Wed 19 May 2010
On horseback pursued by camels in the accursed climate of Hindustan…
According to the route you travel, there is always something lying ahead. This season brought me to Pushkar, India. I discovered new designs and sent them home to long lost friends like old postcards of towns and squares as they used to be. I shift elements when I design and try to combine influences; from ancient tile courtyards to the routes of barn swallows. I end up pruning and trimming ideas to create new prints. Finally, I consult former court astrologers for the answers. One told me to respond to the quality of the hour, the softening of the light at sunset, and that the next bus was coming in four hours.
I did not have the foresight to avoid the Diwali festival whilst working on my next collection this past October. All of India shuts down for a week to pay homage to the gods of light and money. I figured I might as well see the markets before I headed out of town to Pushcar to see some friends; convenient during a time when the city is celebrating and all of the workshops are closed for the week.
Jaipur became a riot of exploding firecrackers, engulfing the city in a hazy glow. Jonas, my friendly Belgium photographer who lives in Jaipur, somehow persuaded me to wade into the sea of people shopping in the pink city on one of the most congested days of the year, a Black Friday of sorts, to shoot all of the light displays. Grazed by taxis, food carts and fellows selling fake moustaches, Jonas and I shot the colorfully decked out buildings and bought some quirky hand cut stickers while we wandered around and looked for his driver. I was amazed at how happy everyone was amidst the mad rush and deadening noise. Families strolled with kiddies like a walk in the park. I made my offerings at a local temple, shot some blurry and dark photos, and jumped in a taxi. India had roughed me up a bit and now I was ready to work on the next season of prints.
Since all of the workshops were closed for at least a week for Diwali, I went to visit my new friends Francesca and Bonnie. They had invited me to come to their camp in Pushkar to ride horses around the famous Pushkar camel fair. This sounded like an excellent idea though somewhat tricky, since I wanted to shoot the fair while riding through it and I don’t know how to ride. All I know about riding is to make click click noises with my tongue. Francesca promptly instructed me to not do any such thing.
The fair is in the Thar desert. Surrounded by hills and sand dunes, this proved to be an amazing backdrop for the annual religious and camel fair which coincides with the full moon. Turbaned men come to buy and sell their horses and camels. In total, 25, 000 camels are traded. The camels are cleaned, washed, and adorned. There are special stalls selling finery and jewelry for the camels, including silver bangles for their ankles and necklaces.
With 400 temples, Pushkar Lake is one of the most sacred spots in the region. The most important of these is the Lord Brahma temples. Here resides the Sadhu. The root of the words refers to the creator of the universe. It is great watching many Sadhus descend from the Himalayas to visit the temple.
We set off from their fantastic and cozy camp. The camp had tents set in a row and guides serving up a hot chai as the sun rose. With no grace whatsoever, I threw myself on a horse and circled around the camp trying to figure out who was in charge. Next, we all headed off through sandy plains towards the camel fair. While en route, a camel charged my horse. I had a snap realization that I might fall off my horse and end up with an excellent story of being mauled by a camel. Thankfully we moved off quickly and had no mauling problems. Francesca informed me the male camel must be in heat and protecting his lady camels; an even better story than being mauled by a camel in heat!
We arrived at the fair and circled around the hundreds of camels and their herders from all over India in brightly colored turbans. The fellows hovered around the camels and examined their teeth before sitting on their blankets and negotiating calmly in the striking sun. The camels were all decked out in necklaces and pom poms like they had a very snazzy cocktail to attend any minute; once all of this silly haggling is done. We rode over to the horse fair where Francesca and Dolly stole sidelong glances at the quirky but sturdy looking Marwari horses with their pointed ears. They purchase these horses for their tours.
Later, in the town of Pushkar, we went to see the only Brahma temple in India and pay our respects to it. Super cool Sadhu wandered around and informed us only rupee bills were acceptable. “No coins please”.
We then ran about the town shopping for textiles since this is a big Indian (as well as foreigner) spot and there are lots of interesting objects to obsess over.