A sleepy village at other times of the year, Pushkar started to gain prominence as a mythological town adorned with a Bramha Temple. It lies just 15 kilometres away from Ajmer but appears to be a world removed physically as well as geographically, as the vastness of the desert begins from here.
The villagers used to gather for a dip in the Sarovar at the time of Kartik Purnima and pray for blessings at the Bramha Temple. It is believed to be the equivalent of visiting the ‘chaar dham’ in Uttarakhand. Because it was where the desert started, lots of camels were stationed here and the villagers started trading in camels and a local annual fair began.
It has since become an out an out touristy activity as hordes of Indian and international tourists clamour at the time of the week long fair that is held around October/November. There are various quirky competitions held to enchant the foreigners; moustache competition, camel dances and races, visitors vs locals traditional games.
The best time to visit Pushkar is when the camels start arriving in the desert, around 5-7 days before the actual beginning of the fair.
My observations while wandering in the ‘largest cattle fair in the world’ last year
Accommodation : Hotels and restaurants charge exorbitant amounts. Backpacker accommodation which is normally available for rupees three hundred for a double room, increases to many thousands. The quality of food takes a beating as every restaurant is flooded with tourists and they aim at serving as many people as possible. Swiss tent resorts appear out of nowhere; functioning for the period of the fair aiming to rake in as much money as possible. ‘Authentic Rajasthani’ delicacies become a misnomer for dull and uninspiring food.
Holy dip in the Sarovar : The Pushkar Lake has fifty-two ghats where pilgrims have a dip in the sacred waters. There are around four hundred temples scattered along town, some along the ghats. The unbelievable footfall results in the waters of the Sarovar to get dirty and the small enclosures have flowers floating. I definitely didn’t want to step that side, let alone have a dip!
Brahma Temple – On normal days, the Bramha temple is a quiet and serene place where you can lose yourself in the sounds of the aarti in the evening and chat with the priest. At the time of the fair it is a cultural melee as the town is inundated with pilgrims, tourists, traders, dancers, musicians, journalists and photographers from far and wide. Religion is the biggest tourist draw in India and there is more than a glimpse of that on offer here.
Money for pictures – Villagers from the hinterlands of Rajasthan dressed in all their finery attend the festival. Men and women sport brightly coloured clothes and are a photographers delight. Tribal women wear jewelry made of silver and men can be found showing off their beards and moustaches. The camels are decorated and pampered by their owners.
I will burst the bubble now. They will demand money to have their pictures clicked. The funny reality is that because the photographers are on commercial assignments for big travel magazines, they readily give everyone money corrupting the minds of young children who are taught to literally beg from other tourists looking for pictures.
Commercial affair – The selling and buying of camels and especially horses has become a commercial affair. I was astounded to see BMWs and Land Cruisers parked outside many stables. The fair has lost its traditional purpose and has largely become a commercial activity.
Shhhh – The Choti Basti area, an abode of the Israelis becomes a hub for unlawful activities in a scramble to earn money from the high spending Europeans that frequent this fair to source handmade garments for selling in their homeland. Kilos of ‘charas’ are smuggled out of Himachal Pradesh by various means of transport just in time for selling in the Pushkar fair.
Come instead in December when the weather is nippy and the days, warm. The spectacle that is the Pushkar Fair is a madness that has to be seen to be believed.
Are you game?
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