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Published: November 21st 2018
The Big Moment
Thanks to Glenn Bolin for this photo
Even though we had spent five days together without speaking each other’s language, there were no words needed to explain that today was special. The final day of the walk was electric and the energy surpassed a common language. We were about to bring our gorgeous herd of camels to the fair. We were about to make our grand entrance. And we were about to complete the big task together.
We started the morning like every other morning. The hobbles were removed so the camels could graze. One of the camels was milked so we could make tea. We all gathered to make and enjoy our last cup of camel milk chai before we entered the bustle of the fair.
While we were drinking our tea, one of the Raika said they were giving the lead camel to “Valeri.” I had no idea what they meant, but dad claims he knew exactly what they meant.
When the tea was finished and the dishes were washed and packed onto one of the camels, we started the task of gathering the herd. When I went to do my part, the lead cameleer motioned for me instead to follow him. He
handed me the rope for the lead camel. At that moment it became clear, I was going to lead this herd into the Pushkar Camel Fair.
Wow. What do you say to that? I felt honored, excited and a little nervous. We had come this far, I did not want to screw this up and lead everyone astray!
The camels were gathered, the lead camel in my clutch and the lead cameleer by my side when we started to move the caravan. We congregated on top of a sand dune overlooking the last stretch to the fair and then we abruptly stopped. And we waited. The lead cameleer kept an eye on his watch and the camels kept an eye on him.
We did not continue to move until the clock struck 10 am. The Raika believed this to be an auspicious time to ascend on the fair and that it would bring them good luck with sales, as going earlier than 10 am would not be as profitable.
To enter the camel section of the fair, we had to take our caravan through a very narrow opening through a slight draw and then move them
among the other groups of camels that had already bedded down at the fair. Our section of the hill was at the far end of Camel Hill, so we also had to shepherd them through many groups of curious camels.
The process was tricky and we asked a lot of those camels. Once we got the lead camel into the fairgrounds, the real excitement began. Camels were scattering out of curiosity, nervousness and lack of space. The lead cameleer, walking beside me and the lead camel, started yelling commands to the other Raika who were also scrambling to keep order.
I immediately offered to take one side and help maintain the herd. The lead cameleer said no and directed me to keep leading the lead camel, but within about 90 seconds he changed his mind and sent me to work.
We all earned our lunch that day keeping order and calming the camels. Beside guiding the camels, we had other fair attendees to tend to as this herd grew quite a lot of attention. People were rushing up to shop the herd for potential purchases and others came up to “help.” I am guessing dad and I’s
presence did not help matters much either.
At one point a man approached us as we were guiding and gathering the camels, he walked up to me and took my stick right out of my hand. He swung it like he was going to hit our camels!
My attention was on the camels, but obviously I had to now tend to this guy. I grabbed the stick before he made contact with any of our camels, informed him we moved our camels without hitting them and went back to the task at hand. I did take one second to enjoy his look of complete disbelief.
Despite the flurry of excitement and dust, it did not take us long to get our camels to their station on the hill. We gathered them there and held them in a tight group as some of the cameleers put the hobbles on them.
While this was happening, I was holding two of the bull camels. Multiple times, men approached the bulls and attempted to take the lead ropes from my hand. I held firm and informed them to bugger off. And this time, I was able to enjoy their look
of complete shock. The Raika who owned the two bulls saw the exchanges and flashed a quick smile as I explained I would not hand them off to anyone but him.
Once the hobbles were on, the dust was settled and the camel were beginning to voluntarily rest, we were all able to take a breath. Just like in any culture, there was a moment of shared accomplishment and acknowledgement that our teamwork achieved the desired goal. There were smiles, pats on the shoulder and the clasping of hands. The energy transcended our ominous language barrier.
Once the excitement wore off, it was time for tea of course. Dad went to the campsite and sat next to the all-business, no-nonsense man who typically lead the lead camel. He was a hard worker, never seemed interested in taking photos or paid much attention to what dad and I were doing.
Over the 6 days were were together, he never said a word to us and certainly did not crack a smile. But when dad sat down for tea next to him and I was out of sight off checking on some of my favorite camels, he turned to
my dad and said “Valeri?” Dad motioned to where I was scratching on the baby camel and the old Raika flashed an approving smile.
I think dad and I just might have passed the test of the Raika.
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