A trip to the twin holy cities of Pushkar and Ajmer
India is known for the diversity of its people, land, culture and religion. My visit to Ajmer and Pushkar, twin holy cities just 30 kilometers apart, is a perfect example of this.
Pushkar was a chance visit for me. The intent was to head to Ajmer from Jaipur, en-route to Jodhpur. In our discussion with the locals at Jaipur, we realized that Pushkar was quite close with not much deviation. That kind of sealed the deal for us. I was aware of Pushkar as the king of pilgrimage sites for Hindus and is one of the oldest existing cities of India.
Legend has it that Lord Shiva, the destroyer, was so distraught after his wife Sati’s death that his tears formed two lakes. One at Pushkar in Ajmer district in Rajasthan and the other at Katas Raj temple (http://www.ancient.eu/Katas_Raj/) in Pakistan. I was thrilled to be at the shores of one of these lakes.
Another belief is that this is the place where Brahma , the God of creation, used his weapon, a lotus flower, to destroy a demon killing and harassing people. During the process a few lotus petals from the weapon in his hand fell here and Brahma named the place as Pushkar, derived from pushpa (flower) and kar (hand).
Whatever the belief, Pushkar is a very interesting place , not to be missed, it you are in the vicinity.
1) The Pushkar Lake
The Pushkar lake apparently has 52 ghats (stone staircases) where pilgrims descend to bathe in the sacred waters. After a short walk in the market of Pushkar, we entered the first one we noticed.
The most immediate feeling was of tranquil and calm.
Maybe it was the timing (we reached there almost at lunch), there were not many devotees on the ghat. The blue waters surrounded by white heritage buildings with rolling brown hills in the backdrop were a sight to behold.
The calm of the place added to the allure. We spent some time here absorbed in the silence broken only by the birds taking flight.
2) The Brahma temple
Pushkar town is said to have over 500 temples, big and small. Most of them were destroyed in the 17th century during Aurangzeb’s rule. Many of them have been re-constructed since. The most significant of them is the 14th century Brahma temple, dedicated to the God of all creation. The original temple is believed to be 2000 years old !
I was particularly excited about a visit to this temple. There are not many temples dedicated to Brahma owing to a curse from his wife, Savitri. Apparently, after demolishing the demon, Brahma wanted to do a fire-sacrifice (Yagna) at Pushkar Lake. He created the mountains around it to prevent other demons from attacking. He needed a wife for the rituals and married a local girl for that purpose. When the wife arrived, she was aghast and cursed that he will not be worshiped in any temple, which was later relaxed for Pushkar and a few other places 🙂
We were lucky to have managed entry to it. It was about to be closed for lunch and we took turns to visit the deity. It was a pretty, quaint temple. Would have loved to spend more time here.
3) The mesmerizing Brahma Temple Market
The walk through this market held my daughter’s interest. She was fascinated by the colorful wares along the narrow, winding roads leading to the Lake. There were clothes, jewellery, books, turbans, bangles – basically all the colorful things that can attract kids and adults alike.
It was tough not to stop for indulging in some shopping spree but I had a splitting headache due to the sun and I found just the right cure for it – tea under a century old tree ! It was not difficult to believe this tale from the tea vendor, given the ancient past of the place. While I cannot prove the authenticity of his claim – it definitely helped with my headache 😉 . Thanks Ami for the click !
4) The most awesome lunch I had in Rajasthan – Highly recommended
Okay, so I am a self proclaimed foodie. I love a well made dish – never mind where it is served. The driver recommended this place in one of the lanes near the Brahma temple before we head out to Ajmer. We were famished, so decided to eat at this roadside dhaba (small restaurant with a rural experience). It was a treat for the taste buds. Home made food cooked right in front of us. Completely sated, we left for Ajmer.
5) Pushkar Camel Fair
For most part of the year, Pushkar is a small, idyllic town and that is the image I carry with me. If you were fortunate to be visiting in November, you will experience more than 400K people arriving with 50K cattle. The charter for 14 days fair is pilgrimage, camel racing, horse and cattle trading and festivities . Be prepared to embrace the culture and see lot of colors !
Given all that Pushkar has to offer, it is no surprise that in recent years it has become a popular destination for local and foreign tourists.
After lunch at Pushkar we started for Ajmer, the city which is home to the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. The car dropped us the closest to the Dargah but we were told it was a 2 km walk in a crowded lane.
Since I did not fancy carrying my daughter through the sea of people, we rented an auto-rickshaw. It was a ride to remember. Imagine, going through lanes so narrow that one auto-rickshaw had to stop to let the other go – a vehicle that is synonymous with agility. The houses were so close that you could touch them sitting in the auto ! I felt we were in a Bond movie 😉
Anyway we reached the gates of the Dargah, wading through a sea of people trying to get in. There were flower vendors at the entrance selling flowers and “chaddar” (a sacred cloth) that is an offering to the Sufi saint.
As I stepped inside the gate, I could feel the devotion that is so overpowering in the place. This place is not a place of religion. It is a place of faith. It is said that Akbar and his queen used to walk from Agra to this place in faith for a son and heir. I saw people from varied religion come here, all in faith. The white marble flooring, the grandeur of the Dargah, the expression on the faces of devotees – all added to the mystic of the Sufi saint. My husband stood in a queue for 20 minutes before he could even get in. There were people who helped place your offering and guide you in.
With my children, sitting on the marbled floor and starting at the golden tomb, I couldn’t help wonder the faith this saint commands even after so many years after his demise. He must have done something right !
Things you may want to know before the travel (Travel tips)
- By Air : Nearest airport to Pushkar and Ajmer is in Jaipur, which is well connected and 140 kilometres away. From the airport, hire a cab to reach Pushkar or Ajmer
- By Road : A taxi will take approximately 3 hours to cover the 140 kms from Jaipur. It is 190kms from Jodhpur and takes about 4 hours by road
- By Train : Take a train to Ajmer. Ajmer and Pushkar are 30-minute / 13 kms apart
- Tourists prefer to stay in Pushkar and do a day trip to Ajmer
- There are many buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws that ply between the twin holy cities
- Best time to visit Rajasthan is October thru February, which is also the tourist season. If you want to catch the Pushkar Fair, it should be November but be prepared for the throng
- Do book your accommodation in advance as hotels get quite full around the carnival time in November
- Cars are not allowed inside main Pushkar. Vehicle are left at the barricades and you will need to get to the temples and the lake on foot
- Non vegetarian food and alcohol is prohibited as Pushkar is a religious town
- On crowded ghats and especially during the camel fair, beware of pickpockets
- You can opt to enjoy a camel safari on the surrounding sand dunes. Package includes dinner and cultural performances. There are options for tents to spend the night in the desert, under the blanket of the starry skies
- For Dargah, visit between 6 – 7 am for a crowd free visit. Avoid Thursdays and Fridays as it is relatively more crowded