Pushkar, a rare grouping of sand dunes, tarn, hills and wooded area, is a quaint little town around Pushkar Lake. There’s a lot more to this oasis town than the Camel fair that it is mostly linked with. Walk through the labyrinth of alleys and lanes, its bazaar and the Ghats to discover the magic of this tranquil town. A few among the many reasons to visit Pushkar include its religion – taking a dip in the holy Pushkar Lake and visiting the only Brahma Temple in the country; its natural marvels – mesmerizing sunrise and gorgeous sunset over the sand dunes and the lake; its food – cafes overlooking the lake serve a variety of food shopping – some of the best variety of silver jewellery, traditional clothes and rose products can be purchased from Pushkar’s vibrant bazaars; photography – cheerful people dressed in vibrant dresses in the surrounding villages provides ample opportunities for some amazing pictures for photography enthusiasts art – find Bhopa musicians playing Ravanhatha in the market, around the lake or the desert and Kalbelia ladies performing dance in the dunes.
The dunes around Pushkar can be best explored on a camel. Riding through the desert atop a camel is an amazing experience. It’s a bumpy but a rhythmic ride through the quiet desert, the loudest sound being the swish of camel feet on the sand. I love to chat with enthusiastic camel men who are always happy to share their stories. If you want to know about the life in a desert village, these are the best people to talk to. Hear the mesmerizing stories sitting 10 feet above the ground, gently sailing through the desert.
These slow moving camels will take you through dunes to a point from where you can watch the beautiful golden ball dipping beyond the horizon and the sky changing colour from evening red to violet and then darkness slowly engulfing the whole expanse.
You can hire camels from the fairground or can ask your hotel to arrange for one. There is an option of camel cart too if you want to enjoy the ride with your friends or family. The best time to go on the safari is before the sun sets.
If you are in Pushkar around the fair you must take a balloon ride. This gives you an chance to avoid the crowds and at the same time experience the fair. Glide gently above the crowd over the vast expanse of the dunes to get an amazing bird’s eye view of the fair and the desert. Drift over the lake and the temples of this ancient sacred town and feel the magic of floating over this motley people.
The balloon ride is usually prearranged towards the end of the fair. The best time to take a ride is at sunrise when the soft rays of the sun slowly light up the temples, Ghats and the antique buildings surrounding the lake. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and capturing it all in the morning light is a dream-come-true for any photographer. Advance booking is recommended to get the best time slots.
Evenings at Pushkar are best spent sipping hot coffee by the lake side. Watch the day bidding farewell and a beautiful evening taking over. As the golden sun dips behind temples, the lake’s water mirrors the changing hues of the sky from blue to orange and then red and slowly black takes over transforming the day into a beautiful night.
Spend some quiet hours sitting on the stairs of the lake listening to the music coming from all directions – hymns and chimes from the temple, Negara beats from the ghat, gentle strumming of a guitar from some cafe and the sound of Ravanhatha being played by some bhopa musician sitting just next to you. While you are lost in the music, the lake turns gorgeous with the reflection of town lights and numerous stars. I love watching the day end by the lake side and being just with me; slowly pilgrims leave temples, tourists go back to the market or the hotels, sanyasis go hiding into their kutiya and you are left alone on the stairs gazing at the glittering sky and the lake. The calm cool air from the lake fills you with tranquility.
Travelers with a penchant for adventure must try jeep safaris. Jeep safari takes you through the rugged paths to explore interesting destinations of Rajasthan. Not only will you drive through barren desert landscape but you will also get an opportunity to explore the hidden charm of some of India’s most remote and colorful villages, ruins of magnificent forts and palaces, antique temples and uncommon wildlife. A refreshing dip in the local waterfall hidden in the trees refreshes you thoroughly after a tiring trail of approximately five to six hours.
Music is in the soul of Pushkar. While strolling around the lake in evenings, you can find many people learning and playing their favourite instruments. Around Gangaur ghat, look for coke-studio-fame Nathu Lal Solanki, the master drummer teaching the beats to drumming enthusiasts. You can join him and learn to play these local drums called Nagara. He still charges a negligible amount that he used to charge some 20 years back to teach Nagara. He considers this place his karmabhumi from where he has achieved the name and fame and it’s his tribute to the place and the art.
Do hike up the Ratnagiri hill in south-west of the lake if you have time. It’s a moderate hike of around 1.5 kms and takes around two hours to reach the top. Located on the top is the Savitri Devi place of worship dedicated to the wife of Lord Brahma. The breathtaking panoramic view of Pushkar town from here is worth the effort. Evening hours are best for this trek as you get an amazing sunset view from the temple.
If you like hiking and are game for some more, on a smaller hill on the northern side of Pushkar town is Gayatri Devi temple. It takes around 45 min for this trek and offers a lovely sunrise view.
Go for a good retail therapy session once you are done with all other designed activities. A good mix of ethnic and hippie culture reflects in Pushkar market. There’s a lot to shop for, so keep at least half a day exclusively for shopping. Pushkar is known for its traditional silver jewellery, ethnic clothes, leather bags and rose products. T-shirts, harem pants, wrap-arounds, kurtis, bandanas and funky accessories are also available in abundance at a very reasonable price. Do not forget to bargain to get the best prices. You can also shop for souvenirs like puppets, antique silverware or pottery stuff.
The main places to shop are Baza Bazar, Sarafa Bazar, Sadar Bazar and Kedalganj bazaar.
Pushkar is heaven for foodies with a range of roadside restaurants, rooftop cafes and eateries serving a wide variety of food. Some of the not-to-miss foods in Pushkar are malpua and kachori at Sarweshwar at mithai wali gali, Gulkand Lassi near the steps of Brahma Temple, lafa and falafel at Ganga restaurant near Rangji temple, muesli and fresh fruit juice at Sonu juice near bus stand and pizzas at La-pizzeria.
Pushkar is such a place where you can spend days just having good food and relaxing in cool cafes. Some of Pushkar’s most popular cafes are Honey & Spice, Funky Monkey Cafe and Out Of The Blue Cafe.
Collector’s Paradise is the only museum and art gallery in Pushkar where you get some rare cultural gems collected over 20 years by the recipient of numerous awards and camel decorator, Ashok Tak. The collection includes traditional dresses and textiles collected from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Pakistan and Afganistan and some rare stuff used for camel beautification. If you are fascinated by hand embroidered traditional textiles, then do take the time to go through the exhibits on display. A chat with Ashok Tak would give further insights into his journey and his passion for both camels and clothes.
The best way to relax after a fun filled day is to enjoy the Kalbelia dance performance. It is one of the most sensuous dance forms of Rajasthan performed by the lively Kalbelia tribe, a nomadic community that was essentially a community of snake-charmers until it was outlawed by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. With their charm, unbelievably flexible serpentine shimmying and their lovely traditional black attire, they have the talent to absolutely mesmerize you. The beats and the movements will surely instigate you to join them in their dance.
Many hotels arrange the dance performances in their premises for their guests. Sai Haweli near Varah Ghat Chowk arranges this every Saturday. You can also contact the dancers directly and ask them to perform in the evening near dunes. You can find them roaming around in the market and the desert area .