Balotra Horse Fair Ride riding Marwari horse in RajastanVenture Co Worldwide Balotra Horse Fair Ride riding Marwari horse in Rajastan

The Balotra Horse Fair Ride

At a GlanceItineraryDetail

The Balotra Horse Fair Ride

Jodhpur to Tilwara
24th March to 2nd April 2019 (The precise date changes each year due to the lunar calendar)
10 days; 9 days riding

In the southwest corner of Rajasthan, about 145 Km beyond Jodhpur, is the market town of Tilwara, sitting on the bank of the River Luni (which is seasonal). This quiet backwater is the scene of the annual gathering, competition, trading and pure wonder that is the horse-and-camel fair known as Balotra.

The Balotra Horse Fair Ride

The Marwari horse – from warrior stock.

The Balotra Horse Fair Ride Itinerary Summary:

The flight isn’t included but we are ATOL-bonded and can arrange this slightly tricky flight schedule, London to Jodhpur.

Day 1: Sunday, 24th March, 2019 Arrive Jodhpur
We will meet you in Jodhpur any time during Sunday morning. There is an overnight train service from Delhi, or a flight (1 hr 40 mins). You may require an overnight hotel in Delhi, depending on your international flight schedule, but that’s straight forward to arrange and we can meet any flight in Delhi, as required. Once in Jodhpur we’ll drive you to the Ratan Vilas Palace which is home for the next 2 nights. It was built in 1920 by Maharaj Ratan Singh of Raoti, a keen horse lover and one of the greatest Polo players of his times, Ratan Vilas has a gloriously carved red sandstone exterior that recalls the flamboyance and distinctive style of the 1920’s. This is a genuine heritage palace with comfortable interiors and is still the home of the grandson of Maharaj Ratan Singh and his family.

After lunch drive 45 minutes to the base camp that will have been set up. You are welcomed with folk music and a garland. Meet the horses and take a trial ride around the immediate area.

Overnight at Ratan Vilas or Similar in Jodhpur

Day 2: Monday, 25th March 2019 explore Jodhpur
During the morning take a sightseeing tour of Mehrangarh Fort and explore parts of the old city of Jodhpur with car and guide. Late afternoon drive to the base camp and ride in the countryside as the day cools down. Jodhpur is on the eastern fringe of the Thar Desert and serves as the gateway to the desert.

About Jodhpur: Rao Jodha established the Rathore Dynasty in Jodhpur in 1459. The spectacular Mehrangarh Fort was hewn out of local stone and the city of Jodhpur emerged out of the sands of the Thar Desert. This was the origin of the kingdom of Marwar, encompassing some 36,000 square miles, and strategically placed on the trade route between Delhi and the Middle East. It was a flourishing trading centre of wood, cattle, camels, salt and agricultural crops. The past, in fact, is never very far behind in Jodhpur where palaces, forts, temples and other elegant monuments vie with each other for attention.

Mehrangarh Fort spreads out over 5 Km on a hilltop overlooking the city. It houses a palace intricately adorned with carved panels and latticed windows exquisitely wrought from red sandstone. It also has a museum with a rich collection of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniature paintings of various schools, folk music instruments, costumes and an impressive armoury.

Overnight Ratan Vilas Palace or similar at Jodhpur

 

Horses turned loose

Marwari horses turned loose

Day 3: Tuesday, 26th March 2019; ride from Jodhpur via Luni to Satlana
The Cross Country Safari begins! Return to the base camp after breakfast and saddle up. The ride initially goes through a dry flat area. The lunch halt is in a small rain catchment area beside a temple dedicated to a local folk divinity ‘Mamoji’. Each day we cover 25 to 30 Km riding through open countryside, farms and villages. The route follows the dry riverbed of river Luni; there are few roads or fences.

Overnight stay will be in tents in a special mobile luxury camp. During the safari we ride through many settlements of the Bishnoi community who have made environmental protection their religion.

