Road Trip December 2018
Stop 1 – Pushkar
Pushkar- A blue lotus flower
A melange of mystics and hippies. That’s what I had in mind when I put Pushkar on our to-visit list. However, after I had devoured so many articles about the famous Camel fair of Pushkar I was a bit apprehensive of the crowds and chaos. So we decided to visit Pushkar in December to avoid the festival crowd yet I was unsure as it was still the peak of the tourist season. However, I was in for a pleasant surprise.
Pushkar is famous for the Brahma temple, apparently the only Brahma temple in India. We were told that Brahma (one of the holy trinity of Hindu gods) killed Vajra Nabha, a rakshas (demon) with a lotus flower. When he struck, three petals of the flower fell on the earth which formed the lake. To purify the place, a yajna (a form of worship) was conducted. Savitri (wife of Brahma) could not make it to the yajna so he married a girl Gayatri to perform the yajna. When Savitri arrived she cursed Brahma that he will never be worshipped so that explains why there is no other Brahma temple and then the enraged Savitri went atop a hill where today stands the Savitri temple. There are different versions of this story and I have no clue which is correct.
Pushkar is one of the holy cities in India which is considered an integral part of a Hindu pilgrimage. It is called teerthraj (the king of sacred places). There are many temples most of them dotting the ghats around the lake. Many of them were destroyed and rebuilt. So for the entire day, you can go temple hopping with almost no baggage and one camera. In most temple premises photography is prohibited so I would suggest you leave the camera in a safe place. Most of the temples are closed between 1-3 pm so avoid that time if you wish to see the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
You cannot miss this one if you are in Pushkar. It isn’t a very grand temple. The remarkable features are a red pinnacle. Lots of coins are offered to the deity and you can spot them everywhere. The garbha graha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple houses the sculpture of Brahma. One has to leave all their belongings outside the temple. People selling prasad (offering) and flowers to the devotees offer to safeguard your shoes for a price of 10 Rupees. We visited the temple post the evening aarti so there was no crowd. It was quite peaceful except for a guide who was explaining the religious significance of the temple in a loud voice to his tour group. I was in and out within 5 minutes.
It is the temple dedicated to the Varaha avatar of Vishnu (one of the Hindu gods trinity) who descended in the form of a boar to save the earth. This is one of the oldest temples and is not in very good condition. We visited it just out of curiosity.
This one reminded me of the temples of South India. It is said to be a mix of Dravidian and Rajasthani architecture. It was quite peaceful as there were hardly any tourists. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go inside as the temple doors were closed during the day. The backside of this temple opens up to another street through an alley of handicraft shops. I found this temple to be the most impressive of all.
There are many other temples which you can tick off your list if you are interested such as Atpateshwar temple, Papamochini Gayatri temple, Savitri temple, Atmeshwar temple and the gurudwara.
For me, the ghats (series of steps leading to the lake) are the best place to be. You can hear the locals greeting each other “Jai Pushkar Raj ki” (Hail Pushkar the king). One can sit at the Jaipur ghat (which eventually became my favourite spot) and enjoy live Rajasthani folk music. There are people praying, doing yoga, enjoying tea, sketching, painting, playing their own instruments, dancing, singing. Everything in such harmony. It is a sheer delight to just be there and soak in the experience as you watch the sun go down. Post the sunset you can hear the temple bells beckoning for the evening aarti. I was a tad disappointed because I was expecting something like a Ganga aarti in Varanasi but then the locals told us that such grand aartis happen on Karthik Purnima and few other religious occasions and its a very crowded affair.
Trekking and Camel Safari
For the more adventurous you can go trekking up the hills that nestle this quaint town. Trekking activities are organised by hostels so you can join a group. If you are a solo traveller then you can trek up to Savitri temple which is one of the most popular treks. It offers an amazing view of the town. And if you aren’t that adventurous you can take the ropeway just for the view.
Pushkar is at the tip of the Thar desert so there are plenty of camel safari options. If you are scared of a camel ride you can go for the camel cart. But riding a camel is one experience that you wouldn’t want to miss when you are in Rajasthan.
And a lot more
Pushkar offers you classes for yoga, cooking, musical instruments, dance, etc. There are activities being organised like spiritual walking tours, camping, zip lining, food walk tours. I didn’t have time to try any of these. Most importantly you do not need an itinerary for Pushkar. The entire town can be explored on foot and you can experience the culture first hand and hassle-free without a guide showing you around. Oh, I almost forgot to mention Aaloo Baba an ascetic who eats only potatoes. We couldn’t go to that temple and I’m not very inclined to meet such people but I guess out of curiosity we could have paid a visit if we had the time because everyone has recommended to meet him. Though I can’t comprehend why.
