Rajasthan is at its colorful best during fairs and festivals. There are numerous festivals throughout the year, which brighten the otherwise hard and dreary lives of the villagers of the deserts.
One of the most popular and charismatic fairs of the desert is the Pushkar fair, held on the 11th day of the bright half of the moon. The time of the fair corresponds to the western month of October/November.
For five days in a year, all the gods revisit Pushkar and bless the devout. This accounts for the unbelievable number of devotees who flock to the lake to wash away their sins. Pushkar Lake is the most sacred lake in India. From time immemorial, people have been gathering here annually during the month of Kartik. During the days of the mela, the otherwise tranquil lake is engulfed by religious fervor. Thousands of devotees congregate to take a dip, sadhus descend from the Himalayas and people pray for salvation to the sound of verses from the Holy Scriptures that fill the air.
For the desert people, this large congregation has tremendous economic implications. These five days, apart from being a period of relaxation and merrymaking for the villagers, correspond to the largest cattle fair in the country. Animals, mainly camels, are brought from miles around. Trading is brisk as several thousand heads of cattle exchange hands. All the camels are cleaned, washed, adorned, some are interestingly shorn to form patterns, and special stalls are set up selling finery and jewelry for the camels. One of the interesting sights is the piercing of a camel's nose. Races and competitions are organized. Camels lope across the sands, sometimes throwing their riders on to the vast sands, amidst cheers and jeers from thousands of spectators. An interesting event is the camel beauty contest where they are adorned and paraded. They preen themselves before the crowds enjoying every moment of the attention they get.
Turbaned heads, the colorful veils and skirts of the women bring alive the arid desert. The village women are dressed in their best clothes and finery for the five-day mela.
As night descends upon the sand dunes, one can hear sounds of the ektara (a single-stringed instrument) and the soulful tunes of the Rajasthani folk songs. Smoke rises from the makeshift and temporary fires where dinner is being cooked. People begin to retire to their respective tents and hotel rooms to rest until the next day when hectic activity begins once again.