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.