India is full of extremes and vitality, but nothing could have prepared me for the Pushkar Camel Fair.

Here at this enormous, crazy event it’s as if the colours, noise and smells have been cranked up to the highest level, making it the most vibrant, energetic and surreal place I have ever been to.

The Pushkar Camel Fair takes place in the middle of the dusty Thar Desert in Rajasthan, northern India, over five days in November, around the time of the full moon. It is where traders and farmers buy and sell camels, cattle and horses.

It is the largest camel fair in the world where 200,000 people – pilgrims, camel traders, tourists and touts – and 50,000 camels, horses and other livestock descend on the tiny town of Pushkar.

My day starts in relative calm. I am staying at the Royal Desert Camp, just a few kilometres away from the fair, in a tent with en suite facilities – shower and a flushing loo – this is glamping at its most luxurious.

So how to get to the fair? Of course, there is only one way – by camel and cart, and I ride across the bumpy, parched ground passing other camel ‘taxis’ carrying smiling families and travellers to the festival, everyone is in high spirits.

The fair stretches out in every direction over the sand dunes packed with people, young and old, going here and there, laughing and bartering, it makes Glastonbury look as demure as a village fete.

Camels are draped with bright pink, green, blue and yellow strings and ribbons over their long necks and a red pom-pom sits like a top-knot on top of their noses, some look out with their haughty demeanour over the hordes of people mingling around, while others lounge around relaxing on the ground under the hot sun or drink at the troughs, and there are herds of well-bred horses standing under the shade of a canopy.

As I wander around I pass a snake charmer playing his flute coaxing a cobra to come out of his basket, an elephant taking a tourist for a ride and a boy showing off the antics and tricks of his pet monkey, There are soothsayers to tell you your fortune and young men selling beads and bangles, shouting “buy from me, good price”.
Groups of families – mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and many children and babies – wander around admiring the livestock. While other festival-goers are seeing if they can buy a bargain from the traders who are selling everything from rice and spices to candy-coloured camel regalia, sparkling bracelets and vibrant printed fabrics.

Then out of the blue, I hear hurdy-gurdy music wafting across the air and there in the middle of this confusion of people, colour and noise in this dusty desert is a Ferris wheel and a fair ground.

Slowly I make my way through the throngs of excited people to the make-shift stadium, where the events and competitions take place. This is the highlight of the festival for many.

Luckily my tour guide manages to get me a seat under cover in the VIP section of the auditorium, but for many of the festival-goers they watch perching on the branches of trees or sitting precariously on a high wall to get a glimpse of the spectacle below.

Camel racing and kabaddi are just two of the events the audience love to watch along with cricket matches and the competition for the man with the longest moustache.

But as I arrive, the horse racing is about to begin. One at time, the riders race around the stadium at break-neck speed, turbans flying, dust whipping up, to test who is the fastest. Next the riders show off their skills by walking their horse around posts.

But the most bizarre event is the tug-of-war. Sikhs against the foreigners (made up of random ex-pats) pull and push the rope, and the audience cheer them on – the Sikhs win. But if that isn’t exciting enough – it is then the women’s turn. Slightly-built Indian women wearing colourful saris pit their strength against the more robust female foreigners, although the Indian women put up a good battle, they are pulled over the line.

After the winners proudly receive their medals, the event comes to a close. And as the sun dips down, it is time for me to make my way back to the sanctuary of my campsite – which way to the camel taxi rank?

By Lindi Bilgorri