India's Pushkar Camel Fair

A camel stands by a tree with a Ferris wheel in the background

Picture hundreds of camels dressed up, paraded, and entered in a beauty contest. Imagine camels participating in a dance competition and racing one another. And all of this against the backdrop of the small desert town of Pushkar in Rajasthan, India.

This is the Pushkar Camel Fair, one of India’s most visited annual festivals, and it takes place on the banks of Pushkar Lake at the start of the Hindu lunar month of Kartik, usually around late October or early November.

The camel race kicks off the weeklong event, created to stimulate camel and cattle trading during the holy Kartik Purnima festival which begins on the last day of the fair.

It’s believed that Brahma — the one supreme cosmic power in Hinduism — dropped a lotus flower in Pushkar Lake, giving birth to the town. 

Thousands of pilgrims descend on Pushkar to bathe in the lake and absolve themselves of their sins. Bathing on the day of the full moon is especially significant since people are said to receive special blessings.

Alongside the lake, attendees can observe a devotional ritual (“maha aarti”), where a fire is used as an offering.

In addition to the camel beauty and dance contests, there are many other competitions during the festival, such as a mustache contest and a tug-of-war between men and women.

The first few days of the festival are focused on buying and selling camels and other livestock. For the camel traders, a sale can represent enough money to live off for six months or more.

After much of the trading takes place, the focus of the fair shifts to a big celebration in the form of a carnival complete with musicians, magicians, dancers, and acrobats.