Jochen Weber - Photography |  Photo Documentaries


Pushkar Mela
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Right before the 'Camel Decoration-Competition'

Since such a fair-week can be very long for all involved parties, there are, in addition, a variety of more or less entertaining events set up by the organisers of the fair. In the large, semi-open stadium of Pushkar, located between the campground and the city, several games between local teams against randomly selected teams of tourists (‘visitors’) are organized during the entire week.

For instance, the “Satolia Match”, a type of traditional Indian baseball; or the equally traditional “Langari Taang-Competition”, a single-legged hopping race, in which the one of legs of the participants is tied up like a camel's to prevent it from running away; or the “Kabbadi Match” a rather strange game which is a cross between wrestling and playing catch (may also be that I did not exactly understand it!); or the “Matka Phod Competition”, in which the player must break a high-hanging pot with the help of a human pyramid; or simply a strenuous football match in the sand.

Even very professional competitions such as the camel running competition ('Camel Race'), the camel beauty competition ('Camel Decoration'), the 'Camel Dance Competition'(!) or the 'Turban Tying' and the 'Moustache Competition' are organized, alongside a dance event ('Group Dance') with countless pretty school girls, or Deepdan, the lamp festival on the lake, or the Kathak Temple Dance in one of the 400(!) temples of the little city.

                 Finale of the 'Camel Decoration-Competition'

                        School girls before their dance performance 'group dance' ...           

The hot-air balloons are very popular ...

... they are always air-borne.           

          Practise session for the 'Camel Dance-Competition'
           (The camel dances to loud, hard but rhythmic drumbeats, which
           one would not expect of the young boy behind the camel) 

Deepdan, the Light Festival at the holy Pushkar Lake

Portrait of a camel trader       

        They could even be described as “cuddly”

After I having waited in vain at the Pushkar Stadium for the Camel Race, due to start at 11 but then postponed at the last minute to the last day of the festival, but still having witnessed the training for the Camel Dance Competition and the completely overcrowded Camel Beauty Competition, I continued my tour of the fair. In the meantime, a large number of camels have arrived, the dealers and the breeders sit in between with their colourful turbans while chatting, reading or eating something, it is an unreal, primeval and yet a beautiful and peaceful atmosphere.

The camels look at me curiously with their big eyes, they are a little bit afraid of the camera and when I get too close, they make hissing sounds, which I interpret, for safety reasons, as a kind of warning.

The turban colours of the camel dealers differ, depending on their caste, profession or the community of the wearer, some of the patterns and the colours however are also determined by the seasons or as the occasion demands it. For instance, a funeral requires white turbans, whereas a condolence visit needs a dark blue or brown. Even today, it is considered sacrilege to wear the wrong coloured turban to an occasion.

           A huge number of camels have arrived  

The colours of the turbans differ depending on ...         

        ... the caste, profession, occasion or the community of the wearer. 

A few turban patterns are also determined by the time of the year

"Amongst camels"

Tea stall ('chai wallah')            

While drinking an overwhelmingly sweet chai (I recently heard a Brit saying: “Could I please get a little bit of tea to my sugar?”) at one of the tent-stalls, I have a chat in English with a very friendly, local fodder sellers. He reckons that the Pushkar Camel Fair is still one of the biggest camel fairs in the world, but it is also slowly becoming smaller and losing its significance. Every year fewer and fewer sellers come, and in the last few years, the business is markedly declining. Motorized vehicles are increasingly replacing camels as a pack animal and a means of transport – and this in the year 2013!

More and more, the main reason for buying camels is their meat! I find this terrible, as I have gotten to know and appreciate the animals, in the meanwhile! Essentially, they are very peaceful, by nature rather gluttonous, curious, stubborn but also very cautious in their dealings with each other and with other people, yes, they are sensitive and cuddly; in brief: one could even describe them as 'cute'! Admittedly, it is not very easy to connect with them or take them around, as they can get quite unruly and angry (see also link to a short audio sample below the image on the left).

This one doesn't like to be led or fettered – who does anyway?           

Audio sample “Angry Camel” (mp3-file)      

             Camels can also be quite affectionate 

Incidentally, if anyone looking at the pictures wondered if this animals weren't all dromedaries, they would be right! The ones with one hump are actually dromedaries – and as such, they are also camels! They are part of the camel family within the suborder Tylopoda. This family can be subdivided in two categories: the first is camels which consists of the single-humped camel or the dromedary and the two-humped camel or the Bactrian camel; and the second category consists of the New World camels such as the llamas and the vicunas.

A camel disturbed during his night-sleep

The Camp Ground has its own “Mother-Child-Section”

The camp is equipped with several watering troughs

At the watering trough          

From time to time, the camels must be taken to the watering trough. This can be a very entertaining spectacle to behold. When many camels come together to the watering trough, they can have a lot of fun. As camels always inhabit dry regions, they have developed an extremely good water balance. A distinctive feature are the red blood cells, which are not round but oval. This form works in such a way, as to allow the camels to absorb a lot of water in no time – up to 200 liters in 15 minutes – without the risk of "over-watering" (med.: water intoxication).

Special kidneys ensure a very high concentration of urine and even the feces of the camel are very dry, in comparison to other mammals. Therefore, it can also be used as fuel. It simply needs to be collected, completely dried in the sun and then it can be sold again for a few rupees. A simple but frequently used business model, as the raw material is produced in plenty by the large number of camels. 

Camels having a good time at the watering trough      
(an enlarged view is worth it!)        

