About This Festival
The Jaisalmer Desert Festival is an annual event organized by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation each February at the beautiful golden desert city of Jaisalmer in the state of Rajasthan, India. The massive golden citadel of Jaisalmer towers above the Thar Desert. Remote, romantic, and unspoiled, the walls enclose a hive of palaces, temples and fine merchant houses, all carved from glowing yellow sandstone. Bazaars overflow with the famous crafts of Rajasthan, and spectacular sunsets envelop the city with warm evening hues.
This three-day extravaganza was started as a marketing idea to attract local and overseas tourists interested in exploring the rich and colorful heritage of Rajasthan and its folk culture in a short period of time. It's interesting to note that there is no religious aspect, a rarity for an Indian festival. Thousands of visitors from across the globe make the desert trek to enjoy the various events that take place during the festival such as the mustache contest, turban tying, Miss Moomal and Mr. Desert competitions. Nomads also trek across the desert to sell woven goods, silver jewelry and black-market items at the bazaar.
The festival begins with a ceremonial procession, locally known as Shobha Yatra where local Rajputs and other clans dress in their traditional attire. Men carrying swords atop horses, camels, and elephants are cheered on as they enter the Shahid Poonam Singh Stadium, one of the main venues of the desert festival.
It's a sensory overload of all things Rajasthani, which is justifiably popular with tourists from across the globe. Against the backdrop of Jaisalmer fort, people can tickle their taste buds with delicious delicacies, dance along to music and cultural performances and be amused by camel rides and even a camel tug-of-war.
A Manly Man's Competition
Mustaches and turbans aren't just symbols of masculinity in Rajasthan—they are symbols of honor. And the most honored one of all is Mr. Desert, a contest where judges assess mustaches based on a number of criteria, including length and quality.
Seeing the dedication and creativity that each contestant undergoes is an impressive feat in itself. The competition is one of the top attractions during the festival, as many visitors clamber to take photos alongside the winners. Lucky visitors are occasionally given the opportunity to judge the competition as well.
Other interesting sights at the festival include snake charmers, entertaining puppet shows, balladeers, and lively folk music recitals. The folk music has been influenced by the bordering Sindh region of Pakistan, and has evolved over many centuries. Performers, including the Manganiyar folk musicians, sing and dance about the triumphs and tribulations of theif people over the ages. In addition, traditional acrobatic performances are performed by local nomadic gymnasts, called Kalabaz or Nats. Be enthralled by the multitude of colorful puppeteers, acrobats, folk dancers, and other artists perform under the twinkling stars and desert sky.
Did You Bring Your Camel?
A desert festival wouldn't be complete without the inclusion of camels, and at the Jaisalmer Desert Festival these humped beasts play a major role. Camels feature in a number of events, including camel races, camel polo, camel decoration, and camel dances. The Jaisalmeri breed of camels are particularly known for their speed and agility.
The camel polo match is held between the polo club and the BSF (Border Security Force). Strong men firmly saddled upon their equally sturdy camels captivate the audience with their camel riding skills. And if you still want to hang out with camels, hotels offer camel safaris for their guests.
The festival comes to an end on the third day that corresponds with Poornima (meaning the full moon in Sanskrit). Dressed in vibrant and colorful attire, the people of Rajasthan sing and dance to lingering ballads of heroism, romance and tragedy of yore. Fireworks explode across the sky, splashing the landscape with even more bursts of color and bringing the fort to life.