Pushkar, located around two and a half hours by road from Savista, with its holy lake and the hundreds of whitewashed temples built around it is one of the holiest cities of the Hindus. If you are keen to get a fleeting experience of “religious India” and are not planning to visit Varanasi (the most ancient and holiest of living cities), Pushkar is a reasonable substitute that is well worth a half day visit.
Ancient, quaint, colorful, and full of history, Pushkar is renowned for two things. It has one of the only temples in the world dedicated to Lord Brahma (god as Creator)); hence its importance to the Hindus, the dominant religious community in India. And Pushkar hosts an annual Camel Fair for one week in November each year, coinciding with the full moon, when animals – mainly camels and horses – are traded. During this week, Pushkar is flooded with upward of 200,000 visitors – Indian and foreign – and more than 50,000 camels that arrive adorned with nose rings, bangles and bracelets.
Although there is a lot of energy and spectacle during the camel fair, Pushkar feels more charming and manageable during the quieter times of the year when you can enjoy the bustling market for beautiful handcrafted goods (friendly and less aggressive merchants and cheaper prices than Jaipur’s walled city bazaars), and explore the innumerable lanes and bylanes which speak of a layered history and a living museum of architectural structures – temples, palaces and residences – that go back several hundreds of years. The important thing is to do your explorations on your own, and to determinedly shake off the innumerable wily self styled “religious” men and their touts who will try to ensnare you with flowers or offers of rituals that can help your ancestors reach heaven.
Pushkar also has an unmistakable cosmopolitan flavour that goes back to the 1960s when the American flower children discovered it and made it their home, encouraged by the marijuana fields surrounding the town. The Beatles, too, travelling to India seeking nirvana and the sitarist Ravi Shankar, spent some time in Pushkar in the ’60s. They have been followed over the decades by other international nirvana seekers, including Israeli youth weary of the militarism in their home country. Many of them stayed on, and you will encounter them in the bazaars, some of them running restaurants offering Israeli and European cuisine.