If you can imagine an older bus, sliced in half lengthwise on the inside with sleeping compartments upper and lower, with a narrow passage between them, that’s basically the sleeper-bus we took to Pushkar. In the starboard section of the stern (if it were a boat) there’s about a quarter of the length devoted to seats (below two sleeping compartments). That’s where the STEP gang all were for the six hour overnight journey. The seats had a fair amount of leg-room, and tilted back so it was actually a pretty good ride, if only the roads were not quite so pitted. We left Udaipur at 10pm and arrived about 4:30; stopped for chai along the road there, and then took a very chilly 40 min. ride into Pushkar in the dark, quiet of pre-dawn.
The hotel let us store our gear, in the only room available at that point, and we headed right on to the Camel Fair in the dark. People were beginning to stir, even at that early hour, and Chai cafes (tiny, dirty, campy affairs) were opening. We trundled along for about 1 1/2 km. till we got to where the camels and their people were all hunkered in together for the night. It was not spectacular, but admittedly, its the most camels I’ve ever seen anywhere before. The fair is dwindling because the camel-culture is dying out for various reasons – destruction of habitat, national border issues for nomadic herding cultures, and the love of the internal combustion engine are the three main ones.
Some of the camels were decorated, this one was the best of the shaved ones I saw. Some were painted, but I liked this guy best.
There were not that many foreigners, but every one of them was busy snapping photos, and the actual physical, emotional interactions between folks was focused on the picture-taking. Nothing wrong with that, but I had a different idea. Surprised???
I took along my wonderful camel puppet (Folkmanis, is an awesome, and award winning hand-puppet making company, and I brought a few of my best ones to India along with a few I made myself). I had an instinct that the herding people would get a kick out of this puppet and I was right! It provided a few shared laughs and a delightful way to engage with the folks there that hopped right over the language barrier!
In this next photo, I shared a good laugh with a clump of folks, you can see the woman laughing from beneath her veil.
There was an older man, who really loved it, shown below. He wanted it, and I would have traded him something for it, but somehow that didn’t get communicated. So on we walked and a couple minutes later, as I walked by a tent with a family all still a-bed on a big family charpoi (the bed made of thongs), with a few single person cots in there too; I caught someone’s eye with my puppet. They motioned me in, and I had a sweet exchange with them. The young mother, uncovered a sleeping infant, and her older daughter was there, introducing herself in broken English. I looked into their lovely faces and decided this would be the puppet’s new family.
This particular weekend was religiously auspicious, and many tribal clans came to bathe in the lake there, considered a sacred lake because Pushkar boasts the only temple dedicated to Brahma that exists (apparently). So there were large family groups trooping through town, with sometimes a patriarch or two but with many women in their brilliant Rajasthani clothes. They all made their way to the ghats where they bathed and achieved, a kind of karmic cleansing.
As I have promised, this bog is not just going to be a travelogue, but also my intent was to provide inspiration and stimulating things to think about and engage with, so with that in mind, I’m including a link to an incredible documentary about an animal communicator. Here’s the link: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/11936/The-Animal-Communicator
This woman’s perspective and presence shows a way of being with creatures that is rare and precious. I’d like to be more like her. MUCH more like her in that regard. So, as I was walking about the camels, I chose one to sit near and settled into a quiet space just being with her, paying attention to her, sending her a message of gentle companionship and safety. I looked in her eyes and noted some anxiety, and confusion along with curiosity. It made me more mindful of how the animals might be feeling there, away from their normal homes. And,I noticed how they were treated. Some of them were double-hobbled, with their front-legs both bound up, so that they couldn’t stand-up all the way, even if startled. They could rise up on their front knees only. A good strategy for troublesome or especially skittish camels. But I couldn’t help feeling compassion for them. I can imagine how stiff and painful that would be having my legs tied up all night.
It was just about dawn, and as I didn’t have my bearings there yet, and was with a group, I couldn’t easily take much time for communing with my young camel-friend. But here’s the photo I took of this youngster after my five minutes of quiet with her. Although the photo is rather dark, it seems to have captured her curiosity of this person who just sat down quietly with her.
But it wasn’t just the camels I could feel compassion for, of course. These herding people are losing their way of life, not so slowly, but quickly. Even over the last few years, my co-worker, Karen reports a startling dwindling of numbers. Things don’t stay the same for ever, and the wave of change we’re in effects us all. But I do feel for these people who have had a deep connection to the land and a way of life.
Yet sometimes, new approaches and ventures can be developed that bring about new life, new relationships, and new creativity. Here’s a booth we came upon as we walked through the commercial area, that is an organization developing some alternative ideas for re-investing in the camel culture of the Rajasthani people.
Since I’m on a theme of love and respect for animals, here, finally, are a few photos of the mural I painted weeks ago. I think the Principal was expecting some cutsy, cartoony animals, but I just couldn’t go there. I did, however, give the Banyan Tree a face. That’s as far as I could go with my artistic license on this theme. I just figured a big, friendly, smiling face with eyes that seem kind would be a good thing in a classroom, along with an assortment of realistic animals. Embedded in some of the branches going to the ground, I wrote the alphabet and numbers, as that was part of their request.
Here’s what they got: