Of Camels, Horses and Craftsmen – Pushkar Mela 2012, Rajasthan

Hey gals..whats cooking…where have you both been all these last 4-5 weeks…too busy cooking and eating than to write about them here? Ha ha ha… 😉 So are you guys surprised to see me so soon on the blog, unlike my usual self wherein I disappear for long spells??!!

Well, don’t be too surprised…it is just that I am missing a very very important event currently underway in India, since the 14th Jan 2013, the Maha Kumbh Mela at Prayag, Allahabad. The Maha Kumbh Mela happens once every 144 years and you are aware of the reasons why I have not yet been able to plan a visit there. Thus I am doing the next best thing of sharing tales of two other countryside Melas/Fairs, that are a must-do for the offbeat traveller in India, and which thankfully is an annual affair that you guys can visit in the next years.

End of Nov-2012 saw me at the famous Pushkar Mela, near Ajmer in Rajasthan. Pushkar, the sleepy, lakeside settlement boasts (albeit erroneously) of the unique honour of being the only place in the world to have a a temple  dedicated to Lord Brahma, one of the 3 gods of the all-powerful Trimurthi (Trinity of three major Gods of the Hindu religion, other two being Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva), as mentioned in the scriptures of Hindu religion.  I say erroneously since digging deeper through google, I have found evidence that there are temples dedicated solely to Lord Brahma in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even in the Angkor Vat temple complex of Cambodia. READ HERE

The Holy Pushkar Lake, at sunset, by the banks of which stand numerous temples & Snaan Ghats(Bathing Steps)

The Holy Pushkar Lake, at sunset, by the banks of which stand numerous temples & Snaan Ghats (Bathing Steps)

There are many interesting stories of why Pushkar is an important pilgrimage spot for Hindus, (READ HERE & HERE) , but the tranquil nature of the place has pulled me 420Kms away from Delhi to Pushkar 5 times earlier, for reasons which were never religious! Actually, this 6th trip was to experience the vibrant, colorful and action-packed animal fair/mela held every year around the full moon in the Hindu lunar month of Kartik (usually Nov-mid to Nov-end). For centuries the tradition has been that on the auspicious day of Kartik-Poornima, lakhs of people from all over the country congregate here to take a dip in the Holy waters of the Pushkar Lake, followed by a ‘Darshan’ of Lord Brahma (worshiping of Gods) in the Jagatpita Brahma Mandir.

This annual spiritual congregation also gave rise to the more earthly matters of economic and commercial kind, wherein the mela became the meeting ground for people to showcase, trade, sell and buy livestock animals like Camels, Horses, Cows, Oxen and Goats as well as a variety of agricultural equipment

For the first 4-5 days of the Mela, Camels are the main focus for people, with almost 60000 camels converging on the sand dunes outside of the small town of Pushkar.

For the first 4-5 days of the Mela, Camels are the main focus for people, with almost 45000 camels converging on the sand-dunes outside of the small town of Pushkar.

An astonishing number of approx. 65000 animals, like camels, horses, including “Thoroughbred/Racing” horses, cows, bulls, ox, goats are brought here by people of Rajasthan to trade/sell/buy during the 8-day festival/mela/fair.

Richly decorated camels, horses and cattle at the Mela grounds...

Beasts of burden, livestock, or animals reared purely due to reasons of their strength or beauty, like racing Bulls, Stud Horses can be seen at the Mela grounds…

This traditional Indian style festival sees villagers from all over Rajasthan come and compete against each other in the first 5 days of the festival. Camels, horses and cattle are dressed up and decorated in their colorful Rajasthani finery of bells/colorful beads/colored harnesses, the animals are paraded in ‘beauty-contests’ to ascertain quality of their breeding and made to race and even dance against each other! While simultaneously along with these festivities, the people thronging the mela take out time to conduct the commercial tasks of buying and selling animals, agricultural equipment etc at a hectic pace.

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Maharaja Gaj Singh, of the princely state of Jodhpur (bottom left corner) was the chief guest at the Horse championship.

The crowds are entertained with many unique events like Camel & horse dances, Moustache competitions (Believe it or not!!), feats of strength like Tug-of-War and wrestling bouts between villagers pitted against the best talents of other villages of Rajasthan.

Some fun contests are also held solely for the benefit of the Tourists/Visitors to Pushkar. Teams of ‘Local Rajasthani’ players take on teams that are formed on-the-spot from amongst the visitors/tourists to play games like Kabbadi, Football, Matki Phod and Handi Race.

Tug-of-War and Matki Phod competition between Locals & Visitors/Tourists

Tug-of-War and Matki Phod (Break-the-Earthen Pot hanging overhead by making a human pyramid from ground-up) competition between Locals & Visitors/Tourists teams

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Both the Handi Race for women, (Women racing while carrying a pot-full of water on their shoulders) and the Matki Phod competition were hugely entertaining for the crowds and surprisingly, the local Indian teams lost both the games to the foreigners/visitors!!!

