Nagaur Cattle Fair is famed for bulls and cows, but the camels that come to the fair also cause a stir. The artwork that’s crafted onto their hairy bodies puts what’s on show at the famous Pushkar Camel fair in the shade.
The Nagaur Cattle Fair is something special. As well as magnificent cattle and majestic horses, Nagaur is also the place to find ornately decorated camels.
After a day amongst the camel breeders, herders and artists, admiring camels as moving works of art, it’s easy to understand why all the camels at the fair are called Raju (which translates as king).
Nagaur’s camels were in magnificent condition, but all is not well for the camels and the pastoralist camel herder communities.
The number of camels is in steep decline. For decades up until the mid 1990’s India’s camel population was consistently around 10 lakh (1,000,000), but it’s estimated that numbers have now fallen to less than 200,000.
The loss of good grazing land, mechanisation (meaning mini vans replacing camel carts) and the purchase of camels for slaughter in states outside of Rajasthan, have all contributed to a rapid decline in numbers.
With 80% of India’s camels residing in Rajasthan, the importance of the Princely state to the camels survival cannot be underestimated. Fortunately, this fact has not been lost on the state’s leaders and legislators.
To highlight the cultural significance of the iconic creature, Rajasthan announced that the camel was to become its official state animal in 2014. A year later, legislation was passed offering protection.
The Rajasthan Camel (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 2015, came into effect in 2016. There’s a 7 year jail term for the slaughter of camel and 3 years jail time for illegally transporting camels out of state.
It is having an impact. At this year’s Nagaur fair 27 people were arrested for trying to smuggle 200 camels out of Rajasthan and into Uttar Pradesh, reports the Times of India.
But, the acts implementation, amongst an illiterate and transient pastoralist population, is also having unintended consequences. It could, according to some sources, also be causing more harm than good.
Out of state buyers, from UP and Punjab, who still use camels in their fields, are now put off by the paperwork involved in a camel purchase, whilst herders who try to cross state boundaries in search of good grazing land come up against officialdom that is alien to them.
So, is there any good news? The future for camels of India could lie in their milk. In late December 2016, the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India, agreed a standard for camel milk which means the milking of camels and the marketing of camel milk can now begin, reports Business Standard.
In Gujarat a new processing facility for camel milk will be up and running by March 2017, with dairy powerhouse Amul backing the project. If the Gujarat milking model proves to be an economic success, then maybe Rajasthan could learn the lessons of success from its neighbour and make the most of its bigger herds.
Thankfully the camel has supporters championing it too. Advocacy organisations are making sure the camel and the pastoralist communities are not forgotten.
The Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan (LPPS) which means “welfare organization for livestock keepers” in Hindi in now over 20 years old. Set up in 1996 to support, represent and lobby for camel pastoralists in acute crises, LPPS provides support to camel pastoralists and seeks out new economic opportunities for the community.
The website Camels of Rajasthan, created by LPPS, which tells the story of the Rajasthan Camel and the pastoralist culture, and offers consumers the chance to buy camel milk, is part of a programme of education about the value of the camel to the Rajasthani culture and community.
Find out more about the life of the camel, the pastoralist communities and what can be done to help this iconic desert animal at these two websites. And take a look at some of the camels and thier owners that we’re on display at Nagaur Fair this year.
Sunil and Raju, Shekhawati region of Rajasthan
Sunil loves Raju and Raju, by the look of it, loves Sunil. This pair, from Shekhawati district of Rajasthan, will be together until someone stumps up the right amount of cash for Sunil’s camel. It’s day four, the final day of the fair, and Sunil says that for 3 lakh Raju can accompany me back to Delhi.
Shearing camels with Ramesh
Hairy beasts, camels are sheared as the weather warms up. Ramesh comes to the fair with his shears to keep the camels cool in the run up to summer.
Dancing desert camels
Potu, a camel dance choreographer is from the town of Sikar and here he is with, yes, you guessed it, Raju. Potu travels the 200 kilometres to Nagaur with his friends every year for a bit of fun.
Potu stands on Raju’s neck to signal the end of their dance routine together. Raju is relaxed and at ease, Potu is proud of Raju. There’s a connection between the two.
A family of rice farmers, Potu says he no longer trades in camels, but keeps them for work and pleasure. Raju the camel, is not for sale, but Puto says his pride and joy is worth at least 10 lakh.
Time to go: when I’m good and ready
The days when trains of camels came to fairs like this are not yet at an end, but modern transport means camels come by lorry and pick up. Not every camel is keen to take up this new mode of travel. Raju has had his fun and his owners think that it’s time for him to go home, but he has a different idea.
This post would not be complete with a picture of a bull of two. The bulls at the Nagaur festival look mighty fine too, don’t you think?