Tuesday, November 16, 2010

India: Pushkar Camel Fair and Beyond

Let's see, I last wrote the night before we left Jaipur for the Camel Fair. The next morning I woke up feeling a bit off, and half an hour before we were due to get on the bus for a 5 hour ride, "Delhi belly" hit with a vengeance. God bless the doctor at the Bangor Immunization Clinic who politely insisted that I take some Cipro with me 'just in case.' I took it immediately with Immodium, as instructed, and made it all the way to Pushkar without incident. Discomfort, yes. For about two days I ate nothing but nan (bread) and water. But I only lost one day to illness. Thank you doctor!

I don't know how to describe Pushkar to you. Imagine a State Fair, with livestock competitions, handicrafts, vendors, fried dough, snacks.... but instead of sheep there are camels. Thousands of them. All decorated and dressed to the nines.

Some had patterns shaved all over! (The light brown is hair, the black is camel skin.)
There are horses and cows, too, by the hundreds. And instead of 4H groups and farmers, there are nomads from the Thar Desert.
There were three ferris wheels

camel cart rides


and a parade of men doing a Rajasthani camel dance

and in the evening there were fireworks over the sacred lake.

The lake is surrounded by ghats, which are essentially marble stairs going down to the water. This is a very holy place in the Hindu religion - one removes one's shoes before descending. The ghats were lit with small oil lamps. All the little yellow lights in the photo above are these:

It was our first peaceful moment in India and we savored it.

The next day we drove back to Jaipur, but detoured through Bagru. See, we're textile fiends on this trip, and Bagru is a center of block-printed fabric production. It is not a tourist destination. Twelve foreign women stuck out as if there had been a spotlight on us. We saw the block-printing "factories"

and silkscreening

and indigo dyeing

and tailoring.

The children discovered us almost as soon as we got off the bus, and I apparently have some magnetic attraction for them. While waiting to go into the first house, I noticed they were interested in the screen on my camera, so I took a picture of one of them and showed it to him.

He thought that was marvelous, and his friends laughed and laughed and then everybody wanted their photo taken.

And then we realized that nobody in the village has a camera, and they've never seen themselves before. It was the most marvelous parlor game! I wished desperately there were some way to give them prints.
After that, in every house we visited (because the factories are actually people's homes) we made friends with our cameras. In the last house the women were preparing fabric for tie dyeing.

They would put a grain of rice under the cloth, then wrap a string tightly around it so it made a little bump.

One by one various family members slipped in to the tiny courtyard

and had their photos taken. Even the grandmothers came out!

When I took this woman's photo

she was so excited she seized my camera and ran off to show a woman across the room. The camera strap, of course, was still around my wrist, so I got dragged along in her wake!
When it was time for us to go, the children brought out their parrot to pose for photos. The bird would not cooperate, which led to much confusion and shrieking and laughter.

About twenty people eventually stood on the front steps waving goodbye to us. I will never forget the children of Bagru.

Some other time we'll talk about the raw sewage in the street and the feral pigs rooting in the garbage piles outside the houses and how those ancient grandmothers are probably only 50 years old and the diseases and parasites those lovely children have and how tiny and damp and empty the houses were.

But only if we really have to.

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