For a week at the full moon of the Hindu month of Kartika – this year, 2-10 November, a dusty throng of camels and their nomadic owners joins Hindu holy men, pious pilgrims and spectators from far and wide as they descend on this desert outpost in Rajasthan for the annual camel fair. Beyond the fairground the desert tribespeople camp out with their camels, flanks freshly branded, and tricked out with pom-poms and flower-bedecked harness.
For more than two thousand years pious Hindus have come to Pushkar to worship Lord Brahma, the Creator, and to seek absolution by bathing in the sacred waters of the Tank. This is the only surviving temple dedicated to the Creator of the Hindu universe; elsewhere, his cult his given way to the worship of Vishnu the preserver, Shiva the destroyer and other deities.
Activity begins well before dawn in Pushkar, as hundreds of pilgrims step out on the Parikrama, the holy circuit around the sacred lake. Sadhus (and charlatans) camp overnight just above many of the lake’s steps, where I observed one applying his Tantric make-up: daubing swatches of cream and orange colour across his forehead, carefully monitoring the results in a hand mirror.
Even this early, the narrow , bustling streets wear a carnival atmosphere. Tribal women, wide-eyed at this encounter with urban sophistication, wear their entire wealth on their bodies: bangles, beads – coral, turquoise, bone, silver, plastic, coloured glass, onyx – gold and silver jewellery, nose-rings, earrings and anklets. As always in India, women’s saris contribute generously to the colour of street life.