Divine melodies, sacred energies, camel cart rides, rose fragrances, starry ruins — the twin towns offer a combo of the sacred and the spirited
- Stars Around The Lake
The little lake in the middle of the town is where Brahma, the creator, lives. Like every pilgrim, I watched the priests offer prayers on behalf of those who need to send their wishes to the creator. Some seek salvation for their ancestors; others need blessings for a good life, and yet more come to find themselves. Some bathed in the holy waters, washing away their sins. Pigeons, cows, dogs, cats — all were busy searching for food. But I was gazing at the sky breaking into multiple shades of orange and red. It was evening, the time for lighting the lamps and hearing the sound of chants. The little lamps around the circular pond looked like stars at the edge of the water. The evening was alive with shades that seeped into my soul.
2. The Fragrances
Walking into the main market, I slowly trudged past cafes and shops offering juices, smoothies, pastas and pizzas. Stalls were also selling falafel rolls. Pushkar was a hot favourite with Israeli tourists. Pulled by the fragrance of malpuas and halwa, I stood outside a sweet shop, contemplating for quite a while about giving in to the calorie-laden temptation. Nearby was a shop selling gol gappas with five different kinds of water. Rose lassi in a kulhad was also not far away. Luckily, the compelling fragrance of rose came to my rescue, leading to a shop which offered an array of perfumes, rose sherbet, rose water and even gulkand (rose petals mixed in sugar syrup and cardamom). Surprisingly, the desert town has rose cultivation around it. And all the products are made in the numerous small units in the area. Camel leather bags are also in abundance in the market. But then, this was camel land. The famous camel fair in November is when one can see the glorious animals all decked up for trading.
3. Divine Melodies
The sound of prayers cut through the market buzz. In a hurry, I rushed to the Jaipur Ghat where the Sacred Pushkar festival was being held. This was the third edition of the annual festival. “Last year Daler Mehndi had come,” a shopkeeper told me. Free for all, the festival was organised by Shree Cement and executed by Teamwork Arts. The lights around the lake tinkled as the night grew darker. Grammy award-winning percussionist Vikku Vinayakram was performing with his son and grandson. The December chill no longer penetrated our clothes as the sound of his fingers on the ghatam or earthen pot resonated in the air. Then came folk singer Bhanwari Devi and the air became even more electric.
The two-day festival also included morning meditations, workshops, walks and spiritual talks. The holy town has many curses and legends attached to it. And the ghats around the lake have different names. There were different patrons for each space, as many staked a claim to their bathing spot. Well, Rajasthan is the land of royals and warriors. But no longer does the power hold sway over the bathing spots, for now the circular space around the holy water belongs to all.
4. Meeting The Wives
Cursed by his first wife for being impatient and not waiting for her during a yagya, the creator, Brahma, is revered only in a temple in Pushkar. Legend says that Brahma had organised a yagya and his wife, Savitri, was late. Instead of waiting, the creator married a Gurjar girl, Gayatri, on the spot and sat with her for the yagya. And the furious Savitri cursed that he would not be worshipped anywhere except in the waters of the Pushkar Lake. While a small temple for the second wife is near the spot where the ghats begin, the Savitri temple rests on the top of a hill. This has a spectacular view of the hills and the town below. Taking the ropeway to this adds to spiritual experience. After all, the spirit does like to rise! I wasn’t fit enough to climb the 1,000 winding steps cut into the hill.
(1. Yagyas are sacred fire offerings performed for seeking blessings before embarking on an important project/goal such as marriage, new business, and welfare of the community. 2. Gurjars are the community of cowherds.)
5. Camel Cart To The Dunes
The endless sky and the large expanse of sand come alive in the morning and evening. Camel carts with Ola stickers all around, stalls selling drinks and snacks and traditional Kalbeliya dancers, the dunes have their own shades. Only male camels are allowed to reside in the area, as they go beserk around their female counterparts. The mating season is the time to watch out, our camel cart driver explained. The dunes wove a magic, more so for a young couple who seemed to be busy with a pre-wedding shoot, or so it looked like to us. With reluctance, we jerked our way back to the resort as darkness engulfed the sacred town.
(Ola no longer offers came cart services, just the reminisces live on.)
6. Starry Walls Of Taragarh Fort
After meeting Brahma, it was time to meet the saints in Ajmer. While the road to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah of Moinuddin Chishti is constantly packed, the road to Taragarh Fort is not. The drive up goes past the lesser visited Prithviraj Chauhan memorial park (Ticket cost: INR 20). The last Hindu king of India had a vast empire and this fort was built in 1354. Now, only parts of the walls remain. The view from here is nothing short of looking down from heaven. The city shines far below. A little disappointed at not finding anything, we walked past the dargah of Miran Saheb. The governor had lost his life in an encounter in 1210. And was now the guiding star, residing in a sacred tomb amid the vegetation and the ruined walls, attracting hundreds daily.
Originally, the fort had three gateways and a massive network of tunnels. The Mughals ruled it under Dara Shikoh from 1633–1776. But now, we gazed at city below, the hills in the distant and wondered about the architecture, taking back the many shades of the sacred twin towns in our cameras.
Reaching Ajmer & Pushkar, Rajasthan, India
- The nearest international airport is at Jaipur which is well connected with domestic flights too.
- For visa to India, check https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html
- For travel insurance, https://www.insureandgo.com/travel-insurance/countries/india
- For forex, https://www.bookmyforex.com/
- Currency change is also available at the airport and in Jaipur city.
- You can reach Ajmer by road or by rail. And from there, Pushkar is just a 45-minute drive.
- Best time to go: September to March, as the heat in the desert can get to you.
- Where to stay: http://www.orchard.in/ (for a full review click here https://lbb.in/delhi/posts/plan-a-luxurious-weekend-retreat-18045f/; http://www.sewara.com/property/history-pushkar-resort; https://www.tripadvisor.in/SmartDeals-g319729-Pushkar_Ajmer_District_Rajasthan-Hotel-Deals.html
- For foreigners, this page would be a good guide http://tourism.rajasthan.gov.in/foreign-tourists
- Tourist helpline in India http://tourism.gov.in/24x7-toll-free-tourist-helpline-no-1800-11-1363-short-code-1363
- Local SIM cards are available at the airport.
Things To Keep In Mind
1. Preferably wear cotton clothes and keep yourself covered. India is a tourist-friendly but a little conservative country, so there can be unwanted attention.
2. Carry your own water bottle, some places are not clean.
3. A bottle of sunscreen, medicines and first aid kit.
4. Keep your passport under lock and key.
5. Bargaining is a good idea in the market.
6. There are many beggars there but we prefer not to encourage them.
7. Locals ask for money if you want to take their pictures, so some change comes handy. It’s better than begging.
8. When trying street food, make sure you have a strong stomach.
9. Everyone pretends to be a guide, but is not. Check credentials for the government has certified guides.
10. While offering offering prayers and paying people on the ghats might be honourable, do it only if you believe in it.
A travel freak, Ambica Gulati’s first love is storytelling. Read more stories penned by her at atravellerswishlist.com.