By Roger Allnutt, Special to the Van Nuys News Press
RAJASTHAN, INDIA — A sudden hush comes over the large crowd gathered in the dusty arena in the centre of Jaisalmer as a roll of drums signals the beginning of the Camel Tattoo, part of the program of the annual Desert Festival.
With the rays of the setting sun turning the stone of the ancient Jaisalmer fort that provides a backdrop to the evening’s show a rich golden hue, the corps of bandsmen mounted on brightly caparisoned camels and playing a variety of instruments parade around the arena before taking up position to one side.
A loud cheer greets the 24 members of the Border Security Force as they file onto the arena, the hoofs of the camels kicking up a cloud of dust. To the sound of music from the mounted band the troupe carries out intricate manoeuvres, circles and cross-overs among other formations, and ballet-like steps before the ‘drivers’ perform various tricks on the backs of their camels. It is an amazing display, rather like the famous Edinburgh Tattoo but on camels. The tattoo is held as part of the annual Desert Festival each February.
Jaisalmer is the furthest west city in the Indian state of Rajasthan that abuts the border with Pakistan to the south west of the capital Delhi. Jaisalmer is dominated by the magnificent fort that is still lived in by many local inhabitants. Parts of the fort are crumbling badly due to drainage problems. An interesting sight during our tour was to watch a camel pulling a huge ‘grindstone’ round a trench mixing up mortar for the workmen doing repairs.
Below the fort the local markets are in full swing, fresh fruit and vegetable stalls competing with tiny shops selling spices, materials, and arts and crafts.
Camels are everywhere in Jaisalmer (and the rest of Rajasthan) and are used to pull heavily laden carts; they plod along at a measured pace, heads up and noses pointing to the sky.
Naturally a camel safari is a ‘must’ for any visitor to Jaisalmer and a couple of villages, Sam and Khuri, outside the city are the main bases for these activities. Some safaris are of two and three day duration but we chose to just include a camel ride to sand dunes from where we could watch the sun set.
Another ‘event’ at the Desert Festival is rangoli, a traditional form of decoration creating patterns on buildings or pavements using different coloured ‘paints’ from ground sandstone and soapstone. Due to cost the colouring used is now artificial. Some of the patterns drawn by locals, including schoolgirls, were very intricate using numerous colours.
A feature of Rajasthan especially as you go further west towards Jaisalmer is the use of colour in dress. Many men still wear a turban and the colour and shape can indicate the status of the wearer. Most women wear saris, even when working out in the fields or on the roads and these add a splash of colour to the otherwise dusty colour of the countryside.
Few men in India do not have a moustache (or beard) and great pride is taken in developing some of the moustaches into huge, bushy affairs often curled up at the end. Earrings are also common for men – in both ears – and these can be simple studs, traditional tribal-patterned studs or ornate, gold hoops. A very dashing look!
The best time to visit Rajasthan is from November to March when the weather is pleasantly cool and there is virtually no rain. (www.jaisalmerdesertfestival.com)