Pushkar is a small town nestled in the hills north west of Ajmer next to Pushkar Lake in the state of Rajasthan, India. Considered one of the five sacred dhams or pilgrimage sites for devout Hindus, the name Pushkar means "born from a flower", which relates to the story of the town's creation as a place for Lord Brahma to conduct his sacred ceremony of devotion.
A full view of Pushkar from the surrounding hills
Pushkar is considered to be one of India's oldest existing cities, although much of its architecture is relatively recent and modest, if not somewhat dreary, in it's construction. As a holy city, no meat, dairy or alcohol may be served within its boundaries. Locals servicing the extensive overseas and domestic tourist markets deal with these culinary restrictions by becoming inventive with food and drink menus, however the fact is there are only so many ways you can serve potatoes and beans. This can make it a difficult place for Westerners in particular to spend any great amount of time in unless you a teetotaling vegan - and in fact the town has become somewhat of a destination for the dope and dreadlock brigade. If you're not one of these the town can easily be taken in within a couple of hours, and this includes shopping. What you will see here for sale are exotic goods that come straight out of the adjacent Thar Desert - Rabari and nomadic tribal weavings, camel trappings and textiles embroidered in bright colours with gleaming mirror-work borders, and also some rather nice antique tribal jewellery. However the savvy traveler should note that there are no bargains to be had, even for seasoned buyers. And the touting is almost unbearable. Pseudo-Hindu spirituality is on sale here, with every teenager in town trying to flog you a holy thread, garland, henna design or blessing of some sort, while their seasoned older relatives haunt the areas around the lake and the temples, concentrating on the domestic tourists and pilgrims who are far more likely to fork out big money for a blessing.
ALL of this changes during the annual Pushkar Camel Fair. One of the world's largest camel fairs, the town's modest population of 15,000 swells to over 200,000 people, many of whom bring their livestock to sell or trade. The fair runs for five days, during which time the camels are washed and attractively shorn, then lovingly bedecked with silver jewellery and beaded trappings. Anticipated fair events include camel racing and the moustache and bridal competitions, while the ladies flock to stalls full of bracelets, clothes, textiles and fabrics. In recent years the fair has also included an exhibition cricket match between the local Pushkar club and a team of random foreign tourists. In the evenings there is music, magic shows and exhibitions of dancing and theatre.
The famous camel fair
Where to stay:
The town is well used to tourists of both the domestic and international sort, and boasts a plethora of accommodation types ranging from the most basic to four star (relative) luxury. Check out Trip Advisor for the lowdown before you arrive, however you can take potluck if you are traveling outside of fair times - and don't hesitate to bargain hard for your room rate. If you're traveling within fair times, booking ahead is imperative and you can expect to pay up to 1000 times the low-season rate.
Another view of the lake
According to the Hindu calendar the Pushkar Fair commences in Nawami (Ninth Moon) and ends in Purnima (Full Moon) in the month of Kartika, which can be in October or November depending on the Moon calendar. If it's camels and desert nomads you want to see, the best time to come is at least a week or so before the final weekend. By the time of the full moon that signifies the end of the fair, the majority of herders have packed up and gone home (unless the local tourist office has managed to induce them to stick around with the lure of free fodder), leaving behind crowds of Indian pilgrims to enjoy the religious celebrations and foreign tourists to gawk at them.
How to get there:
Air/Car - The nearest airport from Pushkar is Jaipur, 146 km away. We generally hire a private car from Jaipur to Jodhpur and divert to spend a few hours in Pushkar on the way, leaving our driver to look after our luggage and the car while we explore and stop for lunch. The cost varies considerably depending on who you arrange hire with and what sort of vehicle it is - while the Ambassador non a/c is the cheapest, its not a vehicle I'd recommend for the 7-8 hour journey, especially if you have lots of luggage and are traveling with more than 2 people.
Bus - Pushkar is only 11 km from main Ajmer bus stand. Rajasthan Roadways run buses from Jaipur to Ajmer every 15 minutes, some nonstop. The roads are very good, and it takes around 3 hrs from Jaipur, not much longer than the journey takes by car. From Ajmer take a taxi or a local bus.
Train - The nearest railway station is at Ajmer, which is on the Broad Gauge and hence connected to all the metro cities of India. From Ajmer take a taxi or a local bus.
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