            On the leash

Camel-dung collector

Camp Ground: Camel-dung as fuel

"Hello money!" 'Uhh, does she mean me? It would certainly be an interesting name', I think to myself and look downwards: an approximately 9-10 year old girl tugs at my sleeve and looks at me with her pretty big eyes and with a poorly-rehearsed distressed expression, all the while holding up her small hand. "Give money, hundrrt rrupees!" Meanwhile, after about some months in India, I am sufficiently prepared in such situations, and know what I have to say in Hindi: "Mere pas cam paise hai, maaf kijeeye", which translates as: 'I have little money, sorry'. This works, and she turns around. 

Incidentally this also works also with adults, as it is a clearly understandable, yet respectful refusal. These children are sent by their parents to beg and particularly 'set upon' tourists; begging can also be a profession, it is nothing dishonorable, but involves hard work! Or else it is out of real need, poverty in old age, infirmity, etc. Over time, I am not as perturbed by it. If it is a result of visible distress, I prefer to give a few rupees. One just has to gauge the context, which is, of course, also understood by the people of India. For the equivalent of one Euro, it is possible to eat your fill at a suitable stall! And those who can afford to fly to India, can surely afford to give someone fifty cents or one Euro, is it not!?

Every now and then, two to three young, much-too-heavily made-up women, plonk themselves in front of me, pose smilingly in an exaggerated, mask-like manner and perform theatrical dance movements with their arms. They want to be photographed for a decent model-salary, calling on me: "Make photo, Sir!"

Even camel traders, sari-wearing women or small children have long learned just how keen a lot of tourists/photographers – from their perspective, the two are synonyms – are on photos. And since everything is a give and take, virtually all of them ask for money to be photographed: easily earned rupees! This has gotten to the point that now even the camel traders demand money, often with considerable insistence, even if you just want to take pictures of their camels.

But this goes against our understanding of artistic freedom, of public space or the freedom of panorama, but also against our understanding of travelling itself: after all, we have already paid a lot of money and taken pains to get here, and we would like to be able to photograph. In the long term, this is extremely exhausting – and this applies to both sides – and also not easy to avoid, and it only becomes worse.

It also makes reflect on my own role in the drama, and about the sense and nonsense of taking photos. Who wants to shoot a reality that he himself, though not intentionally, has warped beyond recognition by his actions and his presence? This reminds me a sentence from the German writer Ilija Trojanov's book 'Der Sadhu an der Teufelswand':

"And one day the world will consist only of photographers and the photographed."

Hopefully I will sell my camera before that. 

          Some camel traders are professional models for the camera  

This photo was the result of a previous, non-verbal hand gesture: You can take a photo, but only for hard cash. Cost
of this photo: 50 Rupees (for all three 'models'). The satisfied grins let me know that the payment was quite sufficient.

I am also reminded of a small episode from this morning. Shortly after sunrise when it was very hazy, I came upon a perfectly equipped group of Asian photographers and thought: 'What have they been aiming at?' and so I looked into the 'target direction'. A young camel trader (in a red polo shirt) had been asleep and was being awakened by the group. He got up rather irritated, grumbled and – unmistakably – shook his hand in the air. Then he climbed into his slippers, turned around annoyed, and sat pointedly with his back to the group. The group merrily continued to photograph!



Further at the edge of the Camel Camp, I see the first already-sold camel herds, which move in the direction of the desert and stir up a lot of dust. It is nice to watch how the herd runs after the leader of the pack. Depending on the size of the herd, 1-2 camel drivers are sufficient to manage the animals. I come close enough to a herd to notice that the animals are delighted to be able to run again – indeed, they take obvious pleasure in the act.

The herd follows the pack leader – making it easy to manage

Running makes the camels visibly happy

Sold camels are already leaving

For dinner, rotis are being rolled and baked

Beautiful atmosphere in the camp at sundown      

With the onset of dusk, the most beautiful atmosphere takes over the camp, as the sun retreats and the fire is lit again with people squatting around it. The lights in the camp come on, and a cozy bustle accompanies the fetching and heating of water, the rolling and baking of rotis (flat bread), it is just like huge tent camp.

The tourists have now mostly retired to their hotels and tent camps, camel buyers are also gone now, just a few photographers like me are still diligently hanging about.

It is possible now to take beautiful photos, my suberb Nikon – a D3S, affectionately known among photographers as the 'Lord of Darkness' for its high ISO capabilities – now works in top form and the light and the unique scenery make me feel energized once again. People are now a bit weary, but very friendly, laughing, joking, telling stories, now smiling more than before; we are all tired of haggling.

Camel sunset

The lights come on in the evening ...

"Camel Palaver"

Scenes from ...  

         ... a different time

Eventually it becomes so dark that it no longer makes sense to continue photographing, and as I begin to make my way back towards the hotel, I see a beautiful sight at the watering trough. Now what I am looking forward to is a cold Kingfisher beer and a Palak Paneer with Garlic-Cheese Naan, or something similar! Of course, I get caught once again by the son of the trinkets dealer at the edge of the camp. As if he had spend all day waiting only for me, with never an evening off!

His persistence and perseverance are commendable, indeed admirable. "Hello Sir, you rremembr me? You prromisd me to ...", I interrupt him and make it somehow clear to him that I am tired, hungry and very thirsty after all the dust and the squadrons of camel-dung and smoke and all I want now is to run straight home:

"May be tomorrow, OK?" "OK, Sir ...", a smile appears on his face,"... may be tomorrow, Sir! You promise!?" 

          Once again across the watering trough

The last photo of the day


© Text and Fotos: Jochen Weber

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