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Puzzling Pushkar

Asia » India » Rajasthan » Pushkar - 3 to 6 February 2016

sunny 30 °C

I knew before I went that four nights in Pushkar would be too many, so I reduced my hotel reservation to three nights.

I now know that even three nights in Pushkar was too many! This holy town simply wasn’t my cup of tea.

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It’s difficult to put a finger on quite why I didn’t thoroughly enjoy my time here though. After all, I’d read somewhere that: ‘It isn’t difficult to fall in love with Pushkar’s tranquillity, its spiritual ambiance and its winding lanes’.

Tranquillity?

Well, maybe. I’d planned to spend a few days winding down at the end of my hectic tour of western Rajasthan, but boredom must have set in after my first sortie into the town. It’s not a very big place, you see - its resident population is only around 22,000 and it’s really just a lake surrounded by ghats, temples large and small, hole-in-the-wall places geared to serving tourists, and a load of shops all selling the same sort of low quality hippy tie-dye, hippy bags, hippy jewellery, hippy this, hippy that…

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Don’t get me wrong - I’m of an age that clearly remembers the days of Flower Power, flared trousers, Peace… but to see so many, young and old, who still cling to the 60s and 70s is frankly weird. I appeared to be one of very few Westerners without long hair tied up in a bun, a ponytail or topknot, not wearing baggy floral trousers or sporting a few months’ facial hair. Oh, and I wasn’t smoking spliffs or playing a guitar (badly) either.

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Yes, I guess I did have a tranquil time though - lunching on the terrace of an hotel overlooking the lake, watching the sun go down from the Sunset Café, and sitting up on the roof of my hotel sipping lemon tea, listening to music on my iPod and writing notes for my blogs. The views from there were often interesting - children in the house next door sitting cross-legged doing their school homework, a pair of little brown birds catching flies on a neighbouring rooftop, a family in another house keeping at bay a troop of langur monkeys intent on stealing their dinner, and a well-dressed horse on its way to carry a bridegroom.

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There was also a pleasant view towards the cone-shaped hills, each topped with a tiny temple. I’d planned to walk up one of these hills to the Savitri Temple, the second most important temple in Pushkar. That was, until they told me I’d have to climb 650 steps to reach it and that the best time to do so was at sunrise. Get up at 5.30a.m.? Climb loads of steps? Just for a distant view of Pushkar through the mist? No thanks - I’ll wait until they finish building the cable-car!

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Spiritual ambiance?

Yes, possibly that too. At the heart of the town is a lake that legend associates with Brahma, creator of the Hindu world, designer of all humans, animals, planets and stars. ‘Pushkar’ translates as ‘lotus flower’, upon which Brahma is usually shown seated. One of the few temples anywhere in the world devoted solely to this deity has been here since the 14th century and it’s one of the reasons why all devout Hindus should visit Pushkar at least once in their lifetime.

Around the lake are flights of high stone and concrete steps, from which the faithful take a dip in its sacred waters. Known as ‘bathing ghats’, I'm told that there are enough for one every week of the year. I circumnavigated the lake, for the most part using the ghats as my footpath. It was interesting just to sit in a shaded place observing the rituals, listening to occasional drums and songs of devotion, and chatting with curious passers-by.

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Walking, however, wasn’t so pleasant. One of the ‘musts’ in this holy place is to remove shoes at least 10 metres from the water. The steps are often broken and the going’s quite rough on the soles of feet accustomed to wearing shoes all day every day. Pigeons are ritually fed and are here in vast flocks - what goes in one end must come out the other, if you get my drift - and the occasional cow adds to the underfoot hazards. Fragments of human bones litter the water around the lake’s edge, signs of cremation ashes having being brought to this holy place. Gandhi’s ashes were scattered here at what was previously called Gau (Cow) Ghat, now renamed Gandhi Ghat in his honour.

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Add to all this the nuisance of widespread scams geared to parting foreign visitors from their cash - a ‘pundit’ (a holy man - or someone pretending to be one) offering a flower or a handful of petals, someone chatting about your country, his companion suggesting that, out of respect, you should allow them to give you a blessing by the lake-shore. Trying to politely tell the scammers to get lost doesn’t make for an entirely pleasurable stroll.

