….. Rajesh Deshpande. Based on my personal visit in October 2013
Click here to see photostream of Pushkar
Vibrant, Exuberant, Cheerful, are words that hold true to Pushkar due to it’s warm, colourful, energetic and inviting ambience. Pushkar is a holy town of pilgrimage located in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, 13 Kms North West of Ajmer. It is famous world over for the annual Pushkar Camel fair, the largest camel fair in the world, which is held every year in the month of October or November soon after Diwali for a week up to the day of Kartik Purnima. Pushkar is held in high esteem for being one of the five important pilgrimages of Hindus. It has the only Brahma temple in the world and a holy lake called sarovar where taking a holy dip is an essential ritual for Hindus.
Pushkar is surrounded by the Aravali hills. It’s a town full of temples, cows, monkeys, camels, shops and ghats. Pushkar has 52 ghats on the holy lake of which the Brahma ghat, the Gau ghat and the Varaha ghat are the most venerated and crowded. The ghats are mainly concentrated to the eastern and northern side of the lake. The town has two major division’s called Badi basti and Choti basti. The ghats are busy with pilgrims and pandas (the local pundit’s or priests) performing Hindu religious rituals and puja’s. The only ghats where one can experience peace and tranquillity are the Jaipur ghat and the Kishangarh ghat on the eastern side of the holy lake, between hotel Sarovar and hotel Pushkar palace, also a place to witness a truly mesmerizing sunset over the lake.
Adjacent to the ghats through the narrow winding streets running between the buildings is the main bazar stretching from Jaipur ghat in the south east curving around the ghats to the west up to Brahma temple. A leisurely walk through the main bazar from Jaipur ghat to Brahma temple takes about 20 mins. non-stop and is about 2.5 Kms. long. To the north and south of Pushkar with the Brahma temple exactly in between are two hills known as Savitri and Gayatri hill named after Brahma’s wives according to legend. The Savitri hill is taller and has a steep climb whereas the Gayatri hill is relatively smaller, an easy 30 minute trek leads to the top of the hill.
The annual Pushkar Camel fair is Rajasthan’s most boisterous, extravagant and colourful festival held at the mela grounds just on the outskirts of Pushkar where thousands of villagers donning traditional colourful attire create a riot of colours and a vibrant festive atmosphere flock to trade in Camels (ranging from ten thousand to fifty five thousand rupees), horses, sheep and cattle.
Pushkar is truly enchanting, a dream comes true kind of a place where there’s lot to shop, see and feast. With narrow winding streets full of shops selling handicrafts, souvenirs, textiles, artefacts, paintings, sweets and savouries (of which most important is ‘Gulkand’, a jam made up of dried rose petals and sugar for which Pushkar is popular), to massage parlours, saloons, art schools, yoga guru’s, restaurants, hotels and ashrams, Pushkar has something for every soul. Pushkar is visited by tourits from India, Europe and predominantly Israel all year long.
How to Reach?
By Rail – The nearest railhead is Ajmer 13 Kms away. There are many trains to Ajmer from every nook and corner of India. From Mumbai, the Dadar Ajmer express is the best way to reach Ajmer in about 18 Hrs. From Jaipur and from Udaipur, the Udaipur Jaipur Intercity express is the best train.
By Road – Ajmer can be reached by road from Mumbai through National Highway 8 (NH-8) passing through Surat, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Udaipur, Nathdwara, Rajsamand and Beawar. From Delhi, Ajmer can be reached through NH-8 passing through Gurgaon, Shahpura, Jaipur and Dudu. From Ajmer, SH89, Ajmer Pushkar road leads to Pushkar.
By Air – Nearest Airport is Sanganer Airport at Jaipur, 140 Kms away.
Where to stay?
Pushkar has a variety of stay options ranging from luxury hotels to lodges. The best place to stay put in Pushkar is undoubtedly Hotel Pushkar Palace, a 3-star luxury hotel. Hotel Pushkar Palace is a heritage property and the only luxury hotel on Pushkar Lake offering imposing views of the Lake and the surrounding ghats. The Hotel was originally the palatial house of the Kishangarh rulers. All the prominent locations of Pushkar are accessible at walking distance from Pushkar Palace hotel. The hotel is predominantly occupied by foreign tourists. It’s in house Prince Restaurant serves traditional Rajasthani and continental cuisine. Hotel Jagat Palace, also owned by Pushkar Palace hotel is at Ramdwara on Ajmer road, bit away from the lake. It mainly caters to foreign backpackers and has a swimming pool and health club. Pushkar Palace hotel also erects luxury tents during the fair at the Royal Desert Camp at village Ganahera, 3 Kms from Pushkar. There are few more hotels on the outskirts of Pushkar – the Pushkar Fort palace at village Ganahera, Aaram Bagh Palace and the Pushkar Bagh palace are good stay options if the idea is to experience the charm of the desert around a campfire and enchanting Rajasthani folk music while relishing delectable Rajasthani cuisine on a cold desert night. Another stay option is Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation’s (RTDC) Hotel Sarovar which was originally the Man Mahal built by King Man Singh of Jaipur. RTDC also erects luxury tents at the RTDC tourist village during the Pushkar fair. There are many small lodges and hotels in and around the main market at Badi Basti like the Natraj lodge.
