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Review: Nagaur Fair

Specialist Holiday - Horse riding

Rajasthan, India

Across the Thar desert

  • By SilverTraveller Holland

    35 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon

  • Jan 2009
  • Friend(s)

54 people found this review helpful

Tall, majestic and striking with long hair and a luxuriant moustache Bonnie made quite an impression on us. I wonder, did his nanny call him a “bonnie baby”?? The name has stuck and his real name (which I never knew….) is rarely used by those he looks after on his rides in Rajasthan. His ancestors built Dundlod Castle in the 18th century and here we stayed for our first night, sitting around an open fire in the courtyard for dinner. Next morning off by mini bus (there were 11 of us: 4 Brits and 7 Americans) for a long drive to Bikaner from where we were to start our ride. Bikaner is a very big town, and our hotel, the Laxmi Niwas Palace, is an amazing huge place built in sandstone, very ornate with a lovely courtyard with tables outside. In the afternoon we went for a city tour with a local guide. First to a huge and very interesting fort, then to a camel breeding farm then to a place where a man did miniature paintings – incredibly fine work with teeny tiny brushes. He holds the Guinness Book of Records for the most things depicted in the smallest painting. He used my fingernail to paint mountains, two birds, a temple with a flag on top and “Dinah in India” all only legible through a magnifying glass. Then we were taken on to a store selling drapes, throws, cushion covers etc and were subjected to hard sell. We escaped back to the hotel for a G&T and dinner in the courtyard accompanied by musicians and dancers.

Next morning we had an hour’s drive to the Gajner Palace Hotel, another huge dark red sandstone building in large gardens, which used to be the hunting lodge of the same Maharajah who built the Laxmi Niwas Palace. They are both part of the Heritage group of hotels. In the afternoon we met our horses. They are all Marwari horses; indigenous to India they are renowned for their ears, which curve inwards and nearly meet at their tips – great for taking photos with the ears as a frame. We walked down to the stables where the horses were tacked up and standing in a line, each held by one of the grooms. We rode around the area near the hotel just to get used to our horses as we were to ride the same one all week.

Next day we started our ride. Bonnie and his nephew took turns as our guides for the ride, which was to last six days and which took us across the Thar desert to visit the Nagaur camel fair. We set off, mainly walking but with a few canters, spoiled by one of the Americans who galloped off unable to control his horse and causing Bonnie to halt the whole ride. Unfortunately this was to be the pattern for the week though he did, eventually, work out that by going round in a big circle the rest of us didn’t have to halt. We watered the horses at a couple of villages where the entire population came out to see us. It seems men and boys don’t work here and tourists are virtually unknown in this area. So to see us, on horseback, caused great excitement. The first afternoon ride was very long and we didn’t get into camp until nearly 8 p.m. and it was dark and cold. We had been riding for seven hours!

Tents were erected each day at a different night stop and were ready for us each evening when we rode into camp. Each tent had a proper bed, small table, mirror, carpet and drapes and flags outside each tent. This was luxury camping A separate trailer housed two showers and loos. The logistics of moving the camp each day, loading everything on to lorries and driving over sandy tracks must have been a mammoth task. We sat on proper chairs for meals, which were excellent and all freshly prepared. Even at lunch stops we had hot meals: soup, various curries, including vegetarian options and a pudding, in the company of local villagers and children who all sat on the ground gazing at us. Every time we stopped, young grooms jumped out of the support vehicle, took the reins of our horses and led them away to be untacked, fed, watered, cleaned and re-tacked ready for us to remount, a couple of hours later, from the mounting block which, mercifully, accompanied us everywhere.

We rode through small villages, across fields and sandy tracks and everywhere we went people came out to watch us ride past. The scenery was much the same on the first few days with scrubby desert, small sand dunes, a few trees and bushes. Later in the week the scenery varied with more hills and dunes and some of the houses seemed more substantial and built in concrete or brick with doors and windows. Must be making a good living from goat herding…. The weather was very pleasant, sunny and warm during the day but very cold at night. I ended up with two duvets and two sleeping bags. Hot water bottles were distributed to our tents each evening after the first night. One of mine leaked during the night…….

