Pushkar is a little town of about fifteen thousand people in the centre of Rajasthan state. It was Duda who chose Pushkar to be the first place he would take us in India. Actually the idea was to go to the Himalayas first, but it was Alice, an Australian friend of his, who said: “They live in New Zealand, they must be tired of seeing mountains, why don’t you bring them to Pushkar, to the desert”. Her suggestion put business and leisure together, much of my brother and Drica’s work is in Pushkar, where is the tailor who works for them, so they would have another week working before travelling around with us.
To this day I thank Alice for the illuminated moment she said this to Duda. Pushkar was still is one of my favorite places in India. The small town that lies at the heart of a huge desert was built around a beautiful lake, which is believed to be as old as the world’s creation. It is the only city in India dedicated to Brahma, the God of creation. The lake is sacred and the town became a pilgrimage destination for Hindus throughout India. Meat and even eggs are prohibited in the city. Veggies, here is your place.
From Delhi to Pushkar in a bed bus
To get there we took a bus coming from Delhi towards Ajmer, because Pushkar is so small that it doesn’t even have a bus station. I had never been on bed buses before and found them awesome. There are no seats in the bus, only beds. At one side of the corridor are double beds and at the other side single ones, and they are kind of bunk beds. Since nobody wants to fall out of bed in the middle of the corridor as the bus moves, beds are closed half way and the other half has like a sliding door with glass in the middle and a wire rack on top.
We got in the bus in Delhi about 10pm, I stretched a cloth on the bed, closed the “door” and blacked out. I was absolutely exhausted and still jet lagged from Hong Kong. I vaguely remember all the horns while leaving the city, the numerous bus stops, Duda offering us food on these stops and Indians selling “chai garam” (hot tea) inside the bus, shouting and banging on cans, but nothing totally woke me up. When I finally woke up in the morning I was frightened to see an Indian man with his face on the grid of our bed, as if he was watching us, but he was asleep. Yes, in the corridor, on the floor, and he was not alone. Welcome to India. We arrived in Pushkar in the morning, Felipe, myself, Duda and Celio, a Portuguese friend who we had met in Delhi (yep! another coincidence…).
Drica was waiting for us at Lotus Hotel and when we got there Duda and Drica had prepared a surprise for us. She had stayed there so they could book our “gift”: the most beautiful room in the hotel. Lotus Hotel is extremely simple, the bathrooms are outside and far away, they do not have hot water in the showers all the time (or even water), but this room was super special. It was fully painted and decorated with mirrors and peacock feathers by an artist who had stayed there before, and opening the door we had the most beautiful view of the sacred lake and the city. Wow.
The room had so many mirrors and colours that it was amazing to light some candles at night and stare at the images dancing on the walls. As the room was small it wasn’t very easy to take pictures, but we took a few, including the view (click to enlarge):
Six days in Pushkar
The following week we walked several times around the lake, which has a bridge and to walk over it you must remove your shoes, after all we were passing over the sacred lake. Pushkar has one single main street, where everyone tries to pile up their shops, stalls, restaurants, anything, it is where all tourists pass every day. Yes, there are many tourists in Pushkar. Mainly Israelis, but that’s a story for some other time.
We joined Duda and Drica while they produced their clothes, we learnt a lot of things from how to behave on the streets to how to negotiate with vendors and little by little, with their help, we were getting a Hindi word here and there. People generally speak English in India, especially in touristy places like Pushkar, but amongst themselves they still use Hindi or the local dialect and learning to negotiate with them in Hindi, or at least knowing the numbers, is a huge advantage!
We spent a lot of time at the hotel, catching up with our so missed talks, sewing, admiring the wonderful view and watching men and women who came from the desert with their super colourful turbans and saris to pray and wash clothes in the sacred lake. Every evening the Puja takes place, when groups of people gather in the ghats (stairways that end in the lake) to follow the ceremony led by a Brahmana (the highest caste in India).
We walked a lot around the city, visiting stores that sell everything – clothes, games, books, bags, shoes, paints, spices, accessories, … – and I wanted to buy everything, because everything is beautiful, colourful and smells good. Each time we went out called for a mandatory stop at a juice shop that has the best pomegranate with pineapple juice that I’ve ever had in my life. Sweets, sweets, candies and more candies, and very sweet! I’m not that into sweet stuff, but they look good.
Food, as always, was delicious. We ate at the hotel, in dhabas (local restaurants) that Duda knew and even in Italian restaurants. Oh yeah, believe it or not, there are Italian restaurants everywhere in India. Every morning Felipe had a lassi at the hotel, a drink that is something in between juice and yogurt in several flavours. Some places are authorized to sell a special type of lassi, called bhang lassi, mixed with cannabis. But this only at night, they say. We did not try it.
