Dates: October 17
Accommodation: Zostel Hostel; 400 INR for dorm bed. NOT RECOMMENDED: Staff members were awkward, I think stoned. One was annoying me to write a review mentioning him by name so he could get a promotion. Pool was full of green water. Property was relatively far from city center. Closer and cheaper accommodations available.
Getting in: Government bus from Jaipur to Amer. Government bus Amer to Pushkar(1 hr). Do and See: Hike (or take the cable-car) to the Savitri Temple, visit the Jagat Pitta Shri Brahma temple (pick up a cheap guide-pamphlet by the lockers), eat falafel from a street stand.
Beware: Scammers trying to sell religious artifacts or “prayers” to foreign tourists visiting the Pushkar Lake ghats. After your initial refusal, some may try to inform you that the donations are for charity. Don’t be fooled.
I was on a tight schedule after leaving Mai Thik Hoo as I had signed up for an earthen architecture program at the Dharmalaya Institute in Bir. Although I could only afford to spend a day Pushkar, I just had to get a taste the iconic backpackers’ hub before I absconded north to escape the post-monsoon Rajasthani heat.
According to legend, Pushkar was founded by the Hindu God of creation, Lord Brahma. As the text of the Padma Purana (which historians estimate to have been composed between the 14th and 15th centuries CE) sets forth, Brahma used a lotus-flower to slay the demon Vajranabha. During the brouhaha, the lotus-flower fell to the earth. Brahma named the place Pushkar to denote where the flower ("pushpa") fell from Brahma's hand (“kar”). Today, legendary for the preternatural potency of its bhang lassi as much as its spiritual ethos, Pushkar is a nexus for backpackers and Hindu pilgrims alike. Lake Pushkar, at the center of town, boasts 52 ghats that are circumscribed by bazaars, guesthouses, and restaurants. There is also a remarkable Israeli vibe with much of the signage bearing Hebrew words and even shopkeepers that speak a fair amount of Hebrew (everyone knows at least a few words). “Falafel achi! Walla habibi!”
I started my day with a hike up to the Savitri Temple (dedicated to Brahma’s wife), which, sitting at the summit of a hill (or “mountain," depending on what guidebook you read), provides a panoramic view of the city and surrounding area. I didn’t get going quite early enough and my shirt was drenched with sweat by the time I reached the temple. At the top, I chatted with two Indian teens who had come to pray at the temple, permitting one of them, Shubham, to film a conversation between the two of us so that he could show his parents how well he spoke English. Since the sun was baking, we took the newly constructed cable car down together and then parted ways, sporting a new bangle on my wrist Shubham had gifted me.
Hungry and parched, I entered the Base Camp Restaurant -- the first restaurant in sight of the Savitri Temple path. The owner, Sandeep, is a perpetually stoned thirty-something (he informed that that he starts every day with a helping of bhang lassi). Sandeep is extremely proud of his special chai brew, a herb-mix of his own devising, which he stores in an old garam masala tin. It all comes down to the “magic pinch” of the mix, he said, explaining to me that one could use the mix to add zest to anything ranging from sauces to lassi (and, of course, chai). The chai was indeed tasty in a sweet, earthy sort of way. (Although, I did manage to decline Sandeep’s offer to purchase a canister to take home with me.) I was the only customer at the restaurant and Sandeep sat with me while I ate, elucidating his philosophies for good-living and delving into his marital problems. He also shared with me his gripes about how Pushkar had changed with the flux of tourists, complaining that the once holy place had devolved into preying grounds for touts. Indeed, I could see what Sandeep meant, recalling the insistence of the touts attempting to sell me “prayers” (at max-rupee price) when passing through the ghats on the way to the Savitri Temple earlier that morning. The experience had indeed washed away any feelings of reverence I had towards the holiness of the ghats visited by Hindu pilgrims who had sojourned to baptize in the holy lake.
When I was does with breakfast, I headed to the Brahma Temple, which is the only Brahma temple in India and one of only a few in the world. The temple itself is aesthetically underwhelming. More interesting is the legend explaining why so few Brahma temples are in existence. According to Hindu mythology, after founding Pushkar, Brahma decided to perform a sacrificial fire-ceremony on the banks of the Lake Pushkar. However, Brahma’s wife, Savitri, could not be present for a crucial part of the ceremony. So Brahma wed anew, performing the ritual with his new consort. When Savitri finally arrived at the ceremony, she became enraged, finding Brahma’s new wife in her place, and cursed Brahma so that he should never be worshiped. But then, deciding the curse was too dire, Savitri amended her curse, allowing Brahma to only be worshipped in Pushkar.
After leaving the temple, I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon wandering the bazaars before heading back to my hostel to shower before my 18-hour train ride to Amritsar.