In November 2012, Hukuma Ram made the trek to the Pushkar with a group from his village, their many camels in tow. It took them nine days of walking through countryside and roads to reach their destination. It was not an easy journey; they often struggled without enough water or food and there were days when they did not eat at all. But they could not miss the holy pilgrimage to Pushkar Mela, the great camel fair.
Ram is Rabari, a nomadic people whose culture centers around their relationship to the camel. Each year, for five days around early November, camel traders bring some 20,000 camels from their villages to Puskar, a town in Rajasthan, India, for the Pushkar Mela where they buy and sell their camels, participate in religious ritual and celebration. This year's Pushkar Mela, which begins on Nov. 9 and lasts through Nov. 17, will see crowds of upwards of 200,000 people.
Above, Ram stands beside his camel, Ropal. Ram first started working with camels when he was 15 years old, learning the trade from his father and grandfather. Ram has 15 camels of his own; he uses the females primarily for milk and the males for transport and plowing his patch of land where he grows vegetables. "It's a hard, tiring life caring for our camels," he said, "but I love them."
Last fall was Ram's 20th consecutive year coming to Pushkar Mela. He went to both buy and sell. He remembered the first time he came to Pushkar when there were only as many as 12,000 camels and there was plenty of grass for camels to eat. In recent years, he's noticed that the grazing land is disappearing and traders now have to purchase food for their camels. Ram worried that Mela has become too commercial, that it has lost its sense of close-knit community.
Still, he said, "If camels are happy, we are happy."