The golden city of Jaisalmer stands above the Thar Desert, unspoiled and overflowing with rich history with temples and palaces all built out of sandstone. Every year in February The Desert festival organised by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation in Jaisalmer is held in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Lasting a total of three days, its distinguished celebrations and exotic sights draw vast amounts of people to the city, both from India and overseas. While Jaisalmer may always have been remote, it is filled with many artistic structures and historical monuments that formed the city’s heritage; the city itself was named after Maharawal Jaisal Singh, a Rajput king who established the city in 1156 AD.
The Desert festival was originally created to attract foreign tourists who wished to explore the many structures and was beneficial for the country as Tourism is a major industry in Jaisalmer. The Jaisalmar Fort was declared as one of the Seven Wonders of India as of late, and is one of the biggest desert forts in the world. This month may be an ideal time to visit Jaisalmer for those who wish to witness performing arts such as Kalbelia dances, folk songs and music, as October to March is the tourist season. While Marwari and Hindi are the local dialects, a majority of locals have some basic knowledge of English.
Thousands of foreign visitors hailing from various different countries take to the desert to experience the various events that take place during the festival such as the camel racing, turban tying, Miss Moomal and Mr. Desert competitions. Foreigners may often be seen posing for pictures with the winners. Moustaches and turbans are symbols of masculinity in Rajasthan, but more importantly they symbolise honour, and the most honoured one of all is Mr. Desert: a contest where judges evaluate moustaches based on a number of criteria, including length and quality. Nomads also journey across the desert to sell crafts, goods, jewellery and items at the bazaar. Some city hotels may organise camps at the desert with meals and scheduled entertainment to obtain the real cultural experience with bonfire and performances by local Rajasthani dancers and singers.
The festival kicks off with a ceremonial procession, known locally as Shobha Yatra, where Rajputs and other clans dress in their traditional garments. Men ride atop camels, elephants and horses carrying swords and are cheered on as they reach the Shahid Poonam Singh Stadium. Other distinctive happenings at the festival include snake charmers, colourful puppet shows, balladeers, and folk music recitals. The folk music has been influenced by the bordering Sindh region of Pakistan, and has progressed over history. Performers, including the Manganiyar folk musicians, sing and dance about the triumphs and tribulations of their people over the ages. In addition, traditional acrobatic acts are performed by Kalabaz or Nats (local nomadic gymnasts).
The festival ends on the third day with a final musical performance by folk singers under the moonlit sky at the dunes in Sam, just outside Jaisalmer. The festival aims to focus more on local elements and heritage, such as Rajasthani folk songs and dance presented by some of the best professionals of the art. Besides the food, the music and the cultural performances, there are camel themed events taking place, all while the animals are dressed and decorated for the occasion. The famous Gair and Fire dancers are the major attractions of the desert festival celebrations.
The Jaisalmer Desert Festival is popular for people of all ages, who may be captivated by various colourful performances and romantic scenery observed under the twinkling stars of the desert sky.
How might even the most remote of areas draw the interest of visitors to explore a country’s heritage?