Earlier this year I visited Pushkar as part of a G Adventures India North to South on a Shoestring tour. Pushkar was one of those places you read about and never imagine visiting yourself. I didn’t know much about the city, and it isn’t one of the typical India tourist places. If the tour packages I researched didn’t include Pushkar, I could have missed out on this amazing experience. Some parts of India like the Golden Triangle or the South Indian beaches in Kerala may overshadow Pushkar, but don’t be fooled – it’s a gem! There are so many places to visit in Pushkar, from holy sites to markets and the famous camel fair, you won’t be bored.
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Why Visit Pushkar?
The name Pushkar means “lotus flower”. A lotus was the weapon of Brahma, the Creator of the world in the Hindu religion. According to legend, a demon killed Brhma’s children and he struck the demon with his lotus, killing the demon. Petals of the lotus fell in three places, and one landed in Pushkar. That petal created Pushkar Lake and the important city that surrounds it.
Pushkar is unlike anywhere else in Rajasthan or the rest of the world. It’s a holy city in the Hindu religion and it’s bustling with pilgrims and devout worshippers. Pushkar is significant because Lord Brahma is worshipped there. There are only a few sites in the world where that is true. It’s said that a curse was placed on Brahma by his jealous consort, Saraswati. As a result of the curse, Saraswati vowed that no one else in the world would worship Lord Brahma. As a result, no new temples were erected to worship Brahma. This is why the Brahma Temple in Pushkar is so significant.
Where is Pushkar?
Pushkar is located in the Ajmer district in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It’s 10-11 kilometers from the city of Ajmer. We visited Pushkar after leaving the city of Jaipur, which is 150 kilometers northeast of Pushkar. It’s separated from Ajmer by the Naga Pahar (Snake Mountain) and has an arid, desert climate. The city is built around the holy site of Pushkar Lake and its fifty-two bathing ghats. Pushkar is one of the best road trips and weekend getaways from Jaipur.
How to Visit Pushkar - Rules for Respect
Pushkar is a holy city full of religiously significant sites. It’s a pilgrimage destