A group of camel handlers cajole their animals into drinking from a water trough by making clicking and whistling noises, at the annual Pushkar Camel Fair, in Pushkar, Rajasthan.
Capable of living longer than almost any other animal without food and water, and uniquely adapted to surviving in high temperatures, camels are perfectly suited to the prevailing arid conditions of Rajasthan, where 70% of the territory is covered by the Great Indian Desert.
Depending on the season, camels can go a week or more without water and several months without food. When water becomes available, they can drink 145 litres of water in one session; this is normally accompanied by throaty slurping noises, burps, bellows, groans and deep rumbling roars.
At the Pushkar Camel Fair, the largest even of its kind in Asia, these sounds fill the air on the dunes bordering town, where up to 50.000 camels congregate every autumn, at the start of the Pushkar Mela, Rajasthan’s most important trade and religious fair.
First domesticated around 4000 years ago, camels are notoriously difficult to handle. Cantankerous, short-tempered and uncooperative, they are prone to biting, kicking and spitting, and have to be either coerced or coaxed into doing most things – As the American writer Franz Lidz observed: “For sheer stubbornness, bad manners and cursedness, the camel is without peer.”
Yet camels are highly social animals, which naturally live in herds of 20 to 30 under the leadership of a dominant adult male. In camel society, different positions of the head, neck, ears, and tail have different meanings, and when a number of individuals congregate around a waterhole, some drink first whilst others patiently await their turn.