On my way to the Nagaur Fort in Rajasthan, I encountered a large cloud of dust. In the still desert, this could only mean two things: a dust storm or an exodus. It turned out to be an exodus, but joining the humans and their monstrous trucks were cud-chewing cows, milky white horses, listless buffaloes and lots of haughty camels.
In January or February every year, traders from different states across the country bring between 20,000 to a lakh of these animals to the vast desert just outside of Nagaur, for the eight-day long Nagaur Cattle Fair. The fair offers an offbeat way to explore Rajasthan, away from the trappings of tourist hotspots.
Cattle buyers arrive at Nagaur from all over Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Gujarat to bargain their way into a new herd or to make at least a few additions to their flock. The sellers proudly display their purebreds decked up in colourful beads and pieces of cloth. The fair has been around since the 12-15th century. The district Ministry of Animal Husbandry has been promoting it for the last 60 years.
The town of Nagaur also has ancient antecedents. The town was at the epicentre of the Mughal invasion by Akbar in 1561. The Nagaur Fort has several legends associated with it, including that of the local ruler Rao Amar Singh Rathor, who resisted the invasion.
One of its kind
Apart from the actual give-and-take of animals, if you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a camel race or watch a traditional puppeteer. Apart from the mela, you could visit the largest Mirchi Bazaar (or the Red Chilli Bazaar) in India, which is also held in Nagaur at around the same time.
At the Cattle Fair, animals are sold for anywhere between Rs 500 to a lakh or more, depending on their pedigree. Two days later, when I passed by Nagaur again, the sand had settled. The vast desert loomed, completely devoid of the frenetic activity of the past few days. My temporary family and other animals had disappeared like a mirage. It’s true what they say: the Cattle Fair truly brings Nagaur to life.