1. The camel fair is actually an offshoot of the main event and not the main event itself
The camel fair was established to encourage trade during the Hindu festival of Kartik Purnima, this is why the timings of the fair change every year in accordance with the lunar calendar. The real trading occurs before the festival begins and then the tourist attractions and religious ceremonies take over.
Here is an example of the programme from the 2018 fair that I visited to give you an idea of the cultural activities across the 8 day festival:
10:00 AM Pooja and flag hoisting. Mega cultural event and opening ceremony. Nagada Vadan, Live workshop and camel decoration.
10:30 AM Mandana competition and cultural group dance performance by school girls.
11:00 AM Chak De Rajasthan Football match
5:30 PM Deepdaan, Rangoli, Maha Aarti and Pushkar Abhishek
7:00 PM Navraj Hans live concert
9:00 PM Vinni Devda live performance
10:00 AM Langri Taang (Traditional game)
10:30 AM Satolia Match with foreigners.
11:00 AM Camel decoration contest
12:00 PM Camel dance contest
7:00 PM Vandana Mishra concert
9:00 PM Hemant Devda concert
10:30 AM Kabaddi match with foreigners
11:00 AM Horse dance contest
1:00 PM Inter Panchayat Samiti rural sports
7:00 PM Prem Joshua concert
9:00 PM Jazz Nagada by Nathu Lal Ji performance
8:30 AM Spiritual walk from Gurudwara to Mela Ground
6:00 PM Inauguration of gir and crossbreed cattle exhibition
7:00 PM Voice of Pushkar – first round
9:00 PM Cultural performance by Mahakaal group
9:30 PM Odissi dance by Akshita Bhatt
5:30 AM Harmony marathon from Dargah Khwaja Saheb, Ajmer to Shri Brahma temple, Pushkar
9:00 AM Lagaan style cricket match
11:00 AM Moustache contest
11:30 AM Turban tying contest
7:00 PM Voice of Pushkar final round
8:30 PM Sufi night
10:00 AM Rural sports final
10:30 AM Matka race (women only)
11:30 AM Musical chairs (women only)
7:00 PM Indian bride and groom contest
8:30 PM Yugm band performance
7:30 PM Best of Rajasthan cultural show
Day 8 – final day:
9:00 AM Mega cultural event and closing ceremony. Matka race, tug of war, group dance, Kala Jattha and local performances.
7:30 PM Fireworks on the high-level bridge
There are also hot air balloon rides over the desert twice a day, a handicrafts bazaar and adventure activities. In a nutshell, there is a lot going on.
2. You need sharp elbows
While you may think that you’ve turned up at a DSLR convention, fear not, it’s just pushy amateur photographers with swagtastic new canons. Some are official photographers, most aren’t. If you want a decent view of official events like the moustache twirling, you will need to get pushy. Otherwise, you may want to watch from a distance. At least people are more likely to steal from them than you, which brings me on to my next point.
3. It’s not as busy/dangerous/crazy as you may have been led to believe
We didn’t find Pushkar to be any crazier than the rest of India, in fact, it’s probably still more relaxed. It gets crowded around events in the stadium but as people and camels can extend into the desert, it wasn’t as bad as we expected. We didn’t see any robbers cutting bags open but I would still be wary as there are still beggars and hawkers who will hassle you.
4. Some religious activities are open to tourists but don’t fall for scammers
Certain ghats in Pushkar lake are very popular with pilgrims who bathe in them throughout the day. At sunset, there are two aartis at the lake which tourists can watch. An aarti is a part of Puja which involves light being offered to the gods as well as singing songs. These are fun to watch as the sun sets and they are held as part of the festival. Unfortunately, there are scammers who try to give you a flower to give as an offering at the lake. Once you’re at the lake they give you a ‘blessing’ and try to force you to give huge donations. They are scammers and some of them treat people very badly.
5. There is a keenness for foreigners to join in
Many of the cultural events are open to foreigners, possibly because they exist to attract tourists in the first place. Don’t be alarmed if you have a moustache and you get roped into the moustache twirling contest, it’s a good story to tell at home after all. If you’re good at sports, and even if you aren’t, there are several sporting events but they are mostly open to men.
6. Respect for pilgrims is important
You are not allowed to take photographs of people down at the ghats, as pilgrims remove some of their clothes to bathe. It’s also important to remove your shoes and leave them at the top of steps, especially during aarti when the steps are cleaned.
7. There are so many events going on and sometimes you don’t know what will happen next…
We went to a free dance show at Old Ranji Temple which explained and demonstrated elements of classical dance. It was also free as part of the festival. It was a relaxed evening until the temple brought out a statue of Krishna on a float and started parading it around for the pilgrims to worship. This lost the entire audience of the dance show but it showed the devotion of the Hindus that come here to worship.
That day we had seen a cow that had grown a tiny extra leg and its owner asked if we wanted a photo with it, we said no. These things aren’t particularly related, but its such a mixture of people, and you just don’t know what will happen next. Enjoy every second of this coming together of religious devotees, camels, horses, cows, international tourists, holy men and local people all around a tiny lake in the middle of the desert.