Pushkar: Holy City By The Lake

Pushkar is this quirky little city, and it is revered as one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in India. Pushkar Lake is said to have formed from a lotus flower dropped by Lord Brahma. He built temples to his two wives, Savitri and Gayitri, in Pushkar. Savitri temple is the highest because she is his ‘true’ wife, and should be worshiped first and foremost over Gayitri. Read a snapshot of the story here. Pilgrims flock to the lake to bathe in its holy waters, to be blessed by Brahmin priests, to picnic on the ghat steps and renew.

2014-12-28 16.33.28It seems an oddly contradictory city, which sweetly grows on you the more time you spend here. There are fake sadhus and gurus who will take your money. These pseudo-holy men wait by the lake or in the throngs at the market and befriend, then extort, an innocent would-be pilgrim who is just there to find peace. Yet there are pilgrim’s (read: tourist’s) rules to abide when just walking in the streets. No public displays of affection. Women must be covered. No shoes within 30 feet of Pushkar Lake. No drinking. No drugs. All veg, all the time.

The market streets of Pushkar are like a flea market on a Sunday afternoon. With cows. And camels. And dogs. And chai wallahs. And monkeys. There are hawkers of every color in the rainbow, selling every possible trinket imaginable: Rajasthani swords and puppets. Bangles and tinkling anklets. Holy texts and scarves and spices and camel jewelry (and people jewelry) and prayer beads. There are tourists and pilgrims and wandering cows by the dozen in this sacred city. Women in the market sell bunches of grass to feed the cows as a karmic offering. One wonders whether the offering becomes less sacred when it’s a commodity.

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The chanting in the background prevails at all hours of the day and thus provides an ancillary soundtrack to this city. There is the buzzing frenzy of the market, yet by the lake it is a veritable oasis within a city altogether. The buzz fades and the vibrations of myriad oms resonate deeply. It is mesmerizing, enchanting. The monkeys are as reverent as the pilgrims, making their offerings to their deities (or perhaps reaping the pilgrims’ spoils) and bathing in the lake’s holy waters alongside the pilgrims. Marble tiles lead to the terraced landings of each of the 52 ghats (the marble steps that lead down to Pushkar Lake), each ghat carrying its own spiritual significance, character and style. I was transfixed by the light at different times of day as it hit the lake. Here, lake-watching beats people-watching, as observing the comings and goings of devotees is a soothing meditation in itself. I partake in a morning blessing ritual by the lake, honouring ancestors and willing wishes to come true. Orange good luck threads tied to my wrist serve as fraying soft cotton reminders of the light on the lake and the Sanskrit blessings bestowed by the Brahmin priest.

The climb to the top of the Savitri temple revealed a meh-worthy sunrise through the hazy morning sky, though the chai served by the temple attendant at the top was worth the early wake-up call. Monkeys posed for photos in the breaking morning light. It was lovely.

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A trip to the desert is not complete without the ultimate tourist act: a camel ride. So into the desert we ride, culminating with dinner, gypsy dancing and a magic show in an open corral in the middle of the desert. Dressed in gypsy clothes, we ate and laughed and danced into the cool desert night.