A tiny town surrounding a lake, Pushkar in Rajasthan is an enchanting place to visit for backpackers, slow travellers and culture vultures. It is one of the most revered cities for Hindus, for the only Brahma Temple in the world (or one of the very few ones, according to some sources) is located here. According to mythology, Lord Brahma killed Vajra Nabh with a lotus flower, the petals of which fell to earth, causing the creation of the lake. This sacred city in India is one that devout Hindus visit at least once in their lives and a dip in the lake is said to cleanse one of their sins.
The Pushkar Lake is surrounded by 52 series of steps, also known as ghats, along with 400 temples, so the religious fervour and mysticism lingers in the air, along with the smell of incense and sounds of chants.
BEST TIME TO VISIT PUSHKAR
Most tourists throng to Pushkar during the famous Pushkar Camel Fair that happens around October, to witness camel trading, animal races, processions and cultural performances. The weather can be really pleasant during this time, hovering around 18-22 degrees and gets much colder as the winter progresses.
I visited at the end of February, just before the onset of Rajasthan’s arid summer and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect – ranging around 20-25 degrees Celsius during the day and dipping to 15 degrees at night. It was comfortable to walk around even at peak noon because of the pleasant weather in Pushkar during late February.
HOW TO GET AROUND PUSHKAR
The closest railway station is Ajmer (11 kms away) and the nearest airport to Pushkar is Jaipur (140 kms away). While I’m not a fan of buses, you can get plenty of them from cities like Delhi or Jaipur. Driving down from Delhi and Mumbai with your own vehicle or a rented self-drive car is a good idea, although it can take 24 hours by road from Mumbai, a journey I undertook. If you love road trips, you’ll enjoy it!
Being a small town, it is easy to walk around the entire city on foot. My advice would be to park your car at your hotel and simply walk to wherever you want to go – the narrow market lanes offer beautiful ethnic garments and items that you can leisurely browse as you stroll. While there were many people offering camel safaris along every street, I didn’t see cabs or rickshaws soliciting passengers at prominent places, although I’m sure they are easily available.
From Pushkar, I travelled to Jodhpur, which was 4 hours away by car and can take double the time if you opt to travel by bus.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUSHKAR
There are tons and tons of hotels and home stays in Pushkar. I didn’t book my accommodation in advance which is something I follow in small cities like these. I only book in advance when I wish to stay at an upscale property, That way, I know will be great experience due to the brand name, reviews etc.
In small places like Pushkar (even Pulga and Kasol for that matter), I prefer to hop in to a few hotels, check out the rooms and THEN book. Not only will you get an idea of how far everything is from you, but also the locality, the ventilation in the room, the state of the sheets on the bed, the staff and things like that.
You will find a lot of hostels in Pushkar as well as dingy little hippie-style rooms for as cheap as 400 per day. Apart from a bed with blankets that have been washed god-knows-when and psychedelic posters on the wall, you can expect nothing more. Most often, you will have a common washroom, but if you’re travelling to Pushkar on a budget and don’t mind cheap accommodation, you will find heaps of them! There are a handful of luxury resorts in Pushkar a short distance away.
I stayed at Pushkar Lake Palace, pictured above, which was the 4th hotel I surveyed upon arrival – a well-maintained property close to Dr. Alone Café (not the same as Dr. Alone Rooftop Restaurant). For Rs. 1200 a night, I got a room for two, far above my expectations, with a big, squeaky clean washroom, comfy bed, a TV, balcony and an A/C that I didn’t need to turn on because of the cool weather. There are cheaper rooms available at the hotel, too. It was walking distance from the market and 10 meters to the lake.
WHAT TO EAT
Pushkar, being a Holy City, has no meat, eggs or alcohol on offer, making it a haven for vegetarians and vegans. However, some restaurants do serve these items on the sly. You won’t find them listed on the menu, but the waiter will tell you if they can provide it in hushed tones as if they’re selling drugs – quite hilarious, really! Another funny thing I noticed was how almost every restaurant had the line “Recommended by Lonely Planet,” written under their name on signboards. Those that were left out of the well known magazines purview joined the party by writing lines like “Recommended by Lonely PEOPLE.”
I tried out Dr. Alone Café and would definitely recommend it! Situated right near the steps of one of the ghats, it offers an unobstructed view of the lake and is extremely tranquil. The fresh juices and pizzas are pretty great. Laura’s Café, a rooftop restaurant in Pushkar, is another wonderful place with quality food and a gorgeous view of the city from above. For cheap eats, head to the dhabas behind the Brahma temple where you can get items like Dal-Baati-Churma, thalis and Indian food, freshly made and at a low cost. Pushkar, like Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh, sees a lot of Israeli tourists and so it isn’t uncommon to find hummus and pita or falafel on the menu.
Another must-try in Pushkar is the Gulkhand Lassi and Malpua at the sweet shops in the market. It was the best I’ve had! You can’t miss out on trying the milk-based sweets for sure.
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WHAT TO SHOP FOR
Lots and lots of cheap boho clothing – from elephant printed harem pants to graphic racer-back tees. The prices are cheap, but bargain, nonetheless. Pro-Tip – While the pants and skirts look lovely, hanging in the display, they are badly stitched and the fittings are horrendous! Where possible, try before you buy. Cushion covers, Rajasthani turbans, wall hangings and Indian trinkets are safe buys and great to bring back as souvenirs. Another great idea is to take back mithai or Indian sweets with you to relish after your trip to Pushkar.
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I hope you found this travel guide to Pushkar useful. I’ll share a bit more about my time in this beautiful city in Rajasthan in my next travelogue. Bye for now!