­fu­cius, who said: “Wher­ever you go, go with all your heart.” These pho­to­graphs, shot by dusk at glis­ten­ing night­fall, dis­play, that the unique­ness of any given place is an amal­gam of not only its indige­nous prac­tices and bor­rowed cus­toms, but also of its past and its present.

LAKE PUSHKAR AND PIL­GRIMS

Any given pho­to­graph tran­scends the sec­tion of place and time with­held within its bor­ders. This suite of pho­to­graphs,

taken over more than a decade, re­veal a win­dow into the Pushkar Fair, which may not last even more than a decade, as young traders do not want to be stuck with an an­i­mal like the camel, in­stead, they as­pire for mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles like the trac­tor.

In that af­ter­math, we will be left with the lake and its nu­mer­ous bathing ghats, where thou­sands of pil­grims would gather to take their holy dip in the sa­cred wa­ters of Lake Pushkar, as re­li­gious chant­ing and peal­ing bells re­sound.

DE­CREAS­ING CAMELS

Ac­cord­ing to Dheeraj, camel numbers have dropped con­sid­er­ably from the ear­lier years. Un­of­fi­cial es­ti­mates state that the num­ber of camels in Ra­jasthan has plum­meted from about 10 lakh in the mid-1990s to fewer than 2 lakh to­day.

The an­i­mals have been be­set with other prob­lems too. The ex­ten­sion of the Indira Gandhi Canal has led to the de­struc­tion of some prime graz­ing ar­eas for camels. By the end of the 1990s, the mar­ket for draft camels (those used for

trans­porta­tion) was also de­clin­ing. The use of mo­tor­ized trans­port has be­come com­mon even in re­mote ar­eas. The Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force too, no longer buys as many camels.

In 2001, it came to light that camels at the fa­mous Pushkar An­i­mal Fair were be­ing sold for slaugh­ter and were even be­ing smug­gled to the Gulf coun­tries and Bangladesh, where there is a high de­mand for camel meat. Fe­male camels, never put up for sale be­fore, are also be­ing sold now, lead­ing to a fur­ther fall in the state’s camel pop­u­la­tion. It is es­ti­mated that about 80 per cent of the camels sold at the Pushkar fair to­day, are sent for slaugh­ter.

The Raikas and the Re­baris, Ra­jasthan’s tra­di­tional camel breed­ing com­mu­ni­ties, have been cam­paign­ing for years to save these an­i­mals.

Ex­perts at the Na­tional Re­search Cen­tre on Camel in Bikaner too have sup­ported the cause.

De­spite their ef­forts, how­ever, districts

like Churu, Sikar, Bharat­pur, Al­war and Udaipur have emerged as cen­tres of camel trade. Here, the an­i­mals are slaugh­tered for their meat and their skin is used for leather prod­ucts like bags and shoes.

The law, which states that the camel is an in­te­gral part of the desert ecosys­tem and a main­stay of the state’s ru­ral econ­omy, stip­u­lates a five-year jail term and a fine for the slaugh­ter of camels. Caus­ing in­jury to the an­i­mals is also a pun­ish­able of­fence.

Only time will tell how long this pageant of live­stock, peo­ple, lights and fires will last. For Dheeraj Paul, Pushkar is about the present day au­then­tic­ity and the al­lure of cus­toms; and with­out camels, Pushkar will never be the same.

While in­ju­ri­ous, smok­ing com­ple­ments tra­di­tional bond­ing in Ra­jasthan

Per­form­ers in com­plete vigour as the hec­tic day comes to an end

Pil­grims sun bathing af­ter a holy dip in Pushkar Lake

The ca­ma­raderie of el­derly folk in the Mela ground, as tourists en­joy camel rides in the back­drop

A woman in tra­di­tional at­tire ac­com­pa­nies her loyal camel down the dusty roads of Pushkar

Early morn­ing raga at the sa­cred Pushkar Lake

Men and women shop for trin­klets at the busy streets of Pushkar

Pushkar Camel Fair hosts a va­ri­ety of an­i­mal trad­ing, in­clud­ing some of the best and rarest species of horses

For­eign tourists cher­ish­ing the joyride at the fair

One can find con­trast now in their cos­tumes, vil­lages can be seen in mod­ern pant & shirts as well

The most spec­tac­u­lar scene of Pushkar Fair just at the golden hours of Dusk

The master with his flock of camels, rolling down to­wards the trad­ing venue at dawn

Prayers to the Almighty

Ru­ral women in veil, avoid­ing eye con­tact

Early morn­ing at Pushkar is a real sight; a bar­ber at work, the car­ni­val of swings, all brighten the streets

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