Few places can claim such romantic beginnings as the Pushkar Fair on the fringes of the Great Indian Desert in Rajasthan. Legend has it that a lotus flower slipped from the fingers of Lord Brahma, the God of creation. It floated down to earth marking the site of what is now one of India's holiest cities.
As well as being an important religious centre for those of the Hindu faith, Pushkar is also the venue for India's largest and most colourful cattle fair. In early November at the time of the full moon, thousands of desert nomads assemble on the sandy mela with their camels, horses and cattle.
Shopping at the Pushkar Fair is not for the timid
For those tourists who love to shop, the Pushkar Fair represents the epitome of Indian crafts. Just minutes from the Rajasthan Tourist Office's tented village where we were staying, we could buy silk carpets, hand-woven cotton durries, Rajput miniature paintings, Rajasthani jewellery, saris, hand printed textiles and brassware. On a street milling with both visitors and vendors one does not have to approach a shop to be induced to buy. But a warning ... don't let your eyes linger on anything for more than a few seconds and don't say "How much?" unless you have serious intentions of buying. In the language of Indian salesmen "How much?" means "Let's negotiate", and he is not finished until a sale is made.
Sampling the local fare and entertainment
Leaving the salesmen behind we stopped at a small stall and drank juice squeezed from long sticks of sugar-cane. James bought and chewed betel-nut and I sampled oily pastries and Indian sweetmeats. We watched a snake charmer weaving magic with a tasselled 'punji' (flute). From a basket at his feet, a cobra with widespread hood rose sinuously and moved to the sound of his music.
As darkness fell and the Hindus gathered for prayers, the strident sounds of the fair were replaced by bells, music and song. Nearby at Pushkar Lake worshipers observed tradition by setting adrift thousands of leaves, each carrying a minute flickering oil lamp, and the lake shimmered in the moonlight.
Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 16th August, 2010