The Bishnoi (or Vishnoi) people follow 29 principles laid down by Guru Jambhoji who made environmental and wildlife protection a “religion” in the 15th C. Common throughout Rajasthan and Gujarat they are renowned for a concern for nature, particularly their refusal to harm the black buck, which now survive only in and around Bishnoi villages (we will see many). Bishnoi beliefs came to the political forefront in 1730, when the king of Jodhpur ordered his men to collect wood for his new place. Despite the pleas of Bishnois, felling commenced in the small village of Khejadali near Jodhpur. In desperation Amritdevi, a Bishnoi women, hugged a tree. The fellers, assuming that the King’s request was to be respected, ignored her plea. She and 362 of her fellow people lost their lives trying to protect the forest. On hearing the news the king recalled his men and accorded state sanction to the Bishnoi religion, a turning point in the history remembered each September when thousands attend a festival at Khejadali.

Overnight in camp.

A typical day on safari
To give you an idea of what to expect here is a typical day on the trail…

Wake up early and have a wash in one of the camp’s warm-water shower tents before sitting down to some Indian-style scrambled eggs and Chai (chai = milky, spicy, sweet tea – which is much nicer than it sounds!).

The grooms will tack up your horse and we set off before the sun gets too hot. The morning ride usually lasts between 3 and 4 hours, often with a watering stop en route for both horses and riders. It doesn’t take long for the horses to warm up and before you know it, we are cantering along the sandy tracks with the sun on our backs. The hours and miles fly by and in no time it’s time for lunch.

Life in the countryside stops when the mercury rises, so we take a long slow lunch in the shade and rest for several hours. Take a nap, play a card game, or simply enjoy some time to relax and read.
In the late afternoon as the sun descends we mount our Marwari horses once again and set off for about a two hour ride. Before long we’ll see the bright colours of the tented camp and a lively canter gets us there in no time.

The camp is no ordinary camp: it’s huge! The individual canvas-walled rooms are large enough to stand up in; they are carpeted and each contains 2 cot-beds; linen, blankets, quilts and pillows are provided. There are between 5 and 7 “rooms” erected around a central fire-pit, where we take sundowners and chat about the day’s action. There’s a communal mess tent for dining and a separate bathroom with hot showers: shower water is heated over a log fire. The entire compound is surrounded by a canvas “wall” to create a totally private camp in the bush.

Beyond the camp is a separate kitchen, which you’re welcome to visit. The horses are individually tethered and looked after by the team of grooms.

Day 4: Wednesday, 27th March 2019; ride Satlana to Ghana
Ride ‘upstream’ in the broad expanse of the dry river bed of the Luni River. The going here is soft sand, hard work for the horses, so the pace is steady. After leaving the riverbed the ride takes you through villages and dry scrubby country. The festival of colour “Holi” will have just passed so in this region people are still celebrating with dancing and drum music. Before reaching the camp the ride crosses 8 or 9 Km of protected bushland of the Ramdev ji Temple. Such temple protectorates are called “Oran” and camp is in a field just behind the temple. In the evening we may have the farmer’s family come visiting our camp.

Overnight in camp.

 

Saddled and waiting

The Marwari saddled and waiting

Day 5: Thursday , 28th March 2019; ride Ghana to Karmavas
The ride today heads steadily N / WNW and takes you through flat dry desert land which is semi-arid but not sandy. Riders will be surprised at the clean well-maintained clay houses of the villagers. Camp is close to the low hills of the Aravali Ranges. Typical desert flora will be seen today.

Overnight in Camp

Day 6: Friday, 29th March 2019; ride Karmavas to Asotra
Continue riding towards the hills passing copses of acacia trees and pass near the village of Mangla. The lunch stop is just behind a hillock facing the dry Luni river bed. After lunch ride on to Asotra, which is a big surprise because it’s so green and lush. The subterranean River Saraswati gives life to the area and farmers pump water by electric pumps and raise crops which creates a fertile oasis belt. Our camp is in a farmer’s field and riders are able to meet the villagers and their families who are amazed that westerners come so far to visit their remote location!

Overnight in Camp

Day 7: Saturday, 30th March 2019; ride from Asotra to Balotra Fair (near Tilwara)
As we pass Balotra City we would be obliged to ride along a road with moving traffic, the first for several days. Therefore the horses leave in the early morning, escorted by the grooms, while the riders travel by jeep to Jasol, where we remount. Ride on to the fair at Tilwara village approximately 16 km away. In the evening explore the fair ground on horseback and return to the campfire for supper.

