Pushkar is a small city in central Rajasthan, in north-west India. It’s famous for its camel market and for the only Hindu temple dedicated to Brahma, the supreme god in the Hindu pantheon. All of the other temples in India – and there are millions – are dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu or one of the other minor gods. In fact, the Brahma temple in Pushkar is the only one of its kind on the planet.
The town curls around a lake that is said to have been made when Brahma dropped a lotus flower to earth. It’s surrounded by brown hills, two of which have temples on top.
Our hotel, the Pushkar Palace, http://hotelpushkarpalace.com/pushkar-palace-rooms/ is straight out of the British Raj. The former palace of a maharaja, the mood is set with marble floors, lots of carving and archways, Indian carpets, antique furniture, early 20th century black and white photos. Our bathroom has an old fashioned soaker tub (ahhhh!) and an attached dressing room. The hotel’s location is on the lake, at the edge of the main bazaar. Perfect!
As a pilgrimage town Pushkar is full of Indian families from the surrounding countryside. Their colourful women make our photos look like cartoons. There are also many, many young men on scooters, beeping constantly. And a large group of pseudo-new-age-hippies. White, mostly European, dreadlocked, barefooted, wearing Indian clothes and trying to be enlightened in an eastern way that comes off as a bit forced. Maybe I’m just jealous of their youth and freedom?
The bazaar is massive. The food amazing. We wander aimlessly, stopping for lunch, shopping, snapping photos. All day long we listen to beating drums and chanting. It’s a frenzy of sights, sounds, smells (some very bad!), tastes and activity. Our senses are overloaded.
One morning on a side street we are shunted to the side of the road as a procession goes by. First come a few men tossing rose petals into the air. We smell roses as the rest of the procession walk on the petals. A dead body, covered in roses, is held aloft. We follow the crowd to the outskirts of town, to the burning ghats. Smoke wafts up from a large pile of ashes. Wood stands ready for the next body. It’s a sobering sight.
From the ghats the ashes will be taken to the lake. We see families with small baskets and are told they contain dead loved ones’ ashes. The male mourners are bald but for a small pony tail at the crown of their heads. So holy is Pushkar that Gandhi’s ashes are in the lake.
Two hikes to the hill-top temples are great ways to spend a couple of mornings. On the longer hike we encounter groups of pilgrims and monkeys. I walk partway with a middle-aged man from Kashmir whose English is pretty good; he wants to chat. He shows me to pick up a stone to throw at monkeys who get too close. I don’t actually throw it, but am glad to have it just in case.
We stop about halfway up to take in the view and he says “this is a god-gifted land”. Enough said!