Another aspect of such melas are the street performers who do a variety of tricks ranging from the simplest sleight-of-hand magic tricks to dangerous acrobatic acts. A fast-vanishing community of gypsy tribes, ‘the Banjaras’ who usually go from village to village to earn their living, find such melas a good opportunity to earn substantially, that can financially sustain them over many months.

Street performers, musicians are also crowd pullers...

The huge carnival is complete in all respects with an array of musicians, street performers like acrobats and magicians, with the most thrilling ‘one-of-a-kind’ Mela experience of Pushkar being the “Maut Ka Kuaan”!!

MAUT KA KUAAN, MAUT KA KUAAN!!!

Literally translating to the ‘Well/Dome of Death’ wherein daredevil motorcyclists and drivers of Maruti 800 cars travel at death-defying speeds along the vertical walls of barrel-shaped wooden cylinders roughly 40 feet in diameter performing stunts as they drive, held in place simply by the strong centrifugal forces due to high speeds of their vehicles!!

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I believe this is one of the scariest of Circus tricks anywhere in the world and a sight to behold, as for 5-7 minutes, the 2 bikers and 2 car drivers revved their engines to maximum capacity, creating an ear-splitting roar in the closed confines of the ‘Well of Death’ as they raced around and around the dizzying heights of the wooden well or ‘kuaan’ !!! The adrenaline rush and daredevilry at breakneck speeds without any safety gears whatsoever, seemingly defying the laws of gravity, makes for a very powerful performance that we enjoyed so much that we just had to watch it twice!

The carnival like atmosphere gets heightened as the sun sets and the big Ferris Wheels light up awaiting the crowds...

The carnival like atmosphere gets heightened at dusk as the big Ferris Wheels and Merry-go-Rounds light up, inviting the crowds of children, women and men to try their heady spins..

Evenings in Pushkar round the year, are best spent at the tranquil ghats of the Pushkar Lake, where special Aratis (Prayers offered by lighting oil lamps) are held in the evenings. It is no different during the Mela. As the sun sets slightly towards the left of Savitri Temple hill in the west, the priests on the south-eastern ghats prepare for the evening Aartis/Prayers.

Peace & Bliss as gentle breeze touches upon the waters of the holy Lake Pushkar, devotees throng to worship the setting sun and Holy Waters of the lake...reflections of lights from temples which ring the lake banks and where bells are rung in a hypnotic rythm, hymns invoking the gods...If this is not bliss, then what is!

A gentle breeze touches upon the waters of the holy Lake Pushkar, devotees throng to worship the setting sun and Holy Waters of the lake…reflections of lights from temples which ring the lake banks and where bells are rung in a hypnotic rythm, hymns invoking the gods…If this is not bliss, then what is!

A priest shares the ceremonial arati with devotees at the ghats of the lake...

A priest shares the ceremonial arati with devotees at the ghats of the lake…

thehundreds of paper lamps are lit by devotees who float them on the waters of the lake, murmuring gently their prayers and

The lake surface transforms into the inky blackness of a night sky where stars of a constellation twinkle as hundreds of paper lamps lit by devotees gently float on the waters of the lake.

Night does not mean the end of action during the Mela, as multiple venues across town come alive to the color and splendour of Rajasthan’s rich cultural heritage.

Lilting tunes of folk musicians and dancers, classical renditions of music and traditional forms of theatre/story telling are organised in a typical village carnival style of open-air platforms around which people gather to enjoy programs that continue till well past midnight...

Lilting tunes of folk musicians and dancers, classical renditions of music and traditional forms of theatre/story telling are organised in a typical village carnival style of open-air platforms around which people gather to enjoy programs that continue till well past midnight…

Pushkar Mela 2012

Unique setting of the courtyard of a 200 yr-old temple adds a special flavour to dance performances by artistes from all across India

Are you guys wondering whats happened to your dear brother, how is it that I am not talking or sharing any of my foodie experiences in Pushkar!! He he ha ha…I was saving the best for the last!

Pushkar being considered a very holy pilgrimage city by Hindus, is like many other pilgrimage cities of India where non-vegetarian food is neither available nor allowed to be served and eaten within the town’s municipal limits. But this fact of  Pushkar being a ‘only-vegetarian’ foods town has never left me short with options of vegetarian fare to choose from and each of my previous 5 trips to Pushkar have always been delightful gastronomic trips for me.

Pushkar is like a big Backpacker's District which dominates majority of the city.

Pushkar is like a big Backpacker’s District which dominates major parts of this otherwise sleepy town. Thus food options are galore that cater primarily to the palates of Foreign tourists, of a wide variety of cuisines from around the world. The atmosphere is similar to what I described about Delhi’s backpacker’s district, Paharganj in one of my previous posts on this Blog.

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Another benefit of these food outlets is that many of them are rooftop options located conveniently atop houses that ring the lake, giving diners a lovely lake-view to enjoy as they indulge in a leisurely English/French style breakfast, Fresh Juices, Mexican style Burrito wraps, Lebanese/Turkish Hummus & Falafels and Israeli salads. Albeit all without the meats that usually are part of the cuisines in their country of origin!!

