To say our time in Bikaner was action packed would be a bit of an understatement. As morning broke on our 3rd day in the city it was the opening ceremony of the Camel Festival and little did we know our starring role that lay ahead of us. The lovely owner Jitu of our small guesthouse 'Vinayak' had arranged for us to go to the tourism office before the start of the camel festival parade in order to dress up and take some photos in traditional Indian dress. We thought, hey could be awkward, could be a laugh and went along with some of the guests.
Decked out in all the kit looking fly, we realised in fact that we were going to actually be in the parade. We were whisked off after a few photos with a well dressed man and a motorbike to the parade, where 50 or so camels decked out in incredible decoration stood waiting for us.
Unfortunately we didn't ride on the camels, instead we were given horse drawn chariots. It was absolutely surreal. The number of photos we had taken of us. Don't get me wrong were used to being he centre of attention and people wanting photos left right and centre but this was something else. Crowds of people cheering and waving at us as we waited for the parade to start. Someone even ran over just handed us their baby so they could get a photo with us.
Clearly a blonde girl and British man dressed in bright pink, gold and green was just the peak of hilarity. We certainly felt like the Maharajah and Maharani we were made up to be! One very keen Indian American man in our party looked a little green eyed at all the attention we were receiving.
As the parade went on we were whisked through town in a parade of camels, and camel carts, local folk performers and then us the tourists at the back playing dress up. An unforgettable experience.
The actual festival itself was a little bit of an anti climax after the mind blowing morning. We watched elaborately dressed camels be paraded and judged, an impressive military band do a rendition, and whilst we missed the camel dancing we saw some doing it afterwards. To say a camel has moves would be an exaggeration, they basically jump on their hind legs like a pimp mobile with hydraulics.
The day came to an end after the contest of Mr and Mrs Bikaner with a 'grand cultural evening' narrated by a guy with the most hilarious posh English/Indian accent and a way with superlatives that is 'simply unrivalled anywhere in this greatest of lands' (for example).
In the end he somewhat oversold a collection of interesting musicians and pretty amateur dance routines, albeit in beautiful surrounding of the stadium all lit up.
After our camel trek we headed pretty much straight to another remote part of the surrounding desert for the climax of the 2014 camel festival in the dunes. This day transpired to be probably the only time in our 2 months experience in India where we felt uncomfortable. The festivals took place an hour or so outside of Bikaner in a small village in the desert. The dunes were big and it was the equivalent of a big field, there was very little infrastructure unlike the first day in the city stadium and it was absolutely heaving.
This wasn't a family affair. Everywhere you looked were groups of young men, honestly there were barely any women and children to be seen.
Clearly for the people in these more remote villages the festival was the big event of the year and the crowd was impossibly excitable, the moment anything happened everyone would be up running around like a mob. A guy just drove his motorbike on the the dunes and rode around, everyone bolted it was a bit mental. I hope the photos do some justice to the whole scene.
The festival itself wasn't all that interesting, we definitely arrived too early and watched an Indian school game a bit like an organised version of 'it' and then there was wrestling.
The main events for us were the camel races which came around and were basically the climax of an experience that I'm actually finding really difficult to articulate in words, it wasn't really threatening just not particularly enjoyable. The camel race was impressive, seeing camels run really fast was great, there was some serious competition as well.
These guys wanted to win. The issue was that with everyone in the excitable mood they were the crazy nature of the camel race was a recipe for disaster. There was no rope or anything and some of these young jus riding a huge camel running full pelt had little to no control, when someone stepped out a little too far to take a photo and got full on kicked in the air by storming camel the excitement hit fever pitch.
Everyone started swarming and running around to the guy who got hit, all the while the camels were still running around. I'm surprised no one was seriously hurt or at least no one to our knowledge. We were the other centre of attention again although not in a fun and consenting way like the first day. There was no escaping the crowds. We were a group of 8 tourists of maybe 20 tourists there in total. We stood still for 1 minute and we'd have a crowd of young Indian men encircling us laughing taking photos of the girls. For a little while this is annoying when it's all day it starts to become uncomfortable as such 4 or so hours of camel festival we decided was plenty and we decided to head back early missing another 'grand cultural evening' judging by the last one we didn't miss much. On the way back Jitu the guesthouse owner told us his father had called to check we were all ok as fights had broken out at the event between police and villagers, nothing too serious but it really was the sort of atmosphere where something had to kick off. Not a drop of booze in sight just over excited large groups of blokes, bit like the Sunday night of Reading festival, in the desert.
Our time in Bikaner was a seriously unforgettable few days, we were going full throttle doing as much as possible and were ready for some relaxation in one of the most beautiful and famous desert forts in Jaisalmer.