Pushkar, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Pushkar is a small town in Rajasthan, about two and a half hours from Jaipur. It’s built around a holy lake called Lake Pushkar. The story behind this lake is that it appeared when Brahma dropped a lotus flower, which is why it’s called Pushkar. Pushkar means “holy flower” in Hindi.
Pushkar is a very popular pilgrimage destination for Hindus and Sikhs who love to come and bathe in the sacred lake. It’s also famous for two other things, its Brahma Temple (the one and only Brahma Temple in India), and its annual Camel Fair, held each November.
Pushkar is a very interesting and beautiful town to visit but it was our least favourite place in India. There are many great reasons to love Pushkar but sadly there are also many reasons to dislike it. Here is a rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly about this city.
Built around a lake, Pushkar is a beautiful place to walk around, to enjoy watching the daily activities of the many worshippers who flock to the town on a pilgrimage. You’ll see people bathing and washing their clothes at any of the fifty-two bathing ghats dotted around the lake.
Walking around the lake is a lovely way to enjoy the city’s culture and to observe the locals. Pilgrims believe that by taking a dip in the sacred lake they are cleansing their sins and curing any diseases they may have.
The town’s Brahma Temple, the only Brahma temple in India, is also an interesting place to visit. However, you need to be aware that no bags, cameras or shoes are allowed inside. You will need to use the lockers provided. If you are worried about leaving your camera in a locker (I personally wouldn’t), you can take it in turn with your partner to enter the template, or if travelling alone, leave your camera at the hotel and return to the town later for photos.
Besides the lake, the town has a lovely atmosphere and is extremely colourful. As you make your way to the lake you’ll come across many shops selling colourful items such as jewellery and saris. It’s a typical Indian city with lots going on, including cows and all sorts of other animals roaming the streets. I enjoyed our walk down the main street because this part was relatively hassle-free.
Like many places in India, Pushkar was rather dirty. It’s something that you get used to, so Pushkar did not shock us any more than other places.
But when walking around the lake you must take your shoes off. The pathway around the lake smelled of urine and looked rather questionable, covered with the faeces and urine of dogs, cows and who knows what else.
It certainly makes for an interesting walk, trying to avoid any wet patch on the ground and piles of poop. When I’m concentrating on taking photos I often forget to look where I’m walking and many times I barely avoided stepping right into something dodgy.
Needless to say, when we got back to the hotel I gave my feet the biggest scrub they’ve ever had! It was a hot day and the ground was nearly boiling, so walking with bare feet was rather unpleasant.
The ugliest part about Pushkar and the one that tarnished our stay there was the number of touts hanging out around town who are just there to try and rip you off, anyway that they can.
You have to be extremely careful, especially while walking around the lake. Do not accept any flowers or gifts from anyone trying to push them on you.
People will approach you with a smile and offer you flower, petals or bracelets. They will say they are being offered to you as a gesture of welcome or blessing. As soon as it is in your hand they will ask for money.
While we were walking down the steps to the lake, touts stopped us and told us we couldn’t go down the lake unless we had a flower in our palm. We knew it was a scam (thanks to other travel blogs we’d read about Pushkar), so we ignored it and kept going.
A few of the touts began screaming at us, saying that it was a holy place and that we couldn’t go down there. It made us so angry because we knew they were lying.
The “holy men”
You also need to beware of the so-called ‘holy men’, most of whom I believe are not holy at all. Avoid them like the plague! They will attempt to separate you from your friends and family for prayers and a ‘blessing’. They dress in white and will approach unsuspecting tourists, quickly shove a flower in the palms of their hands and take them down the steps to the lake, making them sit by the water while blessing them and their family members and chanting prayers. Once over they will try to extort thousands of rupees from the unsuspecting tourist.
We saw many touts targeting young single females but they don’t stop at them. During sunset, we watched a young woman being taken away from her backpack and down to the shore of the lake. We were worried that someone would come and take her bag while the “holy man” was giving her a “blessing” so we sat there and kept an eye on it for her. It would have been so easy for someone to steal from her while she was distracted.
The sitar players
People with sitars also approach you and say they want to play for you for free as a nice gesture. If you let them, be sure once it’s over that they’ll be asking for money. It’s never for free.
It felt that anyone trying to be nice to you was only doing it to try and extort money from you. We learnt to say no to everyone and not to trust anyone but it’s sad that that’s the way it is. It felt like they only saw tourists as walking cash machines.
This side of Pushkar made me glad we didn’t stay there more than one night. Unlike Udaipur where I was sad to leave, I was quite happy to move on from Pushkar. I’m glad we visited but we don’t plan to return.
Tips to help you have a better time in Pushkar
Although we didn’t love Pushkar, it doesn’t mean you won’t. If you’re planning a trip to Pushkar, here are some tips to help you enjoy your stay:
- Do not accept any gifts from anyone. It’s never going to be just a gift.
- Do not believe everything you hear, it is not forbidden for tourists to walk around the lake as long as you remove your shoes. You do not need to pay or buy anything to do so.
- Do not take photos of the pilgrims bathing. Not only will they get annoyed but this will also attract more touts who will scream at you and then try and scam you for money.
- Just be tough; the touts can be very overwhelming and upsetting. Be firm and say NO and walk away! Even better don’t make eye contact with them. Completely ignore them and they will move on to the next person.
- Visit just before sunset and head to the sunset point, this time of the day is just magical by the lake.
- Head to one of the rooftop bars or restaurants for some drinks and incredible views of the city.
- Try some falafels, Pushkar’s falafels are delicious!
- Because of its holy significance, Pushkar is a vegetarian only town and no alcohol is allowed. On the flip-side, it’s a great place to detox!
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