Myths are entwined with facts in this quaint town, as I discovered soon after setting foot into it. Located a few kilometers from Ajmer, Rajasthan, Pushkar is quite possibly one of the biggest religious attractions in India. Sitting on one of its 52 ‘ghats’, or steps that lead down to the water, it is easy to see why. The lake, when tinged golden by the setting sun, gives a feel that is almost unearthly. It is not difficult to imagine that celestial beings once stood by the side of this very lake.
It has been said that the Pushkar lake, was formed from the tears of Lord Shiva, when he wept at the loss of Sati, his wife. Another tale goes that Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe was to marry Savitri at a particular auspicious moment. Being engrossed in dressing, she was unable to reach the place on time. This put Brahma’s plan for a yajna in jeopardy, for it is to be performed at the exact moment decided according to the astrological auspiciousness. He therefore married Gayatri, a shepherdess, who belonged to a low caste. Savitri, enraged by his actions, cursed Brahma, that he would be worshipped only at Pushkar. Hence, Pushkar is one of the few places in the world, where exists a temple dedicated to Brahma. Savitri, then went to nearby hills, where a temple dedicated to her is present, while on the opposite side of it, is a temple dedicated to Gayatri. The pilgrimage route first goes to Savitri’s temple, before proceeding to Gayatri’s, in an effort to placate the furious goddess.
Pushkar lake is one of the five most important lakes in Hindu mythology. It has been mentioned in myths and other old literary documents, and has been believed to have curative powers. It has been maintained exceedingly well, first by the royal families of Rajasthan, and then by the government. There are rules for bathing here, which I thought to be extremely prudent. After being pursued by different people, who tried to convince me to perform different religious rites, I finally gave in, and had a rite performed in my name. A red thread was tied around my hand, to show the other people that I had visited Pushkar. It had another effect too – people stopped pestering me in the streets, and asking me to perform different rituals!
Pushkar is a city is full of temples. You cannot walk down a street without encountering the ubiquitous religious symbols. But perhaps, the most famous temple in Pushkar is the Brahma temple. Supposed to have been in existence for the past two millennia, the current structure was built in the 14th century. Certainly not the only temple to Brahma in existence, it is however, the most prominent. Marble steps lead to the white temple, but the best part about the temple is its floor. A chessboard floor of black and white marble, inlaid with coins donated by the devotees.
In the city, Brahmins in dhotis hurry down the busy streets, while the tourists like me, wander slowly, drinking in the marvel that is Pushkar. It is one of the oldest cities in India, but constant aggressions by invaders have destroyed the ancient buildings. The temples that survive now are comparatively recent. It does not, however, detract from the beauty of Pushkar in any way.
Pushkar achieves its pinnacles during the annual Pushkar Fair near the end of the year. It is a great spectacle, as people from across the country come to take a dip in the holy waters, while not far away in the sand dunes, camels are assembled for sale. The camel fair is a spectacular affair, with unimagined bursts of colour against the dull hue of the sands. Women wear brightly coloured skirts, covered with mirrors and sequins that glitter as they move. Men go for vibrantly hued turbans. Longest mustache competitions, camel races, tug-of-war competitions, giant wheels – you name it and it is there! At the deepdan ceremony, lamps are floated in the lake, after the sunset, giving it a heavenly air. Markets are flooded with traditionally embroidered clothes, handicrafts and jewellery. It makes for a shopper’s paradise!
For the rest of the year, there is always Sardar bazaar, a road that runs in the heart of the city and stocks every type of cloth, jewellery, leather goods, and local handicrafts. Look out for the traditional bandhani, or tie-and-dye, which is speciality of the area. For dinner, we opted for, ‘Te…Lavala’, a restaurant having an eclectic menu made from the finest ingredients. They serve the tastiest street food, made from amazing ingredients, that elevates the dining experience. Papdi chaat and the miso soup are must-trys. Another option is ‘Honey and Spice’, a cafe with a brilliant menu. Vegetarian bolognese and Banana honey-bread are especially delicious.
I loved the eccentricity, vibrancy and the brilliant spirit of this city. It manages to integrate everyone within itself, making it a truly beautiful place. It is an ode to the real India, where life is effervescent, and joy is omnipresent. I hope will be able to visit Pushkar next year during the fair, when is it bedecked in colours and alive with the spirit of Rajasthan.