History is strewn across the cobbled lanes of Pushkar. As the sun sets and naked light bulbs hanging on strings come alive in the market place, Pushkar transforms from a sleepy pilgrimage centre to a town buzzing with activity.
Located in the Ajmer district in Rajasthan, Pushkar is much more than a holy city. Even though its main USP is the famous Brahma Temple, this town on the shores of Pushkar Lake is also a cultural hub, a melting pot.
The busy market place is the main highlight. Not only because you can pick up trinkets, clothes and mojris, but because it is here you will meet people from around the world. Small openings with winding stairs lead you to the ghat area where people wash away sins, where they connect to their spiritual side.
Brahma Temple is one of most prominent temples dedicated to the Hindu god in the country. Almost 2,000 years old, the temple is mainly made of marble and stone. Most pilgrims visit the temple after a dip in the Pushkar Lake.
A mix of cuisines
Apart from the usual dal, bati, churma, an array of cafes lining the market place offer cuisines from around the world. These rooftop cafes serve everything from Italian dinner to English breakfast.
A few locals have gone a notch higher and named their waterholes after famous bands. One such place is The Pink Floyd cafe. An avid fan of the famed music band, the owner has named each room in the small hotel attached to the cafe after the band’s famous albums. The cafe specialises in wood burned pizzas, pasta and salads . Old, wall-sized windows allow a view of the entire town.
Near the Brahma Temple, the local fare is available. Try the Kadhi Kachori at one of the small sweet shops. The combination of hot spicy kadhi and crisp kachori is heavenly. Malpua (pancake served as a dessert) with rabdi (sweet dish made with yoghurt) is not to be missed.
A very unique sight in the market area is a vendor selling exotic cakes on a cart. Apple crumble, banana cake, mixed fruit crumble, you can find an assortment of cakes on this cart. The vendor parks his vehicle right in the middle of the market place and is a hit among tourists as well as the locals. His ‘shop’ opens at 7 pm and shuts around 11 pm. A friend from England taught this local the art of baking scrumptious cakes 21 years ago.
Pushkar Lake is surrounded by 52 bathing ghats and pilgrims throng them through out the year. You can go down to the lake and take a dip. It is important to be wary of touts, who are on a look out to make quick bucks from tourists. Take a local along and refrain from giving money as donation to anyone on the ghat. If you want to donate, do it in the main temple. Head to the ghat in the evening. The faint reflection of the setting sun can make for beautiful pictures.
Around two hours from Pushkar lies Merta City which is famous for the Meera Bai Mandir. Other than the temple, this quaint town doesn’t have much to offer. One has to cross a busy market place to reach the temple. Next to the temple is a Meera Bai memorial. This is a must visit if you are interested in history.
Dargah Sharif, Ajmer
A shrine of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, Dargah Sharif in Ajmer is not to be missed. Located 15 km from Pushkar, the best time to visit Ajmer is in the evening. The main gate of the shrine is the Nizam Gate, after which comes the Shahjahani Gate, erected by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Where two worlds meet halfway
The market area, overlooking the ghat, is lined with colourful cafes selling international cuisines. The small German bakeries which specialise in banana cake and masala chai are major hangouts for tourists. As night descends, these narrow lanes resonate with music. Nasal voices of local women singing Panihari songs, local musicians playing folk music on rawanhathhas (an ancient bowed fiddle) and musicians from different countries strumming guitars - evenings in Pushkar see a colourful mix of music. You can either simply sit and listen or participate, it is an open stage.