Here are some pictures of the city, just click on the thumbnails to enlarge:
And speaking of nights, the five of us usually spent the nights watching movies in our room. Duda and Drica had a HD full of brand new films! Certain night it was someone’s birthday at the hotel and they served a dinner by candlelight out there for everybody. It was very nice, just do not ask me what we ate because I have no idea, we could not see anything. But it was good!
Temples and animals
Pushkar has many many temples. And many animals are sacred too. Besides cows, snakes, rats and monkeys are super common in the city. In the town centre flies are more common than all these animals together, but they are not sacred, so just do not open your mouth and you’ll be fine.
The most important one is Brahma Temple, which is in the city, then comes Savitri and Saraswati temples, Brahma’s wifes. Each one sits on top of two hills near the city. The walk is long and the climb is steep. One day Felipe woke up early and climbed with Celio up to Saraswati Temple:
Ajapal and a tour at the Thar Desert
*Thar Desert is the correct name of what we call Rajasthan Desert
Certain day Alice told us that she had been to Ajapal, she was delighted, said there was an oasis and a Baba (as they affectionately call holy men who dedicate their lives to religion) living near a temple. We had no idea where this place was, but the next day we rented motorbikes and followed her instructions.
The journey to get there was an adventure in the desert. Felipe and I on a bike, Duda and Drica on another and Celio on the third. The landscape on the way was barren with low vegetation and some small trees here and there. In those rare places that appeared a little water we saw camels, buffaloes or goats. One man, alone, bathing buffaloes. Another, also alone, leading a caravan of camels. Women with huge loads on their backs or on their heads, also alone, on that sandy road that seemed to have no end and not one single house around.
The desert seemed to be one of the few places in India where you don’t see thousands of people. It was very quiet until we neared to the villages. Little monsters, I mean, children appeared from nowhere running and screaming in front of us and as we slowed down they tried to hold the bike from behind to bring us down. What a fun game, right? Not! This happened many, many times in the first, second, third villages and even when it seemed there was no village the little monsters appeared jumping from behind a tree. What a despair… Duda was going first shouting and fighting the kids, which sometimes worked, sometimes not. On the way back our bike got stuck in the sand, we could not move and I saw kids running and getting closer. Duda, Drica and Celio were way far in front… what now? Move, Felipe, quick! As soon as the chipmunks reached us Fe pulled the bike off the sand and we took off, they nearly grabbed me and I was scratched on my back and arms. Afterwards I laughed, I wish I had filmed those crazy kids, but fear was greater than reasoning at that moment.
We knew we had reached Ajapal when we saw the temple, apparently super old, somewhat dilapidated but beautiful. The place really is an oasis. There was much more water than anywhere else along the way, even villages, vegetation was greener and there was a huge willow tree! Beautiful. We sat on the shade as a guy came asking if we were there to see the Baba and took us to him. All dressed in black, Duda explained that he was a Kali Baba (devotee of Goddess Kali). We sat with him while he was cutting vegetables and putting them into a pot, he was super friendly, we talked for a while, gave him some gifts and left him with his dozen dogs, a cow and her calf.
We spent a bit more time by knowing the temple, which seemed abandoned, but in front of it there was a guy selling chai. Near the temple we saw peacocks! I was absolutely delighted to see peacocks in the wild. And my brother, who is an ornithologist, even more…
Some pics of Ajapal and the journey:
When we returned to Pushkar the town was boiling, each day more and more people arrived from all parts of India bringing with them animals, products, family… It was October and the famous Camel Fair would begin next week. Pushkar holds one of the world’s largest camel fairs, people actually come here to trade camels, amongst other million things, of course. Including arranging marriages.
But on the following day we took another bed bus back to Delhi and missed the Camel Fair. This time our bed was on top and the last in the back of the bus, right on where the wheels are. It jumped a loooot and several times during the night I thought I was dreaming, but it was all true, I woke up and my whole body was in the air “wooooooowwww”, then I fell back on bed and continued sleeping until the next jump. Fun!
For those who think of going there, consider these prices as approximate only, some things may have changed since then and negotiation always interferes on the final price. I used today’s Rupee/Dollar conversion rate.
- Bus Delhi > Pushkar: 250 Rupees per person – USD 5.45
- Room at Lotus Hotel: 200 Rupees per day – USD 4.35
- Meals including beverage: Rupees 150 per couple – USD 3.26
- Motorbike rental for one day: 100 rupees – USD 2.17
- Bus Pushkar > Delhi: 260 Rupees per person – USD 5.65