Pushkar: It is what you want it to be!
“Everything was pure in Krita Age;
in Treta, Pushkar became sacred;
in Dwapara, Kurukshetra;
and in the Kali, Ganga became sacred”.
If you wish to feel the pulse of this town, find yourself a spot in the outdoor section of the most popular café (Sunset Cafe) in Pushkar. It’s the best spot to be a spectator to the theatrics of nature on one hand, and of the locals & tourists on the other.
It had started raining heavily, out of the blue, that afternoon when we stepped out of our gorgeous tent at Orchard Tents, to see Pushkar. The café hadn’t started its rooftop section since the peak season was yet to begin. We sat in a corner facing holy lake and the only Brahma temple in the world; in between was the scene that created a colourful ‘persona’ of Pushkar in my mind.
The “holy town” has different meanings for each of its thousands visitors as well as the locals. I could see that vividly as I silently observed the scene that played out as though in a theatre. Since it was cloudy, nature’s drama was subtle yet magnificent. A group of about 11 women, perhaps from Australia, settled themselves near our table.
A lot more foreign tourists walked by. Then appeared this suspicious character on his bike. He twice tried to grab attention of some of these foreign tourists but in vain. Was he trying to sell something or wanted to take the tourists for a guided tour around the city or was it something else? Whatever it was, the women seemed to know and thus ignored him completely. He remained an enigma to us for as long as we were there since he did not go away nor did he try to approach them again.
Almost as if on cue, a local (wearing Rajasthani attire complete with maroon turban) came with his sarangi and started playing the most popular tunes that you can hear all over Rajasthan: kesariya balam padharo… and udd ja kale kawa. Another one joined him with his nagada and soon it all seemed like a faux musical concert.
Again, seemingly on a cue, three young girls (speaking Spanish I think) went closer to the lake with their hula hoops. They then came near the café and started dancing with the hoops, not for entertaining anyone else but themselves. Needless to say it amused the spectators nonetheless.
Oblivious to all the drama, one sage sadhu sat under a tree for meditation. A lot of religious visitors walked bare feet towards the lake (unmindful of the cow dung everywhere) to pray and take a dip.
That’s the reason why most Indian tourists come here. Pushkar, as you know, is a significant stop on the Hindu pilgrimage route. Bathing in its holy lake is considered important for devotees to attain salvation.
Within an hour’s time, water logged from heavy rains had almost disappeared; the soil in Rajasthan is such that it drinks up large volumes of water quickly. And just like the water the soil seems to absorb different cultures, ideas, and philosophies just as quickly.
The scene from where we sat, outside Sunset Café, is symbolic of what Pushkar really is. The only Brahma temple in the world – Pushkar’s main “claim to fame” – is in the background. Apart from this, there are about 500 temples in Pushkar.
The legends around the creator of the universe are fascinating. If you are religious, you’d definitely be visiting Pushkar at least once in your life as this temple is considered an important pilgrim for Hindus. Even if you aren’t religious, there’s plenty of magnetism here to allure you. As the general manager of the resort we stayed in said, “Once you come to Pushkar, there’s something that will keep calling you back.” I do not know what to say about that because after my first visit a couple of years ago, I wasn’t curious about it anymore and had not planned to take another trip. But there I was…
In the foreground is the flourishing Bohemian culture, which attracts majority of foreign tourists.
Within a few minutes of getting acquainted with the city, you will realize that it’s a haven for Israeli tourists. A lot of them come here and never leave. Many marry locals (including camel caretakers). What brings them here? I wondered as I gawked at the relaxed group of foreigners seeming to revel in the unrestrained abandon.
I recalled something an observant traveller had told me once. Israelis have to mandatorily undertake military service for a couple of years. The disciplined life, where they also witness a lot of bloodshed, has a scathing impact on their souls. Many seek rejuvenation by taking a trip to India – the land of spirituality. With relatively easy availability of drugs and lax laws, Pushkar appears to welcome them with open arms.
The contrast is provocative. To quote Aman Nath from his book, Brahma’s Pushkar: Ancient Indian Pilgrimage: “What is it that a pilgrim at Pushkar perceives of the whole gamut of activity happening around him or her? The deep-rooted religious values broadly divide people into practitioners of the pravrittidharma, the idea of Karmic action which runs the ‘three worlds’, which are moving and non-moving as the Mahabharata puts it.
Pushkar gives an equally warm welcome to those coming for one of the largest cattle marts in the country in October-November. Again with religion and spirituality breathing slowly in the background, the city becomes a playground rather a market where cows and sheep along with camels are bought and sold. Of course, there’s entertainment in the form of music and dance too. It’s a fest for which tourists make bookings almost a year in advance.
I think of Pushkar as an enigmatic figure wearing different masks in varied hues. It will present to you its distinct form depending upon the glass you’re wearing to see it. Or it’s like a kaleidoscope; a new pattern emerges each time you see it. You can pick and choose what you like.
But don’t be in a rush. No matter which pattern or hue you fix your eyes on, be assured it will move at a calmingly unhurried pace so that you can absorb every bit of it. Time stands still in Pushkar. Savor it.
Things to do in Pushkar:
Sit and know the town closely at Sunset Cafe or the neighbouring Out of the Blue cafe
Visit Brahma Temple – if not for religious reasons then for an interesting dose of mythology. The guides here have fascinating legends to share.
Visit Ajmer Dargah; it’s about half an hour from Pushkar
While you’re visiting the dargah, stop by at Soni ji ki Nasiyan also known as Ajmer Jain Temple. Again if not for religious purposes, visit it to see the ‘golden’ museum.
Spend time shopping at Brahma Market. It’s also an amazing place to meet different kinds of travellers.
Enjoy camel ride. But be wary of being chased for money by local tribal men, women and children.
Have you been to Pushkar? Tell us about your experience to this enigmatic town.