Pushkar Festival – A Celebration Of Culture And Traditions
Pushkar is a pilgrimage spot for its sacred lake, the Brahma Temple and the annual Pushkar Festival each November. I came to witness its camel festival and thus, it was a spot on my bucket list. Aside from the craziness of the camel fair, Pushkar is a relatively sedate, laidback and tourist-friendly town, where getting around is easy because most things are within walking distance.
From Mumbai to Pushkar
The cheapest and most convenient way to reach Pushkar is via Ajmer. Ajmer Station is the station stop for Pushkar. Ajmer has rail connectivity with major cities and Pushkar is located 11kms away (a 30-minute taxi ride) from Ajmer Railway Station. Outside the train station, there is a bus that goes to Pushkar every 15 minutes. You’ll have to ask a local (avoid asking taxis or handlers outside) as they’ll just direct you to a taxi. Still, a taxi is not a bad way to get there either. The nearest airport is in Jaipur. Jaipur is just 2 hours away and you can essentially do day tours to Pushkar.
From Mumbai onward, 12995 Bdts Aii Udz Express leaving from Bandra Terminus at 4:15 PM which will reach Ajmer around 09:50 AM the next day
To Mumbai Return, 22452 Cdg Bdts Superfast Express leaving from Ajmer at 4:40 PM which will reach Bandra around 9:20 AM the next day
Where to Stay?
Pushkar is a very small town, you can easily walk through one corner of the town to another. But here are a few recommendations – Zostel Pushkar, The Hotel Third Eye & Garden Restaurant & Hotel Pushkar Legacy
The Pushkar Festival continues to celebrate the camel’s place in Rajasthan. It is only one of many camel fairs in Rajasthan (and not even the biggest), but it is the one that has become a tourist attraction. Yes, camel traders still do come here to do business, but not in the same numbers (and mostly before the fair even starts). And the tourism part of the fair — the Ferris wheels, displays, competitions and cotton candy — have eclipsed the original purpose. It is said there are now more photographers than camels at the Pushkar Festival.
In the Pushkar Festival traders bring their best to either show or sell to interested buyers. Camels are adorned with accessories and some perform tricks. Rare horses and winning breeds from royal families and prestigious horse camps can be found as well.
The Pushkar Festival is also timed to coincide with the Kartik Purnima (full moon). At this time, Hindu pilgrims flock to Pushkar to take a dip in the sacred lake, which they believe will cleanse them of their sins. Pushkar Lake is the holy pilgrimage spot of Pushkar and holds 52 ghats. Devotees pay homage to the lake and take a dip in it to purify themselves; some devotees even bathe a bit.
Pushkar is the site of the only Brahma Temple in India, and the small-town rings lovely Lake Pushkar, which is a deeply serene place to be at sunrise. However, during the five days leading up to Kartik Purnima, the small town of 15,000 swells to at least 250,000. So, because of the combination of pilgrims, sadhus, camel traders, tourists and ubiquitous Pushkar hippies, the narrow market lane, ghats and mela (fair) grounds swarm with people, and the town’s usual serenity is lost in the melee. It’s still fun and interesting to be in Pushkar at this time
You might not guess it from the town's size, but there are over 100 temples in Pushkar, both large and small. Exploring them is part of the fun because they all have their personality.
The mela grounds of the fair hold events, festivities and contests throughout the day, from dancing horses and camels to camel races, contests for the most decorative camel and more. Some of the contests can get pretty outlandish, making you see livestock in a new light.
As night falls, you will hear Hindu chats and ringing bells beckoning from Pushkar Lake. That’s the evening aarti. Aarti can be performed in all of the 52 ghats surrounding the lake, however, the largest and most celebrated one is at Brahma Ghat (or Varah Ghat). The lake’s origin is said to have sprung from a lotus that fell from Brahma’s hand (Brahma is the guardian of the lake).
As part of the worship, Hindus light divyas (aka candles) as a prayer offering to the Gods and deities. You can walk the perimeter of the lake to witness worship at the other ghats. Another ghat I stumbled upon had ornate chalk paintings with divyas. Aarti hours: 7:00 PM during summer; 5:30 PM during winter
Camel Safari - Over Expensive yet so unique
Camel Safari stands out the most. First of all, it is very very expensive and the route of this ride is quite average, they will show the shooting spot of Karan-Arjun (a Bollywood movie)
Thakur Durjan Singh’s Palace, Diya Baati (an Indian TV soap opera) and take a glimpse of various fruit gardens surrounding the desert. All in all in an average experience but it has a uniqueness also. Where will you get a camel ride in India except Rajasthan?
While Savitri Mandir itself, isn’t much more than a simple temple, hiking to it will gain you the best lookout spot in all of Pushkar. You can get a great 360-degree view of the surrounding valleys and overlook the awesomeness of the camel grounds.
The climb to the top should take you anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, the ropeway takes you to Savitri Mandir. The cost is INR 107 plus taxes. Try to reach before sunrise to click some amazing selfies or post afternoon for a selfie with the sunset. But remember it is said and believed that before visiting Savitri Mandir one must visit Brahma Temple.
In the end, I enjoyed the town of Pushkar (as I always do), meeting some camel traders, attending a cultural festival and taking part in spiritual rituals but the Camel Fair… not so much. It mostly consisted of pale-skinned foreigners pushing and shoving each other to get a good camera angle for the camel decorating contest or the moustache competition or whatever. A poor organization meant that you had to jostle to see what was happening in the competition “pit.”
What to do at Night?
The main street stringing through Pushkar is one long shopping street of clothing boutiques, sweet shops, cafes and travel agents. At night, the central part of the street is brightly lit, reminiscent of Christmas or a festival. A lot of shopping and eating continues. There are three bazaars shoppers can visit day or night: Sarafa Bazaar (main market area), Baza Bazaar and Kedalganj Bazaar. And yes, all the shops remain open late at night during Pushkar Festivals.
What & Where to Eat?
India wouldn’t be India without its tempting street food. Who must try Kachori (special samosa smothered in sweet chutney sauce)? You will find it in every corner of the city. But recommend trying at Dhanna Kachori (nearby Ajmer Railway Station)
But a popular bite for travellers visiting Pushkar is its falafels. Must try – Ganga Restaurant Laffa & Falafel.
With a choice of rooftop view, I choose Lake View Cafe and Lauras Cafe. Both the cafe has amazing lake views and food.
You cannot take bags or electronics inside Brahma Temple and must rent a locker to store your belongings.
Before entering any temple observe the locals that go into them for clues and if you’re uncertain, please ask someone.
Carry a sufficient amount of water with you even though you will find alot of food stalls.
Make a small bag with must-have things, and remember to put on your shades and hat to beat the sun rays from giving you a tan. Carry a power bank as the battery of your phone might become dead. You must remove your shoes before entering the temple and lake.
During Pushkar Festival, the camel and horse grounds are crowded with livestock camps, camel herders and traders, etc, The population is largely male and can come from occasionally rural areas.... it's best to dress modestly and act conservatively.
There will be high levels of tout/scam activity.
Don't forget to negotiate hard. Negotiate for 50% to 60% discount on asking price. Thanks, me later.
There are a handful of places in India where alcohol isn’t allowed Pushkar is one of them. Along with beer, in holy Pushkar Town, meat and even eggs aren’t allowed. Many waiters will whisper that they have a secret menu with eggs. Similar to how Goa caters for the many Russians, so does Pushkar with Israelis. Many locals speak bits of the language and menus and signs might be in Hebrew with restaurants offering lots of great Israeli dishes.