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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Three days in Pushkar


Pushkar is an amazing place. It is without doubt one of the most interesting and wondrous places I have ever visited - and I have visited my share. However, I would probably only apply that to this one particular time of year - the annual Camel Festival. Apart from that I would imagine that Pushkar would appear like every other sleepy Indian town in this region of India's north.
But, once a year, hundreds of thousands of people flock to Pushkar for the annual Camel Festival and with them, hundreds of thousands of camels, horses and goats. There are manufacturers of all sorts of farming implements and household implements, leather workers, blacksmiths and cooks. There are snake charmers and circus performers, common people and businessmen. It is a melting pot of Indian life that could not have been a better introduction to everything we would want to see and photograph in India if we had even asked for it.
Among the Hindu population, Pushkar is considered a very holy place in India. So this festival also brings with it thousands of pilgrims who come to wash in the sin-absolving pools that remain alongside the lake around which Pushkar has been established. The photographer has to balance his or her photojournalistic tendencies and desires with the cultural sensitivities of the people, although there were are no real problems with photographing most of what goes on.
That said, there is no shortage of images to acquire here anyway. In this regard you have to forget the million photographs you didn't get and live with the ecstacy of the thousand or so that you did. Its that simple. Everywhere you look among the thousands of tourists who also come here, digital SLR cameras abound. Pushkar is a feast for the photographer, no matter what level of experience that photographer may have. In the group that I have the privilege to travel with there are photographers with years of experience and one who has only just found the love. All of these wonderful people are getting some of the most incredible photographs of their lives. So am I, for that matter. I won't soon forget this experience. Actually, no. I never will.
The final day of the festival is pandemonium, and by that I mean ten times the normal pandemonium that every other day of the festival is. So it was on this day that we decided to steer clear until nearly sunset, when we all returned on Camel carts for the evening light. During the day however, we found ourselves walking through the local villages. Because most (if any) tourists ever visit these places, we suddenly became the talk of the town. Children rushed from everywhere to be with us. Teenagers came from schools to try their English skills. Families came from their homes to get a peak at the western visitors. It was a wonderful experience and it yielded some wonderful images to match. You often wonder whether it is the photographs or the experience that drives you. Personally, I think one begets the other, no matter which you put first.
On a high mound above one of the villages was a 500 year old fort, which of course Nathan and I had to climb to and photograph. We were shown the best way to get there of course by a crowd of local children to whom we had become quite the spectacle. Getting to the top was not easy but it gave us a chance to stand in an old fort and to photograph the area and the village below that it no doubt once protected.
But as I said, the evening saw us for the last time as a group in the Pushkar Festival area. The sun sets behind the Festival and the dust in the air carries the light in such a beautiful manner. Through its orange haze rise the silhouettes of camels and horses and in its sweet soft light we also find the faces of the people who remain. You lament the turn of the planet, knowing that with each passing moment the amazing photographic opportunities that are presenting themselves fade below the horizon with the setting sun.
Our final morning was supposed to be a group camel ride through what remained the festival. However, dawn saw us clambering around a hot air balloon near our tent accommodations taking pictures of the preparations for its morning flight. As it was about to take off, one of the staff asked me if I wanted to climb in. As you can imagine I was inside the basket before I even had the chance to say 'yes' ! As the sun rose over Thar Camps in Pushkar, I was floating in a basket over the small farms and villages as their inhabitants were beginning a new day. It was the quietest experience I'd known since I had arrived in this rather noisy country. We landed in a small field in a nearby village only to be greeted by a growing number of excited locals who had run to see the big balloon. Within minutes they were all pitching in, helping to fold and pack the now deflated balloon that only moments earlier had carried us over their homes. Knowing how useless I would be in the packing and folding, I opted to take pictures. After all, that's what I do, isn't it?
It was a wonderful finale to a fabulous few days of festival and photography. As we drove from Pushkar I wondered if I would ever return to photograph it all again. If ever the chance arises I will not take a moment to hesitate. I would love the experience the madness all over again...Now...on to Jaipur...
For more India images, go to my Flickr site

1 comment:

S.E.M. said...

Glad you are having a great time, guys.Thanks for the update on the adventures. I've been enjoying...
Best wishes,
Susan (LifeSparkle)

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller