Shimmering ghagras, colourful turbans, gravity defying moustaches and majestically decorated camels defined the opening day of the annual Desert Festival being held here.
The festival brought forth a paraphernalia of the artistic and cultural riches of the desert amidst a crowd that immersed itself into the vibrant mood of the festival, despite the scorching heat.
“There are 8,000 to 9,000 people at the venue at any given time, and the entire festival has over 40,000 people visiting,” said district administrator Bhagirath Singh.
The festival kicked off with the ‘Shobha Yatra’ – a procession of folk dancers, musicians playing dhols and shehnais, and ornately decorated camels mounted by men handsomely dressed in the traditional Rajasthani attire.
The procession began from the picturesque Gadisar lake and skirted through the narrow, winding lanes of the Jaisalmer city to the Shahid Poonam Singh Stadium.
Bystanders and foreign tourists were seen enthusiastically joining in the celebrations, trying to match steps with the dancers.
The festival has become an annual winter event since 1979, since the local administration first started organising it with the hope of attracting tourists to the barren desert of Jaisalmer.
The National Film Award winning Bengali movie ‘Shonar Kella’ in 1974 first captured the interest of tourists, who began to visit the city in order to see the 12th century fort of Jaisalmer, which is built in yellow sandstone.
The ‘Golden fort’ – which appears to rise out of the desert – provided the perfect backdrop for the various cultural events and competitions.
The events included a turban tying competition for Indians and foreigners.
While most local participants deftly wrapped colourful turbans around their head in under a minute, foreign tourists were seen struggling with the length of the cloth, entangling themselves in the nine yards of the colourful fabric, drawing peals of laughter from the onlookers.
Rob Carter, a 35-year-old UK resident managed to tie a near-perfect turban in under three minutes.
“This is my second visit to India. My wife found out about the Desert Festival while planning this trip, and we decided to give it a go,” said Carter.
“I love that they gave us the turban after the competition,” he said.
Other events, including the moustache competition, Mr Desert competition, and a beauty pageant competition provided tourists a chance to immerse themselves in the vibrant culture of Rajasthan.
“All the events at the festival are being judged by district level government officers instead of elected local political representatives to ensure that there is no bias,” Singh said.
Folk dances of different parts of India, including Kashmir, Punjab and Gujarat, performed with the illuminated Jaisalmer Fort glowing against the night sky, and a thin cloud of dust hanging over the audience, marked the end of the first day of the Desert Festival, which closes on January 31.