With an early rise and start I leave my hotel and walk past the entrance gate to the fort. It beckons and tries to lure me inside, but I press onwards through the golden city. Ubiquitous yellow-gold sandstone bricks compose most of the intricately carved buildings. The typical medieval streets are complete with errant cows, erratic traffic and everything else Indian. But I find little time on this walk to soak up the atmosphere. The excessive tourist hassle does little to detract from the charm of this fascinating place, but I maintain my brisk pace through the army of touts and finally arrive at the Jaisalmer Desert Festival.
Camels and people alike crowd the large dusty field in a stadium just outside the city. The feeling of excitement permeates the air as a camel-mounted brass band brings their final song to a close. The festival has begun and I arrive just in time to catch the opening folk dance by a cadre of colorfully clothed women! The festive atmosphere takes hold and I already have confidence that this is the best place to be at this very moment.
Over the next few hours I wander the grounds and gawk at the spectacles of the event. Amongst the crowds of spectators is a full compliment of extravagantly costumed characters. Throughout the day each and every one is called to the stage for their fifteen minutes of fame. Burly men in white regalia, excessive jewelry and some outrageous facial hair compete for the prizes of ‘Mr. Desert’ and ‘Best Moustache’. Beautiful women clothed in bejeweled red saris, caked on makeup and even equally excessive jewelry are all hoping to win this year’s ‘Miss Moomal’ title. It is like a beauty pageant, costume contest and prom court all rolled into one.
The surreal event is appropriately accompanied by Indian classical instrument renditions of popular Bollywood songs but to make it even stranger, children destined to be the future Mr. Desert and Miss Moomal contestants are brought to the festival in camel-cart dioramas. These elaborate scenes of elegant embroidery and furniture frame the ornately costumed kids as they lounge around impersonating the historical figures of Mahendra and Moomal.
Before the final dance routine of the day, I am extremely pleased to see the Moustache Competition. About twenty men share the stage and sport their vast varieties of facial hair manipulation; from the thinnest twirled ‘stache to the bushiest beard. My vote goes for the man who has mutton-chops stiffly gelled to form two spiky fans protruding from his cheeks!
Non-stop amusement and sheer childlike wonder fill the day. The decision to cut Jodhpur short in favor of Jaisalmer has already paid off. I can’t imagine what the next two days of this festival has in store for me, but I already know it is the highlight of my trip to Rajasthan.
Tags: - Photography, Asia, Festival, India, India: Rajasthan, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan