While the pigeons flocked the lakeshore, people gathered on the lanes surrounding the lake. Coming round the lakes several times, I saw backpackers in large loads ambling along the streets. The question that came to me is – ‘why?’ Most of the tourists I saw walked in to see the lake, looked to their left and right for a moment, spoke a few sentences to their associates and walked away without knowing what to do next. And yet, they keep coming in more numbers.
Unlike Varanasi, where the fleeting tourists can be occupied by a boat ride, a session of chasing the pilgrims with camera or long walks in the ghats, Pushkar doesn’t have a list of ‘things to do’ for the tourist. There are no standard tourist trails but for the path to circumambulate of the lake, which can be completed in an hour or two. Photographers are not welcome at the lake, and even getting closer to the lake requires one to remove footwear. Unlike at the time of the famed Pushkar Camel Fair where large gathering of the local population and the camels attract tourists and photographers alike, there is nothing here for the normal tourist who arrives on a normal day, unless one has serious interests in culture or is religious by nature. But having arrived, most people spend their time hanging out in cafes, browsing in internet centers or shopping in numerous establishments selling trinkets, cheap jewelery, colorful clothings and Rajasthani arts, and leave for their next destination quickly. And they spread they word, talking about the ‘spiritual and cultural experiences’ of Pushkar on their weblogs, which seem like more than empty words.
A baba poses for my camera
As I walked past the trinket shops and Italian restaurants, I made an attempt to imagine a Pushkar many decades ago when it was not on the backpacker’s highway. Hundreds of temples would have dotted the lanes as they still do, with quiet an atmosphere that complemented the temples. The lines of guesthouses all along would have been small houses of people who lived off the temples or worked in the fields watered by the lake. The lake itself would not have to be a stiff place where warning signs encounter people every second, constantly reminding what one mustn’t do and the rules one must obey. Temple bells would ring continuously in one corner or other as pilgrims walked past them visiting one after other. Only the pigeons, supported by corns splattered by genial pilgrims would not have changed much.
Walking along the ghats on an evening, I struck conversation with an elderly priest sitting quietly in a corner. “The first of the Brahmins originated from Pushkar,” he told me, “the Brahmins of Pushkar are the most superior of all.” He told me on the importance of Pushkar on Hindu mythology, of the place where Brahma meditated, and pointed to the Brahma temple at the far end of the lake. Besides the holy lake and the camel fair, Pushkar’s next claim to fame is this temple – the only place where Lord Brahma is worshiped.
The next morning, I walked into the temple where I was stopped by a policeman who asked me to leave my bag behind before I entered in. With no cloakrooms available, I left it in supervision of a vendor who sold pooja paraphernalia, and bought a pack of prasad just to return the favour. Its a small temple without much activity or large crowds, and most of the temple’s structure today is built in the recent years, giving out no hint of the past of this ancient temple.
I whiled away my time in Pushkar sitting and meditating on the lake shore, watching pilgrims perform pooja and taking a dip in the holy lake or envying the pigeons that had an easy life. Walking on the streets, I kept an eye for local delicacies that could be found only in narrow lanes jutting out of the main circumambulation path where restaurants for backpackers haven’t taken over yet. Spicy Aloo Tikkis sold on the carts, chai shops that brewed strong milky tea, and Sugary Malpua prepared with ‘Shuddh desi ghee’ in sweet shops kept my taste buds working.
Malpua and pigeons, not the cultural or spiritual sokaing remained the highlights of my stay at Pushkar. As I checked out from the hotel and headed to the bus stop with my backback on the shoulder, I walked without the apprehension I had arrived here with.
Pushkar is a small town known for its annual camel fair when a large number of locals descend here to buy and sell camels. The renowned events attracts visitors and photographers from all over the world. A small lake around which the town is built, is one of the holiest places of pilgrimage for Hindus. The town boasts of only temple from Brahma that is known to exist. Even if you are not pious, the ghats around the lake, pilgrims on the shore and many small temples make the place interesting to visit.
Food and Accommodation. There are many inexpensive guesthouses and hotels that surround the lake. Accommodation is easy to find except during the fare, when advance booking is required and the tariffs are known to go up by as much as ten times. Though most places serve continental, Italian and Israeli food besides the Indian fare, a few small places spread around Brahma Temple serve traditional Indian food.
To be continued..