Located in the middle of the Ajmer desert in the state of Rajasthan, Pushkar is one of the five sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus. Legend associates its creation with Lord Brahma, referred to as “the Creator” within the Trimurti, the trinity of supreme divinity that includes Vishnu and Shiva. He is associated with the creation of the universe, knowledge, and the Vedas. Part of the myth says that the gods let loose a swan with a lotus in its beak. The lotus fell to earth, and the place where it landed was to become Pushkar.
Pushkar, with Pushkar Lake and the Brahma temple, was identified as one of the ten most religious cities in the world. Pilgrims come to the lake during October and November to bathe at one of the 52 ghats. After bathing, pilgrims make their way to the Brahma Temple, one of the few temples dedicated to Lord Brahma in India. Pushkar is also well known for the Pushkar Camel Fair, one of the world’s largest camel fairs, which attracts thousands of tourists.
Arrival to a Sepia-Colored Town
As we arrived in Pushkar, my first impression of this town was that it was a dusty, sepia-colored town of low-lying buildings. We found a basic room at a small compound popular with travelers. After getting settled in, we locked up and set out to find some food.
As we walked up the dusty road, we spotted a two-story building with a rooftop restaurant terrace. It looked busy, indicating good food. Climbing the stairs, we caught our first glimpse of the lake and city surroundings. The shoreline seemed low at the moment, although it would likely fill up during the monsoon season.
We sat ourselves at an empty table and examined the menu. The menu had a strange entry: a “Green Pieces omelet.” Was it a misspelling of Green Peace? Wondering what “green pieces” referred to, we asked the waitress for clarification. She responded with a thick accent, “It has little green pieces.” Curious, we decided to give it a try, assuming it was a vegetable omelet.
While waiting for our mystery omelet, we planned our tour of the Pushkar sights. The Brahman temple was one of our planned stops. Unfortunately, we were not there during the camel races, but we were in time for Holi, a festival of color. Color was something I longed for in this dingy, monotonal, sepia-colored town.
Shortly, the waitress returned with two plates of thin, crepe-like omelets with a scattering of green peas. Our “Green Pieces omelet” had arrived. Donna and I looked at each other and said in unison, “Of course, green peas.” It was certainly not a culinary masterpiece, yet we still scarfed it down. We were hungry, but it would not be ordered again. With our hunger forestalled, we set out to visit the Brahman temple.
The Brahman Temple.
On the way to the temple, we got a glimpse of the Pushkar Ghats, which are, understandably, not accessible to tourists. The temple grounds were not well maintained. A mess of ritualistic leftovers, as well as other trash, littered the pathways.
At the temple, photography is not permitted, so we were asked to leave our camera and shoes with the guard for a small donation, but we didn’t have a camera. I suppose he was just following his script. We left our shoes with him and entered the temple. We were immediately asked for another donation. The temple is not very large, and a visit didn’t take much time. Perhaps 15 to 20 minutes was long enough. Beautiful ornate silver-framed archways surrounded the central statue of Brahma, which was barely visible beneath layers of flower wreaths.
It was not the most interesting temple we had ever seen, but it was one of the only Brahma temples and a holy pilgrimage destination. The most interesting part was the “Sages” and ‘Babas” that frequented the temple. They were very picturesque. It’s too bad we didn’t have a camera with us.
Preparation for Holi
We returned to our room, where we met another traveler who excitedly asked if we were there for Holi. Having heard a little about Holi, we didn’t know exactly what to expect. We had read that Holi, also known as the festival of colors, is a two-day celebration in India that celebrates the eternal love between Radha and Lord Krishna. This Hindu holiday celebrates the arrival of spring, love, and fertility. Women shouldn’t say no to the advances of admirers. Throughout India, Holi is honored in various ways . But the core value is the same: celebrating the triumph of good over evil,
We were then told that we should only wear clothes we didn’t mind potentially ruining with colorful dyes. Also, it could get very wild, and they loved to make sure that blonde-haired girls were especially targeted for coloring. Donna was told she might not want to go out during Holi as it is not particularly safe for women. Donna assured them that I would protect her.
Clouds of Colors
The day of Holi arrived, and with some trepidation, we wandered into the throng of wild Holi revelers. People danced in extremely crowded in the streets. Colorful powder or ‘gulal’ was thrown around in a storm of color. It was in our eyes, nose, mouth, hair, ears, and pretty much every part of our bodies was covered in the colored powder.
Men and boys thought it was a free-for-all and, to cop a feel in the name of Holi, would take their chances. Shocked, we got upset at the potential accostor. We were then told, “You can not say ‘No’ during Holi!” as they laughed and scurried away. We realized this must be the reason there were not many women out on the streets. One Indian man suggested we move to a different area that he was sure was more safe for Donna.
Holi was wild. By the time we went back to our room, it was obvious that it would be some weeks before all the color was washed off our skin. We were thankful it was just the powder, unlike some parts of India that celebrated with liquid dye, which was a more permanent coloring. We decided to sit out the second day and watch from the safety of our room’s front steps. I had wanted color and certainly gotten my wish. I needed to be more careful with my wishes!
Aftermath of Holi
You would think that the aftermath of Holi left the town looking like an abstract artist’s painting, but the mixing of all those colors turned the streets… pink. Sure, there were occasional splotches of other colors peeking through, but pink was the predominant color. The streets were also a huge mess. Who do you think went out to sweep and clean up the huge mess? The women.
Buying the Special Ticket
We had had our time in Pushkar, so we went to the ticket seller we had passed daily, who politely asked if he could arrange our ticket when we left. He seemed a nice man. Our destination would be Agra, home of the Taj Mahal! We asked if he could arrange that we could get the front seat of the bus. We had had plenty of experiences in the bumpy back end of the bus. “Of course, but it will cost a little extra.” We agreed to the price and bought the tickets for the next day.
The next day, we decided that to enjoy the potentially uncomfortable journey, we would try a “Bang Lasse.” This is a yogurt fruit shake mixed with hashish. We then arrived at his office to pick up the tickets, and he escorted us to the bus. “You have tickets for these two front seats. Don’t let anybody move you to another seat. These seats are bought and paid for,” he told us.
Don’t Give Up Your Seat!
Soon, other people were boarding the bus and taking the seats behind. We were so happy to be seated where we were. All of our small packs and instruments fit snugly in the space in front of us. I still had a space where I could stretch my legs out. We had no fears of the seat in front of us continually rocking back into our laps. Just as the bus was nearly full, two boys got on and said, “Move, these are our seats.”
“Sorry, we have tickets bought and paid extra for these seats,” I said.
“We don’t care, move! We are friends of the driver.”
“That’s all fine, but we are booked into these seats, paid extra for. He told us not to move from here. Anyway, the seats in the back are all taken now. We are not moving,” I insisted.
This went back and forth a few times.
Finally, the boys relented and went in the cab with the driver. We sat in our reasonably comfortable seats. The bus left the station, and as we started down the road to Agra, we drifted into a hashish-induced sleep.
Next: Waking Up in Agra