Nagaur in Rajasthan comes alive once a year as the home of a very traditional livestock fair. An event barely touched by modernity and much the same as it would have been centuries ago. I travelled to Nagaur via the overnight train from Delhi to Jodhpur, but getting off about 100km short of Jodhpur at a rather nondescript place called Merta Junction. I disembarked at some unearthly hour of the morning having had barely any sleep, due in part to sharing a compartment with a very loudly snoring man, and also having to be awake to be sure of getting off at the right stop. A 2 hours drive from Merta Junction brought me rather dishevelled to Nagaur and my home for the next 5 days, the Rajasthan Tourist Office Tented Camp, complete with en-suite bathroom. Turned out I was the only occupant that first night and for most of the rest of the week; not very surprising really as finding out about the Nagaur Cattle Fair had been akin to solving an Inspector Clouseau mystery.
The campsite turned out to be ideally located for the fair; assuming of course that you want to be in close proximity to the sight, sound and smell of thousands of cattle, camels and horses and their owners. The main business of the fair is to trade livestock, and in particular cattle. The sellers are farmers from within Rajasthan and the buyers, in the main, are dealers from the Punjab and Gujarat. As ownership of the cattle transferred from seller to buyer through the week, so the cattle themselves gradually migrated from pairs dotted around the fairground to long neat rows ready to be transported to their new homes. Camels were also present in huge numbers, many being traded, but an equal number as the motive power for the thousands of camel carts dotted across the fair ground. Dawn across the fair ground had the feel of a bygone era, almost primeval in atmosphere.
Groups of men wrapped in blankets squatting huddled around open fires, many smoking hookah pipes to kick start bodies left stiff by a freezing night in the open; all set against a backdrop of smoke and dust rising against a slowly brightening sky,
Elsewhere the Marwari horses were being put through their paces, many being asked to dance on a small box to the incessant sound of drums and bugles. A future as a wedding horse was all these magnificent animals could presumably look forward to. Any festival in Rajasthan would be incomplete without a few competitions for best-dressed bullock, camel and best moustache. Taken very seriously by contestants and audience alike. One of the delights of Nagaur is that there is little pretence at organisation and anarchy is given free reign. Events take place when the contestants turn up, spectators are at liberty wander almost anywhere, including backstage with the dancing girls, where I found myself one afternoon; just taking some pictures of course.
On the final day the chili came to the fore. Throughout the week of the fair the livestock gradually reduced and the chili stalls increased. The puzzle was explained on my last day and as the fair was breaking up. With camel carts clogging the roads in all directions, much like a Bank Holiday weekend back in UK, revellers were stocking up on last minute souvenirs. The Rajasthani equivalent of the British tradition of returning from the seaside with a stick of rock appears to be to return from the fair with a sack if chilies from what is reputed to be the largest chili market in Rajasthan if not India.
Photo credits: Jeremy Richards.