Around November each year, the tiny town of Pushkar plays host to the world’s largest camel fair, drawing floods of traders and tourists. Once the crowds leave and the dust settles, Pushkar’s holy lake and surrounding temples continue to attract both Hindu pilgrims and backpackers.
This haven of drifting incense and trance music in the Aravallis is an important site for Hinduism. Pushkar got its name from a legend that narrates how a sacred blue lotus—in Sanskrit, pushkar—fell on this spot and gave birth to this lake, marking the spot where Brahma performed a mahayagna ritual. At the centre of the town is the 14th-century Jagatpita Shri Brahma temple, which is believed to have existed here in some form for the last 2,000 years.
Around the lake are numerous Hindu temples. Visitors weave their way past camel carts and cows, sadhus and new-agers in search of nirvana and Nutella pancakes. Beyond the camel fair, there’s plenty to see here, and loads of ways to relax.
Although Pushkar’s name comes from the blue lotus, the countryside around the town is devoted to another beautiful flower—the rose. A carpet of rose fields washes the area with rich colour for most of the year, but is particularly vibrant during the time of the new harvest, from March to April. It’s a short, ten-minute walk from the Gurudwara Singh Sabha in Pushkar to the rose fields in the Nalla locality.
There are numerous nurseries on the outskirts of the town, and a thriving cottage industry of rose products. Visit a plant to watch the fascinating process by which gulab jal, or rosewater, is produced through old-fashioned distillation processes that involve large brass cauldrons. The bulky apparatuses bring to mind chemistry diagrams from school textbooks (Kamla Nursery & Farm, Shiv Mandir, Nagaur Road, Banseli, 98291 85284). Visitors can also buy freshly prepared gulkand rose candy (₹80/kg), gulab jal (₹150/litre), and gulab sharbat (₹75/750ml), a rose petal drink favoured for its cooling properties.
Pushkar has grown around the banks of the lake, which is hemmed in by 52 ghats with flights of steps descending to the water. Each ghat is believed to possess special powers: Bathing at Naga Kund is said to bestow fertility, the water of Kapil Vyapi Kund is believed to cure leprosy, and Roop Tirth gives beauty and charm. Varah, Brahma, and Gau are the other important ghats. However, as evening sets in, people automatically gravitate towards serene Jaipur Ghat. Getting there requires circumventing some stubborn cows and searching hard to find a spot devoid of pigeon droppings. But having succeeded, nothing compares with the tranquillity of sitting on the steps of this ghat to watch the sun sink in the golden lake, while listening to the mournful strain of an iktara. Around 6.30 p.m., the music is drowned by a chorus of bells as the evening aarti begins in the temples surrounding the ghat.
Join devotees in their circumambulation of the lake, on a serene and scenic walk through all the ghats, over a footbridge, and past trademark, blue-painted houses. Local custom dictates that visitors walk barefoot on certain stretches, so keep an eye out for signboards that instruct you to remove your shoes.
Being a place of religious pilgrimage, Pushkar’s restaurants do not serve alcohol or non-vegetarian food. Most of the fare available here is inspired and easy on the pocket. Al fresco and garden restaurants dish out an eclectic selection of world cuisines, from Italian to Tibetan. The skyline is dotted with rooftop cafés with psychedelic names like Moon Dance and Pink Floyd.
The Third Eye, run by an Israeli woman and her Indian husband has Israeli dishes on the menu (Jamni Kund Road, 0145-2772614, 94146 67267, meal for two ₹550), and Little Italy Pizzeria nearby is the best place for thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas (Panch Kund Road, pizzas from ₹250). Any visitor to Pushkar inevitably ends up at Sunset Café. Its veranda, dotted with cane chairs and framed by pink bougainvillea, looks out on an uninterrupted stretch of the lakefront (Jaipur Ghat; meal for two ₹600). Devour pockets of ravioli while soaking in a shimmering gold sunset, and sipping on a ginger lemon honey drink, a piping hot brew guaranteed to warm your insides.
For local flavour, sample kadi-tikkad or dal-bati-churma at Vaishnav Bhojanalaya (Nagaur road; ₹90 per plate). Pushkar is also famous for its sweet and tender malpua, or fried pancake, which is best eaten straight out of the syrup at Sarveshwar Mishthan Bhandar (in front of Gau Ghat, Halwai Gali; ₹20 for 2 pieces).
