Pushkar Camel Fair Lights Up the Indian Thar Desert

Throw together hundreds of thousands of rural Indians, colorful festivals and throngs of tourists and you get the annual Pushkar Fair. Photography by Prashanth Vishwanathan for Bloomberg.

Held in the western state of Rajasthan the festival is a distinctly Indian happening: livestock trading, camel-cart rides, horse dancing competitions, processions and dancing gods and goddesses.

The Indian census puts Pushkar's population at 21,626.

The town swells to many times that number during the festival -- one government site said that hundreds of thousands "of people from rural India flock to Pushkar, along with camel and cattle for several days of livestock trading, horse dealing, pilgrimage and religious festival."

The state is much more than a colorful tourist destination. An investment conference held in Rajasthan, "The Land of Kings," last week resulted in some $65 billion of commitments projected to generate 250,000 jobs, according to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

A government notice advises that, "The camel and cattle trading is at its peak during the first half of festival period. During the later half, religious activities dominate the scenario." 

Camel herders insert a nose-bar into a recently sold camel.

A tethered horse feeds from a bag at the fairgrounds.

Spectators watch a horse rear on its hind legs during a horse dancing competition.

A horse is tethered for sale. The state administration is looking to create a land bank of 10,000 acres and is working with the federal government to help clear debt accumulated at power distribution companies.

Folk dancers perform in a procession, showcasing artists and children dressed as various gods and goddesses, through the streets of Pushkar.

Devotees pose for a photograph at a portable studio prior to bathing in Pushkar Lake and praying at the Brahma Temple.

The town and its environs are home to hundreds of temples. An official website advises that, "The famed waters of the Pushkar lake wash away the sins of a lifetime."

About 40 percent of India’s ambitious Delhi-Mumbai Freight Corridor will run through Rajasthan, across the sands of the Thar Desert and the shrines of Ajmer. 

Of those pledging to pour money into the state at the investment conference, Indian billionaires Gautam Adani and Kumar Mangalam Birla each said they'd invest 100 billion rupees (about $1.5 billion).

Among the Do's and Don'ts listed for the festivities: "Drugs, Alcohol and Non-vegetarian food is strictly prohibited," "Photography of bathing pilgrims in holy lake is strictly prohibited," "Do not embrace in public and dress up respectfully."

Also: "Be careful while watching/interacting with dancers, jugglers, tattoo makers, musicians etc." and "Beware of cheaters/crooks who can divert your attention by means of throwing dirt or rubbish."

The Indian government reckons that it's "probably the world's largest camel fair"...

... and the state tourism board boast that it's "the only one of its kind in the entire world" seems a safe bet.