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Published: November 14th 2016
It is no secret we were originally drawn to the Pushkar Fair because of the camels. It is also probably not a secret, that is what persuaded us to return again this year.
We developed a comfortable little routine while we were in Pushkar. It wasn't complicated, but it kept us happy.
Breakfast. Camels. Lunch. Camels. Nutella "Pancake." Camels. Dinner. Sleep.
Repeat again the next day.
You can probably see why I never want to leave.
We spent hours watching the herds, interacting with the camels and learning about the ways of the camels of Rajasthan. We attended a large meeting of the Raika (the men who have cared for the camels for centuries) where the various tribes, working with Camel Charisma, tried to determine ways to make camels profitable and sustainable. They discussed how the camel milk industry might fit with their beliefs and their lifestyles.
Probably my favorite camel activity was when the large camel herds were on the move. Sometimes they were just arriving at Pushkar, sometimes they were going to water and other times they were going out for evening grazing. There is just something irresistible about watching a herd move
together across the desert. All those long legs striding together is a sight I will never get tired of seeing.
When we spotted a group of camels being moved through traffic or out for grazing, we did not hesitate to join them. We walked along with the Raika, helped keep the speeding motorcycles and cars at bay and practiced our camel herding skills.
The last time we were at Pushkar, I learned the tongue clicking commands of the Raika and was eager to put my skills to use. It was not uncommon for a few heads to turn when I joined the camel herds in giving the camels commands. Some of the stoic old men couldn't keep their smiles to themselves when they realized I wanted to be just like them!
We were happy to see the mass of camels on the dunes of Pushkar, but I would be lying to suggest that we saw as many camels as in our previous visit. We kept commenting that the camels did not seem to be arriving as early and as quickly as they did 4 years ago. Be patient, we were told. More will come each
day, we were promised.
More camels did arrive eventually, but the numbers did not reach the ridiculous level we were forturnate enough to witness in 2012. It was hard to get answers or explanations about what we were witnessing...or rather, what we were not witnessing.
Then we saw an article in the Times of India. It said 2016 is the worst year in the history of camel sales for Pushkar. It reported that 10 years ago, Pushkar hosted 40,000 camels and this year, we saw 2,500 camels. Don't get me wrong, 2,500 camels feels like a party to me, but the drop in camel numbers was shocking. And sad.
There were stories confirming that some herders were leaving Pushkar after making no camels sales which meant they were not even leaving with enough money to feed themselves on their journey home which could take 15 days or more.
One report indicated camels were not bringing one-third the money they would have brought in recent years.
There was another story of a camel herder who set several of his camels free because he could not get any buyers and could not afford to keep the camels
he brought for sale.
The economic value of the camel has decreased because it is not essential for transport or agricultural purposes. There is a move to change this by developing a way to produce camel milk and establish camel dairies in Rajasthan, but like anything in India, this takes lots of time and lots of patience.
I feel so fortunate to have been at the Pushkar Fair during the glory days of the camel population, but I feel heart sick about the decline and worried this could spell the end of the prolific camel presence at the Pushkar Fair.
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