Things to do
Pushkar is an all year destination, a visit during the Pushkar Camel Fair is highly recommended if one can withstand large crowds and noise. The spiritually inclined pilgrim can take a holy dip in the lake and immerse the soul in to puja’s and rituals on one of the ghats on the Lake while the intrepid traveller can explore Pushkar on foot ruminating on the changing colours of life. The best way to spend time is in the bazars of Pushkar – shopping for souvenirs, browsing touristy bric-a-brac and feasting on a variety of sweetmeats and savouries. While at Pushkar it is common to see processions and festive celebrations on the narrow streets which are a colourful treat to the eyes. Pushkar is an ideal venue for street photography and equally good for portrait and landscape photography.
A visit to Jaipur ghat in the evening is highly recommended to witness an intoxicating sunset when the tribal folk performers dot the ghat with their mellow ravanhatta instruments and their stark desert voices. Go for a leisure walk on the ghats early morning while listening to the sacred chants, seeing the puja’s being performed and absorbing the invigorating atmosphere. Visit the many temples around the lake, the most prominent ones are the Brahma temple, Varaha temple, Apateshwar temple and the imposing Rangji temple (non Hindus and foreigners aren’t allowed in Rangji temple).
A visit to the Gayatri Temple on the Ratnagiri hill at the northern edge of Pushkar is worth a visit. A panoramic view of Pushkar can be seen from here and a breath taking sunset can be witnessed from this hill in the evening. It’s a short but steep half an hour trek from a pathway behind the Marwar bus stand. Carry water and Enerzal or Electral – there are no shops uphill.
A Camel Safari must not be missed while at Pushkar and must include an excursion to the sand dunes on the outskirts of Pushkar and to the nearby villages and rose gardens. The camel safari on a camel back or in a camel pulled cart with a mattress and bolsters to lean back (also a protection to the spine from the suspensionless cart) can be packaged to include a dinner by a bonfire at a desert village accompanied with local folk dance performance. Charges are negotiable and are typically Rs. 300/- per hour but if extended to 2 hrs. or more including dinner and folk dance may cost around Rs. 600/- to Rs. 700/- Almost every hotel in Pushkar arranges a Camel safari.
The week-long fiesta of Pushkar camel fair in the month of November is packed with entertainment, camel races, snake charmers, folk dancers, musicians, magicians, hypnotists and monkey trainers. With a riot of colours and excitement at its peak, a crowd of more than five lakh people visit the fair. Pushkar fair is an ideal opportunity for photographers to capture the explosion of colours.
Beware of conmen loitering on the ghats giving rose petals or persuading for a puja. The pundit’s or priests called as Pandas are pretty aggressive, pay as per your wish and do not get swayed by their piety. Pushkar is a strictly vegetarian destination. Eating non-veg. or consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited in an area of 5 Kms around Pushkar. The lake is held in high esteem hence footwear is not allowed on the ghats or within 30 feet of the lake. Reverence to the Hindu religion and proper dressing is essential to avoid undue attention. Temples in Pushkar are closed for an hour or two in the afternoon, check timings before visiting. Many temples in Pushkar don’t allow handbags and cameras, there are deposit lockers available at the florists outside the temple, however avoid carrying valuables while visiting temples. Hindi is widely spoken and understood by the locals along with Rajasthani dialects while English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Hebrew languages are well-spoken by the local tourist guides. The locals although friendly are completely business minded people.
Book your hotel room well in advance if visiting Pushkar during the fair. Being the peak season, hotels charge exorbitant rates ranging from Rs. 13,000/- to Rs. 21,000/- per night. It’s a good idea to eat at the many eateries in the main market as food is unreasonably priced at the hotel’s in house restaurants.
Some shops at Pushkar sell poor quality fabric and fake antiques, do not fall prey to throwaway prices.
What to eat?
Pushkar is home to the casual foodie, gourmet and the connoisseur alike. The choice of sweetmeats, savouries and continental cuisine at the road side eateries and restaurants is extraordinary. Rabdi ka Malpua, Kalakand, Motichoor Laddoo, Imrati, Jalebi are sweetmeats which add to the calories along with savouries like Kachori and Mirchi Bada dipped in spiced Kadhi, Dal Pakwan, Aloo Tikki, Dal Bhati Churma, and home style Rajasthani thaal (thali meal). The gastronomic excursion can be concluded with divine Gulkand or Makhaniya Lassi served in a clay pot. While at Pushkar its recommended to shun diet plans and enjoy the feast of a lifetime.