The ambiance is more than a little spoilt by a long list of ‘don’ts’. Don’t take photographs of bathers in the lake - I’m not quite sure why; most other religions don’t mind worshippers having their photos taken. Women here tend to bathe fully clothed although, admittedly, men do usually strip down to their boxers or Y-Fronts, so perhaps that’s why.

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Drugs and alcohol are forbidden. So is non-vegetarian food (i.e. no meat or fish of any kind is permitted anywhere within the city limits). My hotel was what’s called ‘pure-veg’ - so no eggs either - and it was a glass of lemon tea rather than a glass of beer that accompanied my evening meals! Smoking is prohibited by law (although not strictly enforced) and, at some cafés there’s a distinct pungent, oily, herb smell in the air that’s definitely not incense. All part of the spiritual ambiance!

Winding lanes?

Yes, there are plenty of them. They wind around the lake, narrow crowded lanes lined with little, over-stocked shops and shopkeepers inviting you in to take a look, no obligation, good prices. Turnings off to left and right lead to one or more of 400 temples, most of which don’t allow foreigners or non-Hindus to enter, to 52 ghats, and to innumerable little hotels, cafés and restaurants.

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I really did try to like Pushkar. I met many people (with long hair tied up in a bun, a ponytail or topknot) who’d fallen in love with its tranquillity, spiritual ambiance and winding lanes.

For me though, it was a holy town geared as much to the religions of commercialism and tourism as it was to Hinduism.

I didn’t dislike it.

I’m glad I saw it.

I didn’t fall in love with it.

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Accommodation:

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Hotel Moon Light, Near Ganga Mandir, Pushkar
Tel: +919829382328 or 8562095048 or 9828462343
Email: pushkarhotelmoonlight@gmail.com Web: ww.pushkarhotelmoonlight.com

If this is one of Trip Advisor's best ‘Speciality Hotels in Pushkar’, I’m rather glad I wasn’t staying at one of those lower down the rankings.

On the plus side were:

• its location within easy reach of the markets, the Brahma Temple, the ghats and the lake (and right beside the fair ground at the time of the Pushkar Camel Fair);
• the rooftop terrace, where there’s good WiFi, plenty of seats and good views - providing you ignore the trash, cows and pigs when you look down;
• the owners - brothers Raju (who always seemed to be around) and Joshi (who appeared only occasionally). They are friendly and hard working.
• the really low prices. I paid 600 Rupees (£6) a night for what’s called (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) a ‘Super Deluxe’ double room. During the Camel Fair multiply the room rate by about six times!

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On the negative side:

• my room wasn't cleaned daily, bedlinen was badly stained (I always carry a silk sleeping bag liner for such eventualities), furnishings were badly worn;
• the bathroom also was not cleaned daily and towels were not changed during my three-night stay. It was windowless and smelled of sewage, the toilet seat was not attached to the pan, no soap or toiletries were provided, and the shower flooded the room;
• the food menu was very limited - fortunately, because the tiny kitchen on the rooftop terrace appeared to be less than hygienic. Note that this is a ‘pure-veg’ establishment - i.e. not just ‘no meat’ but ‘no eggs’ either.
• don’t believe the ‘Facilities’ shown on their website - e.g. the ‘swimming pool’ was non-existent, as were the ‘exclusive spaces for sun-bathing’, and the ‘library’ was a pile of old books in many languages on a table on the rooftop terrace. The photo of the front of the hotel is misleading - move back a few feet and you'd be falling over the rubbish and the pigs and cows eating it!

I’d class this as just about okay for a cheap, short stay.

My stay probably wasn't short enough!

Posted by Keep Smiling 07:24 Archived in India Tagged india rajasthan pushkar

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Comments

Great blog and photo's as always! Think I went to Pushkar on my trip to India 25 years ago and remember them selling bang lassi, cannabis laced lassis! Sound like it has become so commercialised now. I'm not a fan of the hippy types and especially hate the topknots!!

by katieshevlin62

Somehow your photos make it look far more interesting than your text makes it sound! We bypassed Pushgar - our driver said it wasn't really worth visiting outside the camel fair and it seems he may have been right, although I wasn't sure at the time

by ToonSarah

Katie, yes I'm sure Pushkar's become even more commercialised than when you last visited. I must try a bhang lassi some day!

Sarah, maybe Pushkar might have been interesting for a day visit - if only for the sunset over the lake and a few photo opportunities. My three days were interesting, but far too long.

by Keep Smiling

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