One evening we stayed in small huts, very basic but at least with a loo and a bucket of hot water for a shower. After dinner we were treated to a folk show. A lot of chanting, a man in a red dress banging a drum and another picking up hot coals in his teeth and then having his tongue pierced. I had to close my eyes.

One afternoon we rode into camp to an amazing sight. Two young boys in shiny silver coats and turbans, four women with huge silver bowls on their heads, two men with rifles and musicians playing accordions and drums. All very spectacular, entertaining and noisy. We also visited a very small museum with dusty artefacts. Next day’s lunch stop was followed by a search for water for the horses. We found a well and apparently it is not allowed to stand on a concrete water cistern with shoes, so one of the boys took off his chaps and shoes to lower a bucket into the well, at which point we all admired the enormous holes in the heels of his socks.

Eventually, on the fifth day of the ride, we rode into the Nagaur Camel Fair. Absolutely amazing. 25,000 camels, horses and cows spread out over a huge area. Everyone was staring at us riding past. There were no tourists at all. We camped a few miles away from the fair. The next day we went back to the fair in the jeeps to wander around on foot and two of the grooms came as our “minders”. Although the point of the fair was to buy and sell livestock no one seemed to be doing any negotiating. Camels were decorated with red pom-poms on their noses and their coats clipped in intricate patterns. Side booths sold brightly coloured ropes, tassels, blankets and all manner of decorations for the animals, and food stalls served pungent smelling sweet or savoury dishes. There was even a barber doing a brisk trade with a shaving brush and razor. There was a lot of noise and colour and we came across a camel beautifully decorated doing a show with a lot of dressage and high school movements normally done by horses.

That was the end of the ride, but not the end of the holiday. We said goodbye to our horses, to Bonnie and to the very helpful back up team and hello to our next guide, drop-dead gorgeous Shiv. He was excellent, spoke clearly in very good English and gave us a lot of information. We drove first of all to Khimsar where we stayed in another huge sandstone fort converted into a Heritage hotel. Wonderful to have a hot bath and then sit on a sunbed by the swimming pool. Then g&t’s on the terrace in the evening to watch the sunset.

Next day on to Jaisalmer, a long drive through scenery that was mainly desert but with pockets of agriculture and irrigation. Our hotel was the Fort Rajwada, built 10 years ago but in the style of the old palaces and in the same yellow sandstone. In the afternoon we went to visit a chiatri, a traditional burial ground – quite impressive at sunset, then to a silver merchant, happily not as pushy as those in Bikaner. We also visited Jaisalmer Fort, Gadsisar Lake, and a couple of Jain temples, a viewing place with wonderful views over the town, we enjoyed sit down in a café for a glass of lassi and finally on to see the Haveli, wonderful ornate carved stone buildings built in the mid 19th century. Here in Jaisalmer there were a lot of tourist stalls and one stallholder said, as we passed “Please allow me to rip you off today”…… In the evening Shiv had bought some bottles of wine and nibbles and we went to sit on some rocks above the town and watched the sunset and the illuminated fort, entertained by a small boy dancing, a musician, a magician and several young girls selling bracelets. A magical evening.

Next day we stopped en route to Jodhpur at a town where a Desert Festival was being held. We were able to see the procession; lots of beating of drums, twirling of sticks, horses and camels beautifully decorated, some riders in costume and a few pretty girls on floats and some others dancing. All very colourful and noisy and we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time for this was a festival for the locals and we were the only visitors.

Jodhpur was to be our last stop together. The group went on to Jaipur and I returned to Delhi to join another group (see my review on Tiger Re-Quest).

It had been an amazing two weeks. The riding was unforgettable; the scenery spectacular, the horses fun to ride, the company enjoyable and the whole set up with the camping very well organised and the fair, well, I will never forget that. For the second part after the ride it was interesting to see the historical cities of Rajasthan and Schiv was an excellent guide, he explained things well and was very amusing with a fount of knowledge. All in all an unforgettable trip.

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