In Pushkar, visitors can easily find something “special” to eat, but do so at your own risk. For here “special” is a euphemism for “laced with bhang,” (edible cannabis) and a wide variety of “special” dishes are on offer, from curry to lassi—basically anything you fancy with a little seasoning. The special lassi at Moon Dance Café is said to be especially divine (near New Rangji Temple, Market Road; ₹120). Be sure to specify whether you want it strong or light. At Funky Monkey Café, down a green yogurt drink while you watch the activity of this bustling town. This tiny hole-in-the-wall spot also has a wide selection of beverages, including coffees and mango lassi(Mahadev Chowk, Choti Basti, near SBBJ Bank; mango lassi ₹140).
Besides typical touristy souvenirs like patchwork jholas, leather-bound notebooks, and colourful jootis, Pushkar is the place to pick up quirky silver jewellery, and ornamental Rampuri daggers. Most silver jewellery shops double as workshops, and the craftsmen there are happy to fashion bespoke pieces. They are experts at bending and twisting silver wire into unique patterns, and will experiment to create edgy ear cuffs, crescent moon earrings, a pendant that spells initials, or geometric-pattern rings. Browse through the selection in the row of cubbyhole shops that line the street from New Rangji temple to Jaipur Ghat (earrings from ₹80). A small shop adjacent to the entrance to the Tourist Office has an exotic collection of brass jewellery, such as anklets and armlets, and offers private lessons in basic jewellery designing.
The influx of foreigners has given rise to a thriving market for breezy garments in light and breathable fabrics, which are great to beat the desert heat. In Pushkar’s narrow lanes, every other shop makes and sells western outfits in striking Rajasthani prints, and garments that can be altered to fit. Headbands, harem pants, and T-shirts hand painted with trippy images of goblins, toadstools and dancing Shivas abound.
Pushkar is a hill station in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, about 14 km/30 minutes northwest of Ajmer town. It is 403 km/7.5 hr southwest of Delhi and 145 km/2.5 hr southwest of Jaipur.
The closest airport is in Jaipur, and the nearest major railway station is Ajmer Junction, which connects to the Pushkar Terminus railway station. Convenient local buses run every half hour between Pushkar and Ajmer’s bus stands.
The only way to explore all the nooks and crannies of this tiny town is on foot, unless you fancy a camel cart ride. Bikes and scooters can also be hired (from ₹350/day; security deposit of about ₹1,000 may be required)from shops near the Gurudwara Singh Sabha (near bus stand).
The Third Eye Run by an Indian and Israeli couple, this place has simple rooms but a relaxing and laid-back vibe. Its garden restaurant is a popular backpacker haunt (Jamni Kund Road; 0145-2772614; firstname.lastname@example.org; doubles from ₹900).
Inn Seventh Heaven This century-old haveli has spotlessly clean, spacious, and comfortable rooms gathered around a pretty white courtyard festooned with creepers and trailing vines (Mishroo ka Mohalla, next to Mali ka Mandir, Choti Basti; 0145-5105455; www.inn-seventh-heaven.com; doubles from ₹1,200).
Hotel Pushkar Palace Located on the edge of Pushkar Lake at Jaipur Ghat, this stately heritage property offers stunning, panoramic views of the town (Jaipur Ghat, near Pushkar Lake, Choti Basti; 0145-2772001; hotelpushkarpalace.com; doubles from ₹7,000).
Appeared in the April 2016 issue as “Blue Lotus Land”. Updated in October 2017.
Camel safaris are a thrilling way to explore rural Rajasthan. From Pushkar, embark on a journey in a private caravan, accompanied by a camel cart loaded with conveniences. The rigorous day-long rides break for meals that are cooked on an open fire. The safari routes meander through the desert, passing small settlements on the way, and camping under the stars at night. There are short, three-day safaris and longer ones for a week or ten days that cost about ₹1,500 a day. There are also 3-hour sunset safaris (₹550) and half-day safaris (₹1,000). Numerous operators in Pushkar offer these safaris and it is best to book one based on a recommendation from your hotel.