Pushkar is a shoppers paradise. If you do not wish to shop from Jaipur or if it is not on your itinerary then I would recommend you to do your Rajasthan shopping from here. Except for a few things that Jaipur is famous for one can find all kinds of handicrafts here. And it is a lot better experience than Jaipur where the shopkeepers are literally trying to drag you into their shops. It’s a great place to shop for souvenirs without spending much. You can buy silver jewellery, clothes, turbans, leather goods, handicrafts and so much more. Haggle a bit if you don’t want to overpay because there’s nothing called “fixed price”.
भूखे भजन न होय गोपाला , ले लो अपनी कंठी – माला (A sharp stomach makes short devotion) There is no dearth of good cafés in Pushkar. If you have any specific dietary restrictions you can ask the staff to customize dishes and they will gladly do it. Consumption of alcohol and meat is prohibited. There are few cafés that might offer you a secret egg menu and beer. But I would suggest you refrain from falling for it.
The cafés that we visited during our short trip were La pizzeria, Funky monkey, Out of the blue and Om baba. If you want to try Indian sweets and snacks you must visit Laxmi mishthan bhandar and Radheyji, especially for malpuas and milk. Also, a visit to the U-turn hotel’s Coffee Temple rooftop café is a must. It offers a bird’s eye view of the Pushkar lake. I spent a good hour in that café with a cup of masala tea and the winter sun felt so blissful.
Do not miss out the breakfast stalls in the main market area (vegetable market) right below the Om baba café. We had plans for breakfast at a nearby café but when we saw everyone gathered at the stall we just couldn’t resist. We had poha and dal-pakwaan for breakfast. I was a bit sceptical about the large fried flatbread (pakwaan) but it was delicious and not very greasy. You can finish it off with a masala chai from a nearby shop.
The town sees a lot of Israeli tourists so you will find Israeli cuisine on every menu. You will find plenty of falafel stalls in the market so you can satisfy your hunger pangs while you shop. Wood fired pizzas, all kinds of pasta, fresh juices and salads are constants in the Pushkar food scene.
We stayed at Zostel and Rawai Luxury Tents. Since ours was a short visit we wanted to experience both the worlds. And we weren’t disappointed by either. There are plenty of stay options for every budget. I would suggest you do good research before booking. Also, if you plan to travel during the peak seasons it is better to book your stay much in advance.
How to Reach
The nearest airport is Jaipur which is about 3 hours away. Regular buses are available to Pushkar.
The nearest train station is Ajmer which is well-connected with other cities. There are regular buses from Ajmer to Pushkar. You can also hire a taxi to Pushkar. However, state transport buses are a safer and cheaper option.
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- Dress modestly on your temple and Ghat visits. It is a holy city and people expect you to respect their culture. Also, you don’t want unnecessary attention.y
- Take your shoes off when strolling around the lake. You can carry them but don’t let them touch the ground.
- Pushkar, just like any other tourist city, has touts. Do not get chatty with people trying to convince you for blessings or some special prayers etc. Just say no or ignore completely and walk away. Your hotel may give you a red wrist band thing to wear (often called the passport) which symbolises that you have been through this entire prayer-blessing process so that you are not bothered by these people.
- Even while shopping or exploring the city if you are not interested in anything just say No or ignore and walk away. Do not give vague answers as they will relentlessly pursue you.
- Refrain from taking a dip into the lake. It is for the devotees who perform religious ceremonies. You might be scammed into paying for a prayer ceremony. Also, the water may seem clean but it’s not.
- Bhaang (edible cannabis) thandai (milk-based) or Bhaang lassi (yoghurt-based) is something people might suggest you try. But refrain if you are a solo traveller and heed caution even if you are in a group. You do not want to end up in an unpleasant situation.
- If you are an international traveller people might ask you for selfies. Although it is a personal choice, I would request you not to encourage such behaviour as it often leads to tourist harassment. Just decline firmly and they shouldn’t bother you.
- The town almost shuts down by 9 pm so after it gets dark it would be wise to make way back to your hotel. And if you stay out then make sure you are in a well-lit area with people.
- All of the above is not to scare you away. Just things to keep in mind during your visit. Trust your instincts and stay away from sketchy people. In comparison to other cities, it is quite safe for women solo travellers as long as you are smart about it.
- Tourist Helpline – 1800-11-1363
It is a toll-free number and supports 12 languages. If you are travelling to India this should be saved in your phone.
Enjoy your stay in this laid back mystical town and make the most of what it has to offer. Pushkar is a tourist friendly place and quite peaceful in comparison to other cities. I enjoyed my short stay in Pushkar. It is a very relaxing and refreshing break from the mundane for some soul-searching (solo travellers please note). I am definitely going back for a longer stay.
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