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Sonepur Fair: Appealing Pushkar Fair Alternative

By December 3, 2012

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Sonepur Fair.Elephant bath at Sonepur Fair.
Getty Images/Christopher Pillitz.

Most people have heard of the ever popular Pushkar Camel Fair, which takes place every year around Kartik Purnima (an auspicious full moon occasion in late October or November). But what about the Sonepur Fair in Bihar? This rural fair also happens on Kartik Purnima and is an animal fair --but elephants are the main feature there instead of camels.

While complaints about the Pushkar Fair becoming increasingly commercialized (and full of tourists) are common, the Sonepur Fair remains delightfully off the beaten path. Bihar Tourism is only just starting to seriously focus on developing it as a tourist attraction.

I visited the Sonepur Fair (which is still going on) this year and had some very memorable and unique experiences, some of which were new to me despite having spent so many years in India.

Traditionally, the highlight of the start of the Sonepur Fair is the elephants having an early morning holy bath with pilgrims in the river. However, I was disappointed to find that it didn't happen this year. The reason why, I've discovered, is because the Gandak River had changed its course, moving away from the elephant's usual bathing area and preventing the bathing from taking place. Hopefully, alternative arrangements will be made for it next year if the river doesn't regain its natural course during the monsoon. Meanwhile, I consoled myself with the fascinating and bizarre sight of tantriks performing rituals by the riverbank, to drive away evil spirits and rid people of their problems.

You can read my review of the Sonepur Fair or see my photos in this Sonepur Fair Photo Gallery on Facebook.

December 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm
(1) MR MARTIN says:

As a photographer, I visited Sonepur fair in Nov. of 2011. The accomodations at the fair are in a small tourist village with huts that are made of straw. The huts are attached to one another. The electrical wires were simply cut and spliced together, some were completely barreb abd exposed to the straw. A very dangerous place, in case of fire, the huts will go up in a few seconds.
The doors of the huts are often kept open, the rooms soon fill up with mosquitos, The people were complaining to the management of the mosquitos and all said it was impossible to sleep at night.

Behind the huts there were 3 tents set up on a high platform. It was impossible to get into the tents. You had to crawl on your stomach to be able to reach the entrance. The toilets were located in a separate straw hut in the back of tents, also impossible to get into because the ropes which held the tent together went across the entrance of the toilet room. The whole thing was not well organised.

I refused to stay in the huts, much too dangerous and a huge fire hazard. I slept on a cot in a permanent building which housed the workers. The food is also very simple and very basic.

The grounds of the fair are spread out over a large area. Unfortunatelly everyone uses the fair grounds as an open toilet. When I made it to the river to photograph the bathing ritual, I saw hundres of people simply using the river edge as a toilet, very disgusting scene for sure.

There are many festival in India which are much better organised, Pushkar for one. I do reccomend Sonepur fair at all, very crowded, and extremely dirty with human droppings.

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