Pushkar: A Hidden Gem in Rajasthan
India 07.11.2017 Annapurna Mellor
If you’ve previously heard of Pushkar, it’s most likely because of the famous Camel Fair, which takes place in the small town once a year. Every November, nomads and their herds of camels come into the town from the desert, take over the surrounding plains and create scenes which have been attracting tourists and inspiring photographers for years. While the camel fair is an amazing experience, Pushkar has something to offer all year round. The small town, placed between the popular Rajasthani towns of Jaipur and Jodhpur, is a highlight of Rajasthan, and I urge you to add it to your itinerary.
Visit the ghats at Pushkar Lake
While it has become known for its camel fair, Pushkar traditionally is a holy city - and one which attracts Pilgrims from all over India. The story goes that when Lord Shiva’s wife Sati died, he cried so many tears that he created two ponds, one of them being in Pushkar. This has meant that Pushkar has become one of the most important spiritual towns in India, and despite the small size of the town, and the general peacefulness of the place, you’ll always find Pilgrims down at the ghats, bathing in the water and visiting the Brahma Temples. If you are visiting Pushkar, be respectful of the bathers. Admire the colourful dress, and perhaps chat to some of the babas on the ghats surrounded by the beauty of the white painted town.
Climb up Snake Mountain
Rising up from the Pushkar Lake is ‘Nag Pahar’, which literally translates to ‘Snake Mountain’. The mountain rises up 510 metres from the desert plains around. It’s a steady climb to the top, where you’ll find a small temple and beautiful views of the town of Pushkar and the surrounding desert. The views are particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, and during the camel fair, where you can truly admire the scale of the festival below.
Take a camel safari through the desert
Camel Fair or not, there’s always the chance to see camels in Pushkar. Due to its location in the Thar Desert, the surrounding villages are home to nomadic tribes, many of whom still breed camels. You’ll find camel rides available every day from the plains near the foot of Nag Pahar, and they’ll walk you into the first soft sand dunes near the town. If you’ve never ridden a camel before, it’s a fantastic way to see the desert from a different perspective, and feel what it’s like for nomads travelling through the desert on camelback.
Shop for handicrafts
Pushkar has developed a reputation for being a bit of a hippie hangout. The chilled out atmosphere, beautiful surroundings and cheap accommodation have attracted backpackers from all over the world. With that, comes restaurants, souvenir shops and markets aimed at selling local handicrafts and produce to tourists. Located in Rajasthan, the products sold in Pushkar are beautiful and unique to the region, where some of the best handicrafts in India are made. You can find silver jewellery, embroidered bags and handmade instruments for sale up and down the streets of the colourful bazaar.
Time your trip with the Pushkar Camel Fair
If you can make it to Pushkar during the annual Camel Fair, you’re in for a real treat! The dunes around the town fill with humped beasts and their nomadic owners who set up small camps around the dunes. There’s a programme of unique events; like moustache competitions, traditional dancing and shows from some of India’s biggest stars. But few things beat waking up early in the morning, heading down to the dunes and joining the camel herders and their families for an early morning chai. It’s a quintessential Rajasthani experience, and there are few places to experience it so effortlessly as during the Pushkar Camel Fair.
Take a hot air balloon ride over the dunes
Pushkar is perfectly placed surrounded by mountain and desert landscapes, and the best way to see it all and get a sense of scale of the surroundings is by riding a hot air balloon. Most set off early in the morning at sunrise, when the sky shines pink and you can spot the first pilgrims making their way down to the water.
Watch the evening aarti
Every evening at the ghats on the banks of the Pushkar Lake, an aarti takes place. An aarti is a Hindu ceremony of worship, and you’ll also find them in Holy cities like Varanasi and Rishikesh. In Pushkar, crowds of people will gather on the stairs of the ghats and sing chants as the priest makes offerings. Witnessing an aarti is a transformative experience, and one of the best ways to gain a better understanding of Hinduism while travelling in India.