|I loved Pushkar ...
miniscule in size, it was a peaceful, picturesque hamlet of roughly
12,000 inhabitants and 400 temples, encircling the tranquil Pushkar
Lake. It lies 11 km from Ajmer, and is separated from Ajmer, by
the Nag Pahar (Snake Mountain).
An important pilgrimage centre, and a favourite traveller hangout
(I thought some may have travelled up north from Goa!) and the home
of one of the world's most famous camel and cattle fairs, held in
the early winter, Pushkar is the site of the only temple in India
dedicated to Brahma.
It's a relaxing place - you can sit by the lake for hours, lulled
by the gentle breezes, and the distant temple bells, watching the
pilgrims on the numerous ghaats on the lake shore offer their prayers,
and scatter rose petals in the waters. (A warning about rose petals
- unless you're prepared to part with some hard cash, don't accept
rose petals, flowers, garlands, and/or coconuts from children, and
temple attendants.) Photography is not permitted on the ghats, and
signs advising tourists as to their dress and mode of conduct are
put up everywhere. Too bad I couldn't enter quite a few Jain temples,
since only Jains are permitted to enter these. On more than one
occasion, I saw signs on temple doors that read: "foreigners
not permitted". In a secular mode though, Pushkar and its people
are comfortably geared to Western visitors. This village is as close
a vegetarian can get to being in heaven - being a holy Jain place,
meat and alcohol are banned.
This is the temple dedicated to Lord Brahma's first wife. It is
located on the hill behind the Brahma temple, and one has to climb
a long series of steps to reach the destination. It gives a panoramic
view of the lake and surrounding sand dunes.
In Pushkar, I saw cows & buffaloes - not an uncommon sight in
India at all. But because this is a holy pilgrim centre, and cows
in the Hindu religion are worshipped and considered sacred, I had
expected them to be treated a bit more than just humanely by the
populace. Much to my dismay, I saw many of these poor animals in
a pathetic state ... weak, bones protruding visibly, and chewing
not on grass but sheets of newspaper and cardboard that they managed
to salvage from garbage bins, local dumps, and road sides. Though
there were a few lucky ones, that sat fattened by the temple doors,
by and large, the ones that ambled by the bus stand, market, temples
& shops, were shooed away by everybody including the local merchants
and temple priests. This same sight (dogs, cats, old camels included)
was repeated pretty much all over Rajasthan, and as an animal lover,
I have to admit I was disturbed on several occasions on seeing the
plight of these animals. On the other hand, if one were to rationalize
this existence, this is a land where life for many is a matter of
basic instinct and survival - a hand to mouth existence... so religion
or no religion, if humans beings are faced with fighting daily challenges,
where is the inclination to accommodate animal rights? Sigh, one
of the many paradox's that make for India.
... of holy men and begging bowls
I met this gentleman as I was ambling through the innards of Pushkar's
local bazaar. He stopped me and asked if I had a rupee to give him.
In return, I could photograph him. Sure, I said, I was game for
it. He arched his back and looked tall in an instant, and made sure
his shawl and begging bowl were in place. I clicked a picture of
him, and handed him his dues. As I walked away, he drawled to me
in the smoothest English ever: "Gotta cigarette?"
How to make your wallet lighter in Pushkar:
If you dig statues of Indian gods and goddesses, holy beads and
threads, vessels, and other brass and copper ware, Pushkar is the
place for you. Like other places in Rajasthan, you also get paintings,
embroidered panels, artifacts and other handicrafts here.
Recommendation for your Taste-Buds:
Surrounding Pushkar are fields of rose bushes. Grown because of
the high demand for rose petals used during worship, the petals
are also used to make 'gulkand' or rose jam. It is here that
I saw several peacocks, who apparently come to savour this delicacy
much to the annoyance of the farmers.
And as you stroll through the bazaar, you see cooks frying round
discs of flour, soaking them in a sweet syrup, and stacking them
to make giant conical mounds of 'malpuas' - a dessert Pushkar is
well known for.