Beyond the Lake and temples join Nikita Chawla as she discovers the underground nightlife of Pushkar
“Madam, you want guide tour for world’s one and only famous Brahma temple, I show you all temple and tell you story.” I looked up from my lafa falafel amidst the busy street to be greeted by the local lingo of a tout. I politely refuse and walk down barefoot to the white washed Ghats of the holy Pushkar Lake.Jostling for space, I make my way through the crowd and partake in the customary parikrama for a better view.As the crystal clear waters of the lake capture the crimson sunset, I hear nagadas (Indian drums) play in the background. The beat starts slowly and works up to this feverish pace in minutes enrapturing all within earshot.
I spent a leisurely evening navigating the narrow streets packed with little shops, juice stalls and numerous cafes with very unusual names such as the Funky Monkey Cafe and Rainbow Cafe. Since ordering a beer wasn’t possible (Pushkar is a dry state) I settled for Coffee at one of the beautifully painted roof tops Cafes. Most of the foreign tourists are Israelis and Iranians who blend in beautifully with the Pushkar culture. Passing a smile and stating ‘ram ram’ got me conversing faster than a formal greeting. What brings them to Pushkar? ‘Duniyakisaer’, ‘I’m searching for ‘shanti’, ‘a cheap holiday’ were some of the answers I got.The local music is a connoisseur’s delight with every street being filled with foreigners singing bhajans in an accent. Satyapari, Prem Joshua, Tibetan incantations and even Pink Floyd is a hit!
The Secret Nightlife
Almost everything except the central Chai shop, Original Baba and a father and son store shut down before 11.30 p.m. But just as scenic and peaceful it is during the day, come sunset and the city transforms itself into an underground night club where tourists throng in large numbers adding a unique flavor to the city with their ‘chai,chillum and chappati’. Though the bustling street nightlife starts to dwindle at about 10p.m, there are guesthouses and hostels where food is served late into the night accompanied by live music and recreational smoking till wee hours of the morning. Strangers mingle around the bonfire as if they know each other for years.As we sang songs and shared stories with the rainbow people, I saw a large yellow moon peer over the distant hills.
No one cares about what you do, where you put up. Everyone’s welcome, join in the party! Boom Shiva! The dress code is causal, rules are broken and inhibitions are shed. However, the ‘formal’ folks are looked upon with suspicion. Pushkar doesn’t reveal its secrets so easily to city dwellers, someone on the inside has to trust you. But once you accomplish that, you’re in for a roll! Literally. (My friend owns a restaurant there and knows ‘important’ people. Hence, the access).We huddled in borrowed blankets from the guest house (It can get quite chilly at night) and sipped on a local version of ginger tea till the darkest hour before dawn.
We may have avoided the police raids, but the moon was watching. It knew all our secrets.
Sightseeing And Explorations
The next morning, summoning great courage we trekked up to Savitiri Mata’s temple on the Ratnagirihill.(Legend has it that her husband Brahma, the lord of creation, started a holy yagna without her presence. Furious, she cursed him that he would never be worshipped anywhere except in Pushkar and that too only once a year.) It’s a steep and difficult climb but the panoramic view from the top is very rewarding.
Next, we drove through the lush green countryside and realized that Pushkar is more than just a city around a holy lake. As I fell in love with the aamla orchards, pea farms and sweet smelling rose and marigold farms I could not believe this was Rajasthan. Our girl gang stopped by one of the farms manned by the local women asking for directions. Surprised at their broken English I requested the ladies for a photograph. Though shy at first, their fascination got the better of them and they posed. I asked them where they purchased their ethnic kandhars,chunarisand lac bangles from and learnt about ChottiBasti, a pocket friendly flea market where everything was priced at roughly thirty rupees. An impulsive about turn and a few kilometers later, we found ourselves scouting through Purses, head bands, rings, beaded necklaces, funky bracelets, etc. We spent many 30’s on fancy footwearand returned with a sense of accomplishment.
Apart from the peaceful, even meditative experience, as a tourist you can take back the purest gulkand and rose water you will ever find ,itr(Indian perfume available in exotic scents), incense sticks,Aamlekamuraba and clothes(Pushkar is a hub for garment exports), multi colored costume jewelry and oxidized silver belts, durries, miniature paintings, hand woven shawls etc. The vibrancy of the colourful state of Rajasthan is beautifully portrayed in the clothes, accessories and handicrafts available here. You can soak into the rich culture by donning the traditional garb complete with elaborate embroidery and silver jewellery, or you can go for a bohemian hippie girl look and choose from the abundance of printed kurtas, dhoti pants and a sling bag. Bargain hard!
With every temple you visit and every pundit you meet you realize how culturally rich Pushkar is. But don’t stop just there. Wander and venture into the unknown for this is a place where you can truly unwind and take a break.