More Interesting Than the Dos Equis Guy

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on October 09, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

The most interesting man I know is not the Dos Equis guy, from the commercial, who sits in a library chair pondering his storied life.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyNot quite…

But rather, he’s an active fellow who has visited 147 countries.

He escaped from a war in Hungary by swimming across the Adriatic Sea to Italy.

He has established a successful security business across the globe.

Today, he calls Nicaragua home, by way of Los Angeles, California, with his two sons and wife.

…And he makes the best Hungarian goulash soup ever.

This, my friends, is Mr. Michael Hanyecz.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis Guy

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyMichael is in the middle with the U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua and a few Gran Pacifica colleagues.

Michael and I have known each other for only a few short years, and yet I have learned more from him than in my years of history classes. So, when Michael sent an article he wrote about his journey to a camel fair in India, I wasn’t exactly surprised he had gone, but I was enthralled by his experience.

The voyage and the photos you’ll read below are his, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s a fascinating journey and one that I dream of taking one day as well.

Camel Fair

©2004 Michael Hanyecz

Most of my summer school vacations I spent in a small village in the Southeast corner of Hungary, where my father was born and most of my relatives lived. At the edge of the village, the fast Triple-Koros river flowed with gusto, my uncle taught me here how to swim, and he taught me how to bicycle, motorcycle, and I drove his car, a 1957 Opel Rekord, the first time in my life at age 14.

The village’s library was across the street from us and I went there almost every day to get a book. In a few years, I read almost all the books. My favored ones were about adventurous expeditions to the Amazon, Huckleberry Finn, and The Last of the Mohicans – and reading them, my imagination was set on fire. Still, my number-one favorite book was The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling. Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, and Kaa, the mystical cities overgrown by the jungle, fabulous riches, palaces and maharajas, India…I was dreaming, maybe, when I grow up, I’ll be lucky enough to visit this place one day.

With my best friend, we’ve been planning this trip for years. Carefully weighing the pros and cons of staying an extra day here, or shortening the time in the next city, so we’ll have an itinerary as close to perfection as possible. We left on November 14, 2004, and after visiting the perfunctory tourist destinations of Jodhpur, Jaipur, and Agra, we set our sight on Pushkar, the world-famous Camel Fair.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis Guy

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyHistorically, the pilgrimage to Pushkar had a much higher value than visiting Varanasi, which today is considered to be the “Mecca of the Hindu religion.” The religious cult of Brahma is relatively insignificant, since the temple in Pushkar is the only one dedicated to him. To build another temple to Lord Brahma is forbidden. The lake has a mythological significance associated with it. According to myth, Lord Brahma was on his way to search for a suitable place to perform a “Yagna” (a fire sacrifice) and, while contemplating, a lotus fell from his hand on the earth and water sprouted from that place. One of the lakes was Pushkar, where Lord Brahma performed “Yagna.” As indicated by Pushkar’s position as the starting point of the Grand Pilgrimage, the worship of Brahma was considered highly important at the end of the first millennium B.C. Pushkar is the only Brahma pilgrimage shrine in all of India, and during the year, relatively few pilgrims visit the shrine.

The function of Brahma – creating the world – has been completed, while Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer) still have relevance to the continuing order of the universe. The holy lake Jyestha has 52 ghats (bath houses) built around its perimeter and pilgrims taking a ritual dip are a common sight. During most of the year, the town is a serene, engaging little place. Pushkar bustles with life during the joyous celebration held on Kartik Purnima. Every year, tens of thousands of devotees throng the lake around the full moon day of Kartik Purnima in October-November to take a holy dip in the lake. The pilgrimage is closely followed by the huge and colorful cattle fair called “The Pushkar Camel Fair.” Camels, horses, donkeys, sheep, and buffalos are brought from all over Rajasthan and from neighboring states.

After an eight-hour car drive, we have finally arrived at our hotel, the only one in town built on the holy lake. Most of the foreigners, this year estimated to be more than fifty thousand, were accommodated in the two main tent cities around town. The hotel’s rooms are reserved a year in advance and are selling three times their normal price during the fair.

We packed our photo gear, hung the cameras and video cameras around our necks, filled our pockets with extra film, batteries, memory cards, and headed for the fair on a highly-decorated camel wagon. As the wagon crested a small hill, a spectacular view emerged. Hundreds of camel caravans grouped together and silhouetted against a red sun, throngs of women and girls dressed in brightly colored dresses and saris, bejeweled with lots of makeup, turbaned men with many different colors and long mustaches.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis Guy

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis Guy

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyThe approximately 50,000 camels and their herdsmen are the main exotic subject of photographers and filmmakers gathered here from all over the world. There are camel beauty contests and camel races. The camels are painted, and special jewelry is hung around their necks so to more impress the potential buyers. The buyers are inspecting the camel’s teeth, checking their strength and appearance, haggling over the price, and at the end, slapping each other’s back and drinking a tea flavored with camel milk.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyAt the edge of the desert, the air is full of dust and haze, which helps with your silhouetted photos against the setting sun. In the morning, we captured the campfire scenes, the whiff of a smoldering fire, and brewing tea as part of the images – the long mustaches of the weathered faces of these nomadic men holding their metal cups.

The fair is full of peddlers, selling things like cheap necklaces for $10 a piece, dropping their price by late afternoon to as low as $1. They all have a special buy, a real “antique” that they produce sheepishly from their pocket and ask an astounding price for.

The photographers’ cameras are taking in the many-faceted fair, their tripods and long tele lenses as varied as the tourists themselves. Everyone is angling for the best shot, the unique opportunity to lock in the light, the dust, the smells, and feelings on a small film or digital media. The dust-forming, high-reaching clouds make a dramatic photo setting for the sun, which is hanging above the dunes with its last breath and reddened face.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyThe road back to town is through the only street lined with small shops, restaurants, and temples. Sadhus (holy men) are chanting at street corners, bicyclists and motorcyclists winding their way around the cows and the Consumer Resource Guidethrongs of people, pilgrim and tourist. The smell is overpowering, the noise is deafening, and the dust is everywhere. Musical instruments, most of which we have never seen before, converging with mantras blasted from high powered speakers urging the pilgrims of their devotion and forbidding the tourists of taking photos of them. In a nearby ghat, they are burning a recently dead pilgrim. I wonder If there is anyone missing him at home, or if he even had one.

The next day, the scenes are almost exactly repeated. It’s the last day of the fair. Most of the camels have changed owners; the herdsmen are talking around the small fires, sharing their impressions of this fair and talking about planning the next one.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyBefore coming home, we had to visit one more place, the most holy religious center for Hindus and their most sacred places of pilgrimage, Varanasi and Banaras. For most, the visit is a soul-stirring journey of self-discovery. The gut-wrenching poverty mixed with tens of thousands of pilgrims giving richly decorated offerings and thousands of foreigners with their expensive cameras and video equipment, the loudspeakers’ cacophony contrasting with the quiet meditation of the sadhus and the majestic Ganga river flowing downstream into eternity with the prayers of the living and the ashes of the dead. I came away thinking about it for weeks.

More Interesting Than the Dos Equis GuyWith many memories, close to 2,000 photos, and 3 hours of video in my backpack, I’m looking at the icy landscape of Greenland 35,000 feet below the plane crawling slowly past, and I’m thinking about Mowgli, the jungle, the camels, the sand dunes painted purple by the setting sun, which I climbed only a day before.

I was in a Camel Fair…


This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on October 09, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

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