Camels gather with their herders at the Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan state, India
© Anand Purohit/Getty Image
Balloons and camels are two ways to catch a ride here. Balloons and camels are two ways to catch a ride here
Welcome to India's largest camel and livestock festival, the Pushkar Camel Fair. Thousands of people travel across mountains and through the Thar Desert to buy and sell livestock and enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere here. The fair offers visitors many diversions, but it's the camels who get top billing. Considered 'ships of the desert,' camels were domesticated by nomads thousands of years ago to carry goods across forbidding landscapes. When well fed and hydrated, a camel can travel great distances without needing water or food, sometimes for weeks. The humps on a camel's back serve a purpose: they're fatty deposits that act as a source of nutrition. Here, on the edge of the Thar Desert, the camel remains a mode of transport for nomads as well as a source for textiles, goods, and sustenance (did you know a camel's milk does not curdle in the desert heat?). The camel is held in such high esteem, the Pushkar Fair even stages camel decoration contests.
But there's another reason why people flock to Pushkar. The fair coincides with the holy festival of Kartik Purnima, which occurs during the Hindu lunar month of Kartik. The 8th-century desert town itself is a beauty, with medieval architecture and over 50 whitewashed ghats—stairs that descend into Pushkar Lake. Pilgrims consider the lake water to be holy, especially during Kartik's full moon when they believe their sins can be washed away. Needless to say, with all the pilgrims bathing here, photography is not allowed near the lake during the full moon. However, many shutterbugs opt for a view of the fair from a balloon ride at day's end.