It was the sixth day of my Uncover India tour, and we had just left the historic village of Tordi Sāgar and driven to our next destination.
After a four hour drive in our 4×4 Jeeps, through the city of Ajmer and over Snake Mountain, we arrived into ancient Pushkar, which borders the Thar Desert and is a pilgrimage site for Hindus and Sikhs, with more than 500 temples and the holy Pushkar Lake. The lake is surrounded by 52 bathing ghats (stone staircases that lead to the water), which pilgrims will use to take sacred baths. A dip in the lake is believed to cleanse sins and cure skin diseases.
We settled into our accommodation for that night, and then took an orientation walk around the city. We were told that meat, eggs and alcohol are completely banned from Pushkar, but The Rose Garden of Rajasthan is where traditional meets hippie, and marijuana is popular with the locals (where it is sometimes used ceremonially) and the tourists.
We saw an Ashram, where many pilgrims will go for a warm welcome and free food, and a beautiful, white marble Sikh temple, Gurudwara Sahib, which prompted our guide to inform us that Sikhism is one of the richest religions in India.
We also passed a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, as well as the world’s only temple to the Hindu god of creation, Brahma. Although one of the most important gods, Brahma is rarely actively worshipped. In Hindu mythology, this is the result of a curse by Brahma’s first wife, Goddess Saraswati. When she did not turn up for an important religious ceremony, Brahma asked the gods’ advice and they responded by creating him a new wife, Gayatri. Upon finding out about this, Saraswati cursed Brahma not to be worshipped anywhere other than Pushkar.
According to Hindu mythology, Lake Pushkar is said to have been named after Lord Brahma dropped lotus flower petals into the vale and a lake emerged in its place. Pushkar consequently means “Blue Lotus” in Sanskrit.
Admittedly, my dinner that evening was not remotely Indian, as I had the rare opportunity to order a veggie spag bol. Having had a rich and delicious Indian meal for lunch, I didn’t feel too guilty for my uncultured choice that evening!
We walked to the lake and were met by a Brahmin Guru (the highest caste in India’s Caste System) called Giri Raj. We were told to remove our shoes and sit by the water’s edge. We were each given a coconut and a metal plate containing red and yellow spices in the form of powder, flowers, rice and sugar.
We then washed our hands with holy water and this was to metaphorically cleanse our minds, our ears and our souls. The red powder symbolised good health and was placed in the shape of a bindi on our foreheads, alongside some of the water and rice.
The rice represented prosperity, the sugar was for happiness and the yellow powder symbolised the further cleansing of our souls. The flowers were blessings for our family and friends and we had to follow a set of mantras. We listened to the guru as he talked us through the order of the ceremony, and we could hear other worshippers singing and chanting, whilst drums were being played softly in the background and birds and cows roamed around undisturbed.
After the blessings, we were instructed to throw the flowers into the lake, followed by the other items on our plates, as offerings. Now we had started afresh, and we all agreed that we did feel a genuine sense of peace. This ceremony was now supposed to last us (and our families) a lifetime of good health and happiness.
We were then given red and yellow string bracelets to mark the completion of the ceremony, and which we were told was our “Passport to Pushkar”, meaning that we would not be approached as tourists anymore (though we definitely still were!).
I purchased two pairs of lovely trousers and a new bumbag, as the zip had sadly broken on mine and I love a bumbag! These three items came to just 900 rupees, which is the equivalent of around £9.
We rode rickshaws to our starting location and I was at the rear, facing the oncoming traffic. In such an open vehicle this was an interesting affair, and it sometimes felt like I was about to be ploughed into the cars behind, as we often broke very suddenly.
We arrived to meet our hosts for the night, and they were a group of local cameleers, who would lead us on their decoratively dressed camels into the Thar Desert. I have not previously enjoyed camel riding, but these camels seemed very well looked after and I knew that my tour company, G Adventures, only supports organisations who treat animals with the utmost care.
We rode for around an hour on the bumpy trail towards the desert, and it was funny witnessing everybody clinging on for dear life as we bounced up and down on the uneven ground. By the end I was very grateful to disembark and stretch my legs. My camel’s name was Johnny and as camels go, he was very friendly!
Their singing and dancing was beautiful and we were able to get into the spirit when they invited us to join in the dancing. I felt very clumsy next to the practised performers, but this was a lot of fun and the group bonded over the evening’s shared experiences.
The evening’s live entertainment, flavoursome food, and stunning surroundings were absolutely wonderful and I felt very grateful to partake in this cultural, fun and memorable activity.
I loved my time in Pushkar, a colourful city with cascading architecture and much culture. However, as with any fast-paced tour, it felt as though we were leaving just as quickly as we arrived, and tomorrow, we would be heading to our next destination by train.