The best sweetmeats in Pushkar can be relished at one of the many halwai shops in a narrow serpentine lane called as Halwaiyon Ki Gali opposite the Gau ghat. The sweets are made of pure desi ghee (clarified butter) on a clay oven. The taste is divine and reaches straight to the soul. Also worth mentioning is Laxmi sweets in the main bazar near Gau Ghat for Kachori and Mirchi bada dipped in spiced kadhi, RS restaurant opposite Brahma temple is popular for Dal Bhati Churma. For the best Gulkand lassi, the top in town is Kumawat Lassiwala, a small stall near Brahma temple. For a hearty Rajasthani thaal head-on straight to Radheji’s restaurant, opposite the pramukh Varah ghat. A road side stall which opens only in the morning at the pramukh varah ghat is worth a try for Dal Pakwan.
For the foreign tourist, there’s ample choice of homesick food at one of the many restaurants in Pushkar. Raju’s is a roof top restaurant catering to the culinary needs of foreign guests along with Honey and Spice in choti basti. Moondance Café opposite the Rangji temple also in choti basti has a garden setup and serves good pizzas and enchilada. Sunset Café at Jaipur ghat is another place to find homesick food for foreign guests. There are many small hotels serving Tibetan fare of noodles and momos along with continental spread consisting of pizzas, bruschetta, lasagne, enchilada, spaghetti and hummus.
Shopping at Pushkar
Pushkar is a place for the shop alcoholic whose conviction is the ‘shop till you drop’ philosophy. Shop for souvenirs, artefacts made of ashtadhatu and brass, mojari footwear and camel leather articles, utensils, antiques, meenakari items, lacquered bangles and jewellery, block printed kurtis and dress materials, cotton embroidered kurtas, upholstery, bed sheets and bedcovers at the many shops in the main bazar at Badi basti. For the artistically inclined, spend time shopping for miniature paintings at Ganesh Arts near Brahma temple or at Sarveshwar Kala Mandir in the main bazar for paintings of the Kishangarh school style. The paintings cost from Rs. 300/- to Rs. 12,000/- depending upon the quality of work and craftsmanship. It is essential to bargain while shopping at Pushkar, typically 40 – 50 percent less than the price quoted is a good deal.
Pushkar is popular for its aromatic rose. Thus Gulkand, Gulkand Thandai, Gulab Sherbet, Rose petals and Gulabjal are a speciality of Pushkar which can be bought at Kamal and Co. or at Natraj Store in the main bazar. Natraj also sells quality Eitar with a wide variety of fragrances, the best one being rose, sandalwood and nagchampa.
Ajmer – A visit to Pushkar is incomplete without visiting Ajmer known for the dargah (an Islamic shrine) of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti also known as Khwaja Garib Nawaz (KGN). Just 13 Kms south east of Pushkar, Ajmer can be reached in 20 minutes by road. Visited by people of all faiths, the dargah is an icon of secularism in India. The dargah is a complex of many structures built by different rulers in different times. The mazhar of khwajaji is a place where one can experience the mind at rest, a moment of communion with the divine. As a ritual, people offer chaadar and rose flowers to khwajaji and pray for fulfilment of their wishes. There are two massive cauldrons (called as Deg) kept inside the dargah where people put their offerings in the form of cash, jewellery and valuables. The bigger Cauldron donated by Emperor Akbar is used to cook food during the Urs of khwajaji. The food is sponsored by rich devotees and distributed free of cost to the masses. Food is strictly vegetarian inside the Dargah. Other important structures inside the dargah are the Akbari Masjid, Jannati darwaja, Buland darwaja, Mehfil Khana and Langar Khana. Behind the Dargah is one more structure called as Adhai-din-ka-jhopda which is believed to be built in two and half days, hence the name.
In the bazar outside the dargah, there are plenty of shops selling sweetmeats made in pure desi ghee like the Aflatoon, Halwa, Balushahi, and Nankhatai. There are many shops and hotels in the bazar for savouring delectable dum biryani and lip-smacking kebabs and tandoor dishes.
Ajmer has a huge lake – the Ana Sagar whose water is used for bathing and washing clothes by pilgrims. The water is contaminated and stinks during summers. There’s a chowpaty on the lake and a well maintained garden. There’s one more artificial lake which was built by the erstwhile ruler of Ajmer – King Ajay Singh, called as Foy Sagar to the south of Ajmer.
To the south of Ajmer atop a hill stands high Fort Taragad, it can be reached by car.
Kishangarh – about 45 Kms from Pushkar in an hour’s drive is the town of Kishangarh known for its art and artisans. Kishangarh is popular for the Kishangarh School of miniature paintings and is a manufacturing hub for souvenirs, artefacts and handicrafts. Kishangarh is also the main centre of Marble trading with many distributors and agents located here. The marble although is mined and manufactured in Makrana and Rajsamand. Kishangarh is also the next railhead after Ajmer on the Ajmer Jaipur route.
….. Rajesh Deshpande © 2013