Hindus visit Pushkar year-round to take a dip in the redemptory waters of the lake, but there’s one particular day when bathing here is believed to relieve devotees of all their sins. That day is the full moon (purnima) of the Kartika month (usually Nov). During the five days leading up to and including the full moon, Pushkar hosts thousands of celebrating devotees, following prescribed rituals on the lakeside and in the Brahma Temple.
At the same time, a huge, week-long camel fair is held west of the town, with hordes of herders from all over Rajasthan gathering to parade, race and trade more than forty thousand animals. With the harvest safely in the bag and the surplus livestock sold, the villagers, for this brief week or so, have a little money to spend enjoying themselves, which creates a lighthearted atmosphere that’s generally absent from most other Rajasthani livestock fairs, backed up with entertainments including camel races, moustache competitions and a popular funfair, complete with an eye-catching sequence of enormous big wheels.
The popularity of Pushkar’s fair has – inevitably – had an effect on the event, with camera-toting package tourists now bumping elbows with the event’s traditional pilgrims and camel traders. But while the commercialism can be off-putting, the festive environment and coming together of cultures does produce some spontaneous mirth: in 2004, the second prize in the moustache contest was won by a Mancunian.
The dates of the next camel fairs are: 9–17, Nov 2013, Oct 30–Nov 6 2014, 18–25 Nov, 2015.
When to go
It’s best to get here for the first two or three days to see the mela in full swing; by the final few days of the festival most of the buying and selling has been done and the bulk of the herders have packed up and gone home. The day before the festival officially starts is also good – pretty much all the traders and livestock have arrived, but there are relatively few tourists around.
It’s best to book a room as far ahead as possible, though if you arrive early in the day – and with a bit of hunting – securing accommodation shouldn’t be a problem. If you get stuck, you could try the RTDC runs a Tourist Village close to the fairgrounds, offering dormitory beds, tents and huts (some a/c), complete with private bathrooms – ask at the tourist office or check w rtdc.in. Additional luxury temporary campsites are offered by Royal Camp (reservations c/o WelcomHeritage) and Royal Desert Camp (reservations c/o Pushkar Palace or Jagat Palace hotels or w rajasthanroyaldesertcamp.com).