Pushkar is one of the holy cities of India – The lake that the city is built around is actually one of the five pilgrimage sites for Hindus in India.
Naturally, it’s a busy place. And a beautiful one.
Note for travellers: Being a holy city, there’s no alcohol and no meat in Pushkar (I obviously loved the food options here, being veg!).
There are also signs around town reminding men and women to stay appropriately dressed (covered up knees and shoulders) and for couples to keep a lid on the PDA.
Please be aware of this, and show respect.
The day we arrived just happened to be as Deep Daan was happening.
This meant we got to see a beautiful ritual being performed by the holy lake that night as the sunset.
I’m still not entirely sure what was going on, but there was music, a lot of fire, and these gorgeous sights to behold:
The next morning we got up and (I felt like this was becoming a tradition on my Indian adventures) hiked up a mountain to watch the sun rise.
Of course, we enjoyed a cup of masala chai as we did so, and met some mischievous monkeys who looked like they were planning to snatch our cameras at any minute.
In November in Pushkar, there is the massive Camel Festival.
I did not realise this before arriving in Pushkar.
There were. Camels. Everywhere.
As part of our tour activities, we were headed to a dinner in the middle of the desert.
The way to get there was on camels, and I wasn’t completely sure about that – from an animal rights point of view.
However, I was assured that everything was legitimate, safe and humane with these camel guides – local young men mainly who worked to support their families – and that if I didn’t feel comfortable with it at any time, I could get off.
So off we went, and for the first half an hour of the expected one and a half hour ride, everything seemed fine. I was even having fun.
My camel, and three of the others, were much slower than the rest of the group and soon we fell so far behind the others that we couldn’t even see them.
This didn’t bother us, we were in no hurry, but the guides didn’t like it.
Two guides in particular were a bit grumpy about it.
As my guide, a lovely and sweet young boy, left the line for a moment to, ah, relieve himself in some nearby bushes, one of these two other guides fell back next to my camel.
Then he lifted up his leg to chest height, and then slammed his foot into my camel’s stomach.
Myself, and the girl on the camel behind me, screamed and shouted at him “No!”
We questioned him: Why was he doing that, he didn’t have to do that.
He said my camel was ‘lazy’. I told him that if my camel was tired, I would prefer to get off then, instead of putting more stress on the poor animal.
They ignored that (I guess they could claim language barrier…)
Unfortunately, the camel needs to stop and kneel for one to get off or get on.
I would need the guides to make the camel stop to let me off. And we were already “running late” so they I could tell they didn’t really want to do that.
Once my guide returned I told him what happened and he nodded but didn’t really say much. Maybe he didn’t understand me.
I kept intermittently asking if I could get off, but they just kept saying “soon” – I think they thought I was asking when we were arriving at the dinner spot.
After a little bit longer, the other of the two “grumpy guides” found a metal bar in the sand, and picked it up.
One of the boys in our group, who was pretty fed up with the treatment he was witnessing from this particular guy (He was apparently slapping and prodding the camel constantly, I found out afterwards) actually said to him “If you hit that camel with that bar, I’ll hit you with it.”
He obviously didn’t understand that, because he then proceeded to whack the camel with the metal bar.
At that point I flat out refused to go any further, and insisted that I wanted to get down and NOW.
Luckily, they realised I was serious then, and let me off, where I proceeded to walk off ahead of them along the path in the sand.
I completely realise that this was only the behaviour of two of the many guides that were with us, and that no one else in our group, apart from us “slow” ones at the back had any issue, but it was not acceptable with me and I was disappointed in myself for even having the illusion that something like this could be “legitimate, safe and humane”.
Lets just say, I learnt my lesson and I cried a few tears.*
You can see in the below photo (a beautiful shot of one of the lovely girls on my tour, btw) the second “grumpy guide” tossing around the aforementioned metal bar:
Anyway, that experience didn’t dampen the evening for me, and we all enjoyed a beautiful dinner in the desert, dressing up in traditional clothing, watching a magician, dancers and fire-breathers.
It was the perfect way to end a not-so-perfect day.
*I also must say that I do not in any way blame G Adventures for the camel incident. My tour manager took note of what I said, and was as shocked as I was. G have a great policy regarding sustainability and animal rights, but I guess sometimes things slip through the cracks – and that’s not their fault at all.