Balotra Fair
In southwest Rajasthan 145 Km from Jodhpur on the banks of the dry, seasonal river Luni is the small village of Tilwara. 19 Km from the village is the site of the fair. It was here, many centuries ago, that the ruler MallinathJi ruled; he is now worshipped as a divinity and his temple is on the opposite bank of the Luni from Tilwara village. Every year, in the first fortnight of the Hindu month of “Chaitra”, a large fair is held here. Horses, camels, bullocks and during the last phase, donkeys come to the fair. The fair, according to the Christian calendar, falls in the month of March.

The owners of the animals camp in the dry riverbed and occupy it for many miles. They may use their carts or make temporary dwellings from acacia bushes. The prosperous horse owners and traders bring their tents and attendant staff, cooks etc. Traders cook, sleep and trade in these temporary dwellings called “Aali” in the local dialect. At sunrise and sunset horse owners display their horses by riding up and down the riverbed. Audiences and buyers cheer them on; anybody can stop the riders and bid or negotiate a deal. Nowadays the state government organizes horse-judging competitions presided over last year by The Maharaja of Jodhpur. The fair is held in the heartland of the Indian breed of horse, the ‘Marwari’ and some outstanding horses come to the fair. People from as far away as the Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra come to purchase animals.

It is a rare spectacle to see 5 to 7 thousand horses, 15 to 20 thousand camels and about 30 to 40 thousand bullocks and cattle and their owners in the flat expanse of the dry, sandy riverbed. The market places, which sprout up, sell all kinds of goods: camel carts, water tanks, earthenware utensils, rugs, ropes, horse tack, camel saddles, colourful girdles, beds, doors, brass, copper and steel pots and pans. Many stores of recycled material like conveyor belts, parachute materials, musical instruments and all things which villagers might buy are on sale. The fair is a photographer paradise. It takes a visitor back to biblical times! It feels as if you have walked into the past.

Our safari camp is set up a Km away on the banks of the riverbed and overlooks the fair site. Guests go on their horses and ride around the fair. At a pre-arranged point our grooms await them so they can leave their horses and walk around on foot; this is a unique opportunity, to attend the fair mounted, as a local person would. Guests have to be warned that temperatures in March are warmer than January or February and can go up to 28°to 38°C. However, the heat is part of the experience of this extraordinary event. This fair is much larger than the more famous Pushkar or Nagaur camel and cattle fair and is not frequented by tourists and this is an unspoiled horse fair.

Overnight in Camp.

 

Head shot

Bit and bridle of ther Marwari

Day 8: Sunday, 31st March, 2019; explore Balotra Fair
Morning and evening ride. Afternoons explore the fair grounds.

Evening campfire and folk entertainment.

Overnight in Camp.

Day 9: Monday, 1st April 2019; explore Balotra Fair
Morning and evening ride. Afternoons explore the fair grounds.

Evening campfire and folk entertainment.

Overnight in Camp.

Day 10: Tuesday, 2nd April, 2019; Return to Jodhpur and onward destinations.
In the morning ride around fairground as you wish. After breakfast drive to Jodhpur (4 hr). Lunch at Ratan Vilas. Rooms available for wash and change. Later transfer to the railway station for train to Jaipur or Delhi or to the airport for onward flight.

Included in the price
• Accommodation on a twin-share basis with attached bathrooms/showers
• Sightseeing tours and excursions as specified. Entrance tickets at Jodhpur fort
• Airport/ Railway Station transfers in Jodhpur
• All meals during safari and at Jodhpur
• Service of English speaking guide
• Transport in private car or Jeep

Not included
• Travel to Jodhpur
• Travel insurance
• Alcoholic drinks
• Single room; available at a supplement
• Tips

Note: March is the beginning of summer; riders should be aware during the day temperatures can reach the high 30’s°C. Riding will start early, with a long lunch break and continue into the cool of evening. Night temperature will be 15° to 20° C.

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