Be it the biting winters or the blazing desert heat, the small town of around fifteen thousand people will always welcome you with its pious divinity and magnetism. The meandering roads filled with pageant of strollers, colourful shops, shiny auto mobiles, zealous tourists and the swarm of traditions make up the brilliant carnival spirit in Pushkar, a town situated 14 km northwest of Ajmer in Rajasthan.
One of the oldest existing cities of India, Pushkar is enveloping the Pushkar Lake, which according to Hindu mythology was created by Gods who released a swan with a lotus in its beak that fell on Earth where Brahma performed a grand Yagna. The place where the lotus fell was called Pushkar.
With 52 bathing ghats and over 400 enchanting temples, the town echoes with rhythmic chants, devotional songs and the sounds of drums every evening that makes it authentically mystic. The main street forms a big market that boasts of traditional attire, fine jewellery, exquisite musical instruments, leather accessories, fancy food joints and spiritual groups seeking tranquillity in this small place.
The most spectacled, grand scale celebration that takes place is the Pushkar Camel Fair that commences on the Nawami (ninth day of fortnightly phases of moon) and ends on Poornima (full moon) in the month of Kartika (October of November according to the Lunar calendar). Known as one of the biggest trading fairs, the Pushkar Camel Fair begins where several thousand camels, horses and cattle travel from miles around to be traded or sold. With a dominating urge to travel solo, I packed my bags and headed to Pushkar taking an early morning train from Udaipur to Ajmer and a bus travel to the hyped town.
With the onset of the festival, the camels brought from different parts of Rajasthan are cleaned and adorned with fine jewellery, artistic patterns and traditional clothes. Trinkets and silver bells around their ankles are the most common ornaments that are worn by the animals, creating a tinkling sound when they walk. The trading continues amid the dunes at a huge ground where afterwards enticing competitions take the centre stage.
Most of the trading however ends a week before leading up to the main fair; events such as moustache competition, most beautifully decorated camel competition, cattle exhibition, matki phod (break the earthen pots) horse race and dance competitions etc. begins. During the main course of the festival, a gamut of events is organised in the day and evening at the fair ground whilst some at the exhibition ground.
The highlight of the fair is the convergence of the foreign tourists into the fair with a series of events such as turban tying contest, kabbadi matches, tug-o-war that both sides enjoy equally and showcase the element of hospitality by the locals. The fairground holds major attraction which is an open area to buy traditional garments, decorative items and Indian spices, take a spin on Ferris wheel or splurge on delicious Rajasthani cuisine.
Throughout the event, the streets are filled with people coming from far-flung cities across the globe. The famous tie-and-dye apparel and accessories become the hot picks for all the foreigners while the Indians are usually seen strolling in the market, bargaining at the shops and in between taking a dip in the holy water of the Sarovar or giving alms to the Pandits/Brahmins.
A number of tourists flock to the sacred town few days before the main festivities commence to capture the essence of the trading process. Many renowned photographers are known to have taken award winning clicks during the festival. Gypsy women, rural Rajasthani men and women clad in classic colourful attire, snake charmers, sadhus and children impersonating mythological characters become the tantalising frames for the creative eyes.
While the camel trading and the extravagant market affair is one part of the Pushkar Camel Fair, the other part is the grand ceremony that takes place on the last day of the fair i.e. on the day of Karthik Poornima or the full moon night. The serenity of the place knows no bound when people in large numbers irrespective of colour, caste, religion or race accumulate around the Pushkar Lake on one of the main ghats. It is believed that a ritual bath in the Pushkar Lake will lead one to the road of salvation or Moksha. Also, circling around the three Pushkars on the Karthik Poornima is considered highly praiseworthy. I hope I reach the stage of salvation someday.
On the evening of Karthik Poornima or the last day of the Camel Fair, the 400 milky-blue temples around the town besides the main Brahma Temple are ostentatiously decorated and lighted. Thousands of people assemble at the lake side and take a dip in the holy water. In the evening, at the time of the moonrise, prayers and Vedic mantras are chanted by all along with the priests at the main Ghats. People float earthen lamps on the holy water for prosperity and for fulfilling their wishes.
On the last day of the worship, any form of violence including shaving, cutting of hair, plucking of flowers or fruits, cutting of crops or trees and even sexual union is prohibited. Charity forms the main activity of the day wherein alms are given, Brahmins are fed food, gold is given as gift and fasting takes place as part of the religious activities on Karthik Poornima.
Irrespective of its area, the sacred town comes alive during the Pushkar Camel Fair with its vibrant folk music & dance, traditional entertainment, camel races, livestock trading, magic shows, adventurous activities and various other events. The 10-15 days’ fair is a caricature of the beauty and serenity of this place that exuberate spiritual bliss through its 52 ghats, intrinsic temples, generous hospitality of the people, the vast expanse of Aravali hills, sand dunes and mesmerising sunsets and sunrises.
The placid town is beyond what one reads in coffee table book and sees in photographs. One has to visit Pushkar at least once in a lifetime to imbibe the peacefulness and to feel the religious fervour of this place; even if one is a non-believer of the highest power resting above.
Places to see: Brahma Temple, Savitri Temple, Varaha Temple, Apteshwar Temple, Rangji Temple, Panch Kund Temple, Aloo Baba, Judge Arjun Baba Temple, Birha Temple
Places to eat at: Sunset Cafe, Funky Monkey Cafe, Doctor Alone Cafe, Narayan Cafe, La Pizzeria
How to travel to Pushkar: The nearest railway station is Ajmer from where you can take a bus ride of Rs. 20 to Pushkar or a private taxi.