Covering Holy Ground in Pushkar

With ancient temples, ardent devotees and a camel fair, the Rajasthani town promises a burst of colour and culture.  
Photo by Amit Vakil. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Photo by Amit Vakil. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

As the sun begins its downward descent, locals and tourists flock to the ghats surrounding Pushkar Lake. Spending an evening on the ghats is the best possible introduction you can expect to Pushkar, Rajasthan’s fabled spiritual town, known as much for Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe as well as for the annual camel fair held there.

The lake is said to have formed when Brahma dropped a lotus petal onto the earth from his hand. A waterbody sprung to life at that spot and is considered to be one of India’s most sacred sites. A dip in the lake on the auspicious full-moon period is said to cleanse one of all impurities. With 52 bathing ghats and innumerable temples, at most times, Pushkar reverberates with chanting and the clanging of temple bells. Each of the ghats has a significance and those who bathe in them are believed to be bestowed with special powers. For fertility take a dip at the Naga Kund, to cure leprosy head to the waters of Kapil Vyapi Kund, for beauty and charm make your way to Roop Tirth Kund. Varah, Brahma, and Gau ghats also draw large crowds. Of the temples, the red spired Brahma Temple, one of a handful of temples across India dedicated to Lord Brahma, is a highlight. The inner sanctum houses a four-faced or chaturmukhi idol of Lord Brahma.

Pushkar also houses an important place of worship of the Sikhs. The Gurdwara Singh Sabha located in the eastern part of the town is dedicated to Guru Nanak, the first guru of the Sikhs.

Photo by Amit Vakil. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Photo by Amit Vakil. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

During the time of Kartik Purnima or the full-moon phase, when pilgrims throng the ghats and temples, camel and livestock traders from across Rajasthan arrive in Pushkar to participate in the annual camel fair. Spread over a seven-day period the fair also attracts a large number of tourists who come to witness this spectacle of man, beast, art and culture.

What probably began as a meeting point for traders to buy and sell camels, horses, and livestock has now turned into a mega carnival complete with back-to-back competitions and performances. As hundreds of feet kick up a virtual dust storm on the mela ground, finding a good vantage point to view these events requires a combination of luck, timing and adeptness.

Thousands of camels are on display for sale and each is spruced up to attract potential buyers. To make their camels standout from the crowd, traders often decorate their animals with colourful headdresses, embroidered saddles and elaborate tattoos. While turban clad traders negotiate a good price for their beasts, take a break and watch local lads fight it out in a kushti or wrestling competition. Camel races are also a crowd-puller.

In a region where sporting a moustache is a matter of pride, the competition for the longest moustache attracts many participants from India and sometimes other countries as well. Women compete in the matka race as they make a dash towards the finishing line balancing pots filled with water on their heads. Stalls around the festival ground sell a variety of interesting goods ranging from leather harnesses, shoes, clay pots, bangles and toys. While tourist numbers grow year-on-year, watching people from the surrounding villages come out in large number to enjoy the festivities has an unparalleled charm.

Photo by Amit Vakil. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Photo by Amit Vakil. Shot on Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

Come nightfall and tube light lit giant Ferris wheels and game stalls give the area a neon glow. If you have had enough of the crowds make your way to the ghats that have some fabulous performances lined up, often featuring some of India’s best musicians and dancers. Watching a classical performance with the old Rangji Temple as a backdrop is a magical way to end the day. Makeshift venues on the sand dunes at the fringe of town also host a variety of acts.

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