Camel Festival in Bikaner, India
My dreams (both day and night) are still filled with images of the snow-tipped Himalayas, the burning ghats in Varanasi, traditional weddings, the spectacular Taj Mahal and scenes of the Thar dessert, be it camping under the starry sky on a camel trek, or standing under the relentless sun to watch camel jockeys race their long-legged friends across the sand to great crowd applause.
The Bikaner camel festival is a smaller version of the more famous event in Jaisalmer, but it’s still worth a stop on your itinerary. Bikaner itself is a fantastic little town in the northern tip of Rajasthan, India’s desert state, and the annual camel fest takes place outside of town near a village called Ladera.
Upon arrival, camels and their owners prance around in bedazzled decor, in search of paying riders. There weren’t many foreign tourists in attendance, but the Indian children love to climb on a tall animal’s back and see the view from above. I had yet to go on a camel safari (that would come later, outside Jaisalmer), but I saved my money during this event and focused on hydrating myself instead. Standing on the sand in 100+ degrees felt like sauna.
There were several concession stands set up, though many of the stalls sold the same things – either homemade candies like the ones featured above (they taste like fried sugar balls), or drinks including chai, soda and water. There were few places to get a meal, so sugar and water satisfied me during the eight-hour day.
After a wrestling match, the crowd gathered around to watch a rather intriguing game of Kabaddi – a complicated and much more entertaining version of tag that is popular in these parts of the country. When the games were finished, the crowd barreled over a few dunes to sit beside the longest, flattest part of the desert, a place already groomed for the highlight of the day: camel races.
Crowd monitors enforced a line of bailing twine to separate the sometimes unruly camels and the overeager crowd, but each time the animals raced by with tiny men between their humps, urging them faster! faster!, the entire crowd stood, ran out onto the track and after the camels.. It was an act not unlike the way fans rush the court after their basketball team wins the championship; one that I will never quite understand.
I think these guys had the best view of the chaos, and all of it’s attempt to be orderly.
Bikaner Camel Festival in Images