[Pushkar, Rajasthan. 29'th Oct to 1'st Nov 2006]
The Pushkar Mela was the reason i decided to go on the Rajasthan trip during my 'extended' Diwali holidays. Once i knew that the camel fair will happen in the first week of November, there was no looking back and i wasn't disappointed.
Getting there and getting settled :
I reached Ajmer around 9pm, tired and sore after a long 8hr bus ride from Sikar (sik-kar, Shekawati) via Jaipur. It was late and i decided to stay the night at Ajmer and search for accommodation at Pushkar the next day. My plan was that if im not able to find accommodation at a reasonable cost (heard that hotel prices go up 10 times during the mela) at Pushkar then i would stay at Ajmer and do day trips to Pushkar using Ajmer as the base. Having lost my wallet in Bikaner and running low on cash, i had to be frugal with my spending. The plan to use Ajmer as the backup base sounded good.
Seldom in my life has anything gone as planned. In all the excitement of going to the Pushkar mela, i was totally unaware of a little thing called the Ajmer Dharga. It was supposed to happen the next day and the whole town was filled with muslim devotees from all over the country. All the hotels were booked and the ones that had rooms were quoting ridiculously high prices for the rooms. I even went and checked out a couple of Dharmasalas but they were full as well. Till then i had paid only about Rs 200 for rooms (except for the palace stay at Mehensar) and they were all above average (relatively), but now running low on cash i had to pay 500 for a scrubby hole. Well, atleast it had hot water. The next morning i was off early.. dropped my backpack at the railway station. Im not about to spend a whole day lugging a backpack around trying in vain to find a decent place. I can always come back to pickup the bag later, once i find a place. Another plan that sounded good...
The bus ride to Pushkar was short, we went up and over a couple of hills to get there. I had a sense of Deja-vu getting there.. reminded me of Marudamali in Coimbatore, where we used to go quite often. One of our family temples. Anyway, back to Pushkar.. i got off the bus and immediately got a hotel, Mama Luna. It was easier than anything i expected and the place was pretty good. It always pays to go to the hippie hangouts, the prices will be cheap and the rooms clean.
The tastes of Pushkar :
Pushkar for me is about two things, the mysterious religious energy surrounding the place and the hustle and bustle of the camel fair. Its got something for everyone, the scores of hindus who come here on a pilgrimage, the hippie tourists who throng this place looking for answers to questions unanswered, the thousands of villagers from all over the region coming here to trade with their camels and horses that transform the desert landscape into one endless expanse of livestock and the hundreds of camera toting modern indian tourists looking for a good photo opportunity. As i said.. its one of those places thats got something for everyone.
Asking questions :
The definitive moment of Pushkar happened to me immediately after i got there. I was in my room, when suddenly i heard the ringing of the temple bells. It started slowly, quietly.. maybe from one single temple and slowly the ringing got louder with other temples joining in. The sounds seemed to come from all around me and combined with the bhajans being chanted, it was a very immersive experience, peaceful, refreshing. I lay in my bed for a couple of hours just listening to these sounds. And it became my favorite thing to do in Pushkar. Whenever im not at the camel fair (before the evening sunset and the nights after the sunset), i used to go sit by the ghats circling around the Pushkar lake and listen to the mesmerizing sounds and watch the people pray. At any time of the day, there will always be some people by the lake coming to the holy waters to offer their prayers.
Im not religious but this place drew me in, and i was amazed to see so much faith at one place.. and thought about the rest of the billion all over the country. One billion people believing so strongly about something.. there has to be something there right ? well.. maybe not.
There is one ritual everybody going to Pushkar has to go through.. the "Pushkar Passport". Whenever you go near the temples, someone dressed in white will come greet you and put a flower in your hand. He'll then ask you to come down to the lake and offer a prayer to the gods for the well being of your friends and family. Most people do it, some don't. And the priests get a bit pushy when people dont want to do the pooja. That put me off a bit, it looked like another money making scam exploiting people's beliefs. So i avoided the priests like a plague and didn't do the pooja although i was drawn into the religious atomosphere of this place more than anywhere else in recent memory.
The case of the pushy photographer :
During the daytime you see a lot of people taking bath at the ghats. Both women and men. The men generally respect the privacy of the women by not staring at them. One day i spotted a couple of foreign photographers, taking photographs of people bathing at the ghats. They were taking pictures of women bathing and i can see as a photographer how it would make for some very interesting pictures. Im sure that the photos would've been tastefully done but still there is this little matter of respecting people's privacy, especially in a country like india. The priests on seeing these guys went running and asked them to stop. They had a long argument and after a while one of the guys went with a priest to do the pooja and got the "Pushkar Passport". I was watching all this with interest from a distance. After a while the guy started taking pictures once again. Once again people went up to him and asked him to stop, he proudly held up his hand and showed them the "Pushkar Passport". As if telling them that "i got the pooja done.. now im allowed to take the pictures".. i dont know how people can be so stupid and insensitive. There was another long argument and these guys pretended to give up and leave and went inside some shaded enclosure and started taking pictures under cover. The things people do to take a photograph..
[The experience continues... read about the camel fair and the Golden delights at the Soni temple here.. ]