Usually each time I am in Pushkar, these shops are my favourite haunts, apart from the local fare of Kachori-Sabzi, Puri-Sabz, Malpuas, Jalebis with kadhaai Milk and more…

Urad Daal Kachoris with a twist! Instead of the sour & spicy 'Aloo Sabzi' (Potato curry), it was served in most of the shops with a thick, lightly spiced 'Kadhi'...and believe me sis, we felt it was better than eating it with the more popular aloo sabzi.

URAD DAAL KACHORIS WITH A TWIST!                                                                                                                                        Instead of the usual & more popular sour & spicy ‘Aloo Sabzi’ (Potato curry) which is served with hot -fried Kachoris, this time I noticed that most of the food stalls/halwaais were serving Kachoris with a thick and lightly spiced ‘Kadhi’…and believe me sis, we felt it was far better than eating it with aloo sabzi… The Kadhi was full of flavours of Dahi(Yoghurt) and Methi (Fenugreek Seeds) with a subtle hint of Desi Ghee. The lightly spiced kadhi thus was in perfect balance to the hot spices of the daal/lentil mix stuffed in the Kachoris.

To wind up the day these sweet treats always await at around-the-corner sweet shops…

A range of usual suspects in the 'Mithaai' family like Gulab Jamuns, Rasgulla, Barfi, Malpuaas, and also spotted the ubiquitous Delhi ka fav sardi Ki Mithaai, Gajar Ka halwa, Rabri...and digest everything with a glassful of hot slightly sweetened milk...

Take your pick from the range of usual suspects in the ‘Mithaai’ family like Gulab Jamuns, Rasgulla, Barfi, Malpuaas with Rabri and I also spotted the ubiquitous Delhi ka fav sardi Ki Mithaai, Gajar Ka halwa…and digest everything with a glassful of hot slightly sweetened milk…

RAASTA KA PAASTA KA NAASTA!!!

While taking in the sights and smells of the streets of Pushkar during the mela

While taking in the sights and smells in the streets of Pushkar during the mela, we very fortunately stumbled upon this guy, Rajesh Prakash, who runs a food stall of Pasta Macaroni from a hand-cart!! We baptized it with the name Raasta ka Paasta ka Naasta (Pasta-the snack of the street)

This guy, Rajesh or Raju as he is known, is very popular amongst the locals for his version of the Italian Penne Pasta, served only in three choices of sauce, namely ‘Safed (White) sauce’ which refers to his take on the white and creamy Alfredo Pasta Sauce, ‘Laal (Red) sauce’ refers to a tomato-based sauce, which is an adaptation of the Italian Pomodoro sauce and  ‘Mix sauce’, which is but naturally the mix of both! He has a huge set of regulars, especially amongst the young girls and guys, as we very frequently saw people walking over and asking for a plate of ‘Paasta Safedwala’ or ‘Paasta Laalwala’ ….Incidentally the mixed sauce one is a BIG hit amongst his regulars as he told us!!

RAASTA KA PAASTA KA NAASTA - Yes we loved this pasta so much we had it twice in 2 days as a very tasty and quick 'Naasta' (means snack)

RAASTA KA PAASTA KA NAASTA                                                                                                                                               Yes we loved this pasta so much we had it twice in 2 days as it proved to be very filling, tasty and quick ‘Naasta’ (which means snack). Priced at INR35, it was real value-for-money and as far as I could see was being prepared almost as the Italians would do…A variety of Italian herbs, garlic, milk & cream for the ‘Safed’ Alfredo version, lots of grated cheese go into the big Indian iron kadhaai and in 6-8 mins the Naasta (snack) was ready!!

On  being asked how he learnt to prepare these foods, he told us that his 1yr stint at a Jaipur hotel’s kitchen had given him the idea to start this ‘hand-cart’ driven Pasta shop, back in his hometown of Pushkar. He also knew how to prepare other cuisines, but apparently after a close research of foods being served by the rooftop restaurants and road-side cafes of Pushkar he had zeroed in to the ‘Pasta’ since hardly any places served Pasta.  Hats off to old-fashioned Business acumen and Indian-ingenuity.

Italian Street Food at its best in Pushkar, India!

Italian Street Food at its best in Pushkar, India! Pasta in white Alfredo sauce being prepared by Raju.

Thus with thoughts of the ‘Raasta Ka Paasta’, I will sign off now…have said enough for the day and I will write about the other Poush Mela/fair of Shantiniketan in the next post 🙂

What say ladies!!

Be good and cook well, till we meet again…

Ramit

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4 comments on “Of Camels, Horses and Craftsmen – Pushkar Mela 2012, Rajasthan

  1. […] pics in your second post on Pushkar Mela look awesome Man!! I wish I was there too….considering what is going on in India today, it […]

  2. ghoomakar says:

    Reblogged this on ghoomakar and commented:
    Another of my journeys in the last month of 2012….

  3. Thanks @ease your travel

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