Chetak on the trot

At the Sarangkheda horse fair in Maharashtra, local breeds attract buyers from as far as Saudi Arabia
You can smell horses in the air. As Sarangkheda on the banks of the Tapi river in Nandurbar of northern Maharashtra hosted its annual horse-trading fair from December 12 to January 8, the tradition of about 350 years unleashed much whinnying and snorting, not to mention the haggling for the best buy. Buyers and sellers from all over the country and even Balochistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia gather here to take home Indian breeds. Legend has it that the Maratha warrior-king Shivaji used to visit the fair to buy prized warhorses. But things have changed. What started off as commerce has become the Sarangkheda Chetak Festival — named after Maharana Pratap’s favourite horse — over the past three years. A tent city pops up, hosting races and tent pegging, show jumping and horse beauty contests and dance shows, apart from buying and selling. There are no thoroughbreds, but breeds such as Marwari, Kathiawadi, Punjabi and Sindhi are aplenty for the true connoisseur. A government-managed market committee estimates that 1,028 horses were sold in 2017, for Rs. 3.27 crore. The highest price a horse fetched that year was Rs. 3.11 lakh. Ajay Deshpande, who brought four horses from his town of Nanded in Maharashtra, says it is an expensive business. It cost him Rs. 20,000 just to transport the horses.

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