Where did the devout meet the backpacker?

It was a very cold January morning, when a friend and I, well fed on kachoris, boarded a bus to Pushkar. Between many previously unheard Hindi songs, the North Indian winter wind hitting us in full blast, thanks to open windows, and a brief yet terrible tea stop enroute, the bus reached Pushkar in about 3 hours. By now we had seen the fog lifting off the lake in Ajmer, a lot of peacocks, and a lot of signboards for finding Cafe Nirvana and Cafe Pink Floyd in Pushkar, and we still weren’t certain about what to expect.

                                                    One out of the 52 ghats in Pushkar.

The bus dropped us off near the desert ground where the annual camel fair takes place, but right now only offered camel rides to enthusiastic tourists (Little extra information-the writer of this post is terrified of camel rides and hence they were avoided). We were hounded by multiple auto drivers offering to drop us to our hotel, but Google Maps told us that it was a 5 minute walk from where we were (As is everything in Pushkar), so we skipped the auto and walked through lanes, filled with water, mud, dung, and a lot of cows. Very like Patna, if I say so myself. The hotel like most hotels in Pushkar was a home, whose upper floors had been converted to accommodate basic rooms, seating areas (which used old saris as a cover), and a rooftop cafe, with adequate charging points, reading material, and music systems. As the temple was to open at 4 in the evening, we decided to go out for lunch, and to begin shopping. Most cafes that we came across followed the same pattern of establishment as our hotel, and served standard backpacker fare, pizzas, pastas, pancakes, and coffee, but all vegetarian, because of the holy significance of the place, which is also a little strange because maximum tourists in Pushkar, are non Indians (Seriously, there are white people everywhere!). After lunch, we headed to the temple, which wasn’t a  time consuming visit, since we aren’t particularly religious, but we did buy small but overpriced Brahma idols from the market outside for all the religious relatives. Speaking of markets, just outside the temple, is my favourite thing about Pushkar, the leather market. From wallets to shoes to hats to laptop sleeves, you get all of this in great quality leather and at a great (GREAT!) price. But as is the case across the country, bargaining is of essence, and you, like us, could walk away with a (very stylish) sling bag for 400 bucks.

After the leather market, we roamed around the rest of the market, because Pushkar offers great shopping, especially rose products, ittar (scents), handicrafts (our houses are proof now), and jewellery. There were also kulhad chai, and lassi stops to make in between, but all in all we didn’t realise how it was already 1o pm and we hadn’t even been to the lake yet.


            Psychedelia is the black in Pushkar.

The verandah in our hotel.

The next morning, the first thing that we did (after taking pictures of our morning tea obviously) was head to the lake. The lake while in itself was beautiful, the way to get there was as dirty as the streets the day before, and after taking a dip (we washed our faces basically) in the very cold water, and warding off priests who wanted us to do a few pujas, and after being amazed that there were more than 50 ghats in this tiny town which we had walked from end to end, we decided to find a new cafe for breakfast. The first thing that we noticed in every hotel or a restaurant in Pushkar that we went to was that that as Indians, we were not taken seriously as tourists. Our hotel wasn’t ready to reserve a room for us because they believed that, “Indians either cancel at the last minute or don’t show up at all.” As Indian tourists, the first thing that you see waiters tell each other in a restaurant is the fact that there is a special circumstance today, they have Indian customers, and obviously service is much slower , but only to your table. We were surrounded by white people, the most popular tourists in Pushkar, at our hotel, in cafes, on the streets, and at the market, where again shopkeepers would address them first, before addressing you. A little more investigation into this, and we met people who had moved to Pushkar to pursue jewellery designing in India, or it was one of their major pitstops on their India tour, or they were here to do business, buy leather products, and jewellery from here, and sell it outside. But service and treatment was particularly bad at the Lake View Cafe that morning, but the view more than made up for it.

The coffee at the Lake View Cafe, when it finally arrives, arrives in style.

Breakfast was followed by another stroll around the market, where we picked up even more stuff before we ran (literally) to catch a bus to Ajmer, where the lone white man was being offered a seat by everyone. Pushkar was a very short stop in our itinerary but as the bus was pulling away, the desire to get off the bus was very strong. It’s easy to fall in love with Pushkar, for me the love affair began last evening itself when we were in the middle of the market,and there was music blaring from a rooftop cafe, and all we could see was silver jewellery and artefacts all around us, tired but happy devotees were returning from the temple, and foreigners were bargaining for terrible clothes, it was an interesting mix to be in between of.