Having read mixed reviews about Pushkar, ranging from 'laid back paradise' to 'charmless hippy-filled hellhole', we decided to head there for a day to decide for ourselves whether Pushkar was our cup of tea.
Arriving by train at the nearest train station, Ajmer, we again had to tackle the swarm of drivers desperate for naive tourist rupees. While the first few tuk tuk drivers quoted us nearly double the usual cost, we went a little further afield and found a taxi driver who quickly agreed to our price.
30 minutes later, after winding up and over a hilly range, we arrived in Pushkar.
An afternoon exploration
We really had no idea what to expect from Pushkar. It seems to be a 'love it or hate it' type place, and reviews vary so wildly, it was difficult to tell who was right.
Pushkar's main claim to fame is the Pushkar Camel Fair, held each year around November. During this time, the city really comes to life, with over 200,000 visitors. Again, some people describe it as a carnival-like atmosphere, with lively markets and fairground rides. Others describe it as a tourist trap, with pushy touts and sad livestock. I guess it all depends on your prerogative.
After stopping for a quick falafel lunch (apparently Pushkar is also something of a tourist hub for Israelis, for reasons that were unclear, so there's falafel aplenty), we headed down to check out the main attraction during non-camel fair times: Pushkar Lake.
The lake itself is sacred to Hindus, and is surrounded by 52 bathing ghats where people flock to bathe in the sacred waters. A dip in the water is said to cleanse sins and clear skin ailments. A look at the water quality certainly made me doubtful about the latter.
We went to the lake prepared to do battle. We read about aggressive locals and holy men, forcing floral offerings on you to throw in the lake, then charging you exorbitant amounts, or offering to bless you, then doubling the agreed price with threats of curses. Interestingly, other than one man trying to sell us flowers, we were left completely alone while we circumnavigated the lake.
You have to take your shoes off to walk around the lake, which is a risky maneuver given the number of cows relaxing on the shores. Walking around the lake was definitely one of the more peaceful things we've done in India though - there are no stalls, with people trying to convince you to buy crap you don't want, and as I said, we didn't encounter anyone trying to 'bless' us. The lake itself was actually rather pretty, surrounded by white and black tiles, and our walk was pretty damn enjoyable, given that we thought it would involve a never ending stream of harassment. By all accounts, the lake is busier and more chaotic in the evenings, but we didn't venture back to find this out for ourselves.
Day 2: Brahma Temple
Sadly, we'd completed half our itinerary on day one, by walking around the lake. After a delicious late breakfast at a local cafe, the Laughing Buddha, we went to check out the only temple we bothered with in Pushkar - the Brahma Temple.
The temple is unusual in that few temples are dedicated to Brahma. The temple itself, while interesting, is pretty unremarkable, and we only spent about 10 minutes looking around the blue-walled, red-roofed building.
While there are over 500 temples in Jodphur, we opted out of visiting any others. We've seen some spectacular temples in India, and I think we've well and truly ticked that box for now.
The main drawcard for most people to Pushkar seems to be the atmosphere. The whole town is considered holy, and there's no alcohol (wink wink - there actually is), meat (wink wink - there actually is), or eggs (wink wink - there actually are), so the vibe is pretty laidback and relaxed. That said, it didn't really tickle our fancy.
The whole main street is lined with stalls selling the usual tourist fare - tie dyed clothing, sliver jewellery, and inexplicably in 2018, bootleg CDs. Other than shop owners, we saw largely tourists, and it would have been a fantastic place to play traveller bingo (white person with dreds, white person with henna tattoos, girl with 15 anklets etc etc). And before I come off sounding too snobby, to each their own! If you've come to India to find spiritual enlightenment, and your version of that is getting so stoned that you can't move while wearing toe rings, then you do you! It just didn't do it for us.
As we repeated our journey back to the train station to head to our last stop in Rajasthan, Jaipur, we both agreed that we were glad we only spent a day in Pushkar.
Lots of love,
S & Z