Sunday, November 23, 2008

mela bound

Due to morning rush hour the final 50 km to Patna took us 2 hours, plus another 1-2 to find our hotel. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm for navigation in India even with a map. The main point of the Patna detour was to see the Sonepur Mela, which is touted as the largest animal fair in Asia. After our harrowing journey from Kolkata to Patna we decided to ditch the bikes and take a taxi or autorickshaw to the fair. I had read that most of the trading occurs in the days prior to the fair, which officially starts on 13 Nov, so I wasn't sure that we would be able to still see the more exotic fare, like elephants. I had some difficulty in tracking down an actual starting date for the fair because it's based on the Hindu lunar calendar and I had to use the majority rule of the various dates I acquired online.

We were the only non-Indian tourists at the fair and as usual Jascha (being the 6' 6" and very white) received the most attention. The fair was sprawled across the fields surrounding the tiny village of Sonepur and the animals were segregated by type. All of the animals were freshly washed and adorned with colorful bridles, tassles, fabric, or chalk and tusk jewelry in the case of the elephants. The horse area was the largest and there appeared to be two types, a small breed of workhorse, larger in stature to the miniature horses I had seen in the States, and larger show horses. The larger horses were trained for posture and their ear tips were noticeably curved inward. There was some sort of event in progress where yelling men rode the larger horses back and forth down a dirt road at full speed.

We passed through the more sedate cattle area and came upon a huge collection of stalls filled with livestock accessories, food, freak/magic shows, clothing, and the usual kitsch. There were also feeble booths displaying various products and services, notably the Indian military and John Deere, that consisted exclusively of posters and a few men to answer questions. We managed to track down the elephant area, which was the highlight of the fair.
Since Jascha had yet to experience a ride in an autorick we decided to take one for the 22 km back to Patna. Riding in an autorick is the closest thing I have found to being on a motorcycle in terms of being up close and personal with traffic, and our ride back did not disappoint.

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