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Published: November 26th 2019
They say all good things must come to an end. I appreciate the sentiment, but not sure I wholeheartedly agree.
Sure, we need to appreciate the good when we have it and the not so good is an illustration to help us identify the good when it comes along, but do all good things really need to come to an end? Is it necessary that we always heed this warning about the good moments in life? Are we required to embrace this resigned acceptance?
I say no, no and even more no.
Sunny days come and go. Parties can only last so many hours or maybe days. Sunsets are interrupted by sunrises. Weekends are punctuated by Mondays. The seasons change and so does our very definition of good things, but what about age old, time tested lifestyles and traditions. Must they also come to an end?
If you have been a frequent attendee at the Pushkar Camel Fair or are up to date on Rajasthani camel affairs, you might say yes with disappointment and helplessness. The camel population in India is drastically falling off the table and thus effecting the
Raika whose lives have been intertwined with camels forever. There is a fear and panic in India that is so real you can feel it.
Walking among the camel herds and their companions at the Pushkar Camel Fair is a stark reminder that the camel culture in India is no longer lucrative. It is noble, it is culturally and environmentally necessary and it is dripping with colorful heritage, but economically sound it is not. The numbers of camels attending the fair are noticeably lower each year, the camel composition and health seem to be feeling the economical effects and the Raika wear a look of a struggling profession.
It breaks my heart and I am not the only one taking notice. For years Camel Charisma and the committed camel advocates behind the efforts have been working tirelessly alongside the Raika to try to carve out avenues for sustainability so this lifestyle, living history and traditional environmental stewardship is not lost. They have gathered the community, they have screamed for awareness and they have marketed camel milk to those people seeking a long known superfood, but this doesn’t seem to be enough.
It doesn’t seem to be enough because the biggest obstacle in all of this seems to be the Indian government. The government has taken away grazing lands, established rigid restrictions on the selling and use of camels and ignored the Raika’s plea for assistance, despite the camel being the state animal.
At this year’s Pushkar Camel Fair, the Raika gathered at Camel Hill in great numbers and begged for the government to take notice. They itemized the many ways the government has made it nearly impossible for the camels to be at the fair and still make a livable salary. They reminded everyone who would listen that tourists and their mighty dollar flock each year to Pushkar for the fair, for the Camel Fair to be more specific. But the Raika who bring their camels gain nothing and certainly don’t benefit from any of this influx of money.
In fact, not only do they not benefit, they have to wade through the obstacles created by the government and the fair organizers. Camel Hill, which was once a pristine sand dune where camels gathered to reflect this iconic culture, is now a rocky area interrupted
by construction and a helipad. Their area gets crowded out by taxi carts and tourists who are desperate to see camels no matter how few might be present.
It is almost obscene that the government can’t see how easy it would be to help this matter rather than making their pastoralists go at it completely alone. Can you image the landscape of American agricultural without the government’s constant welfare? Family farms and even small farms would have been obsolete years ago. And our food prices would be astronomical.
The thing about India is that it does not take that much money to make a difference in the lives of these pastoralists. I recently asked the estimated cost of maintaining a camel in Rajasthan for one year. The answer, $120. Anyone who owns camels, or any livestock in the United States would rejoice at those sort of manageable numbers. What does it cost to feed the pastoralists as they reside at the fair? I saw a food truck hawking meals for as little 20 cents.
Then there is the aspect of the fair itself. My theory is the fair organizers, the tourist
board or the government could make the Pushkar Camel Fair so enticing to animal owners they would be flooded with animals. Flooded enough to bring the fair back to the photographers and tourist attracting glory of a decade ago. Feed the pastoralists in a hospitality tent sort of way. Provide some complimentary veterinary services or medications. Charge a tourist tax to those of us there on holiday and share the profits with the people and animals who are actually bringing in the tourists.
I am not suggesting I have the answers, that is best left for the experts like Camel Charisma advocates and their Raika partners. But what I am suggesting is that in Rajasthan not all good things must come to an end. In fact we must do all we can so these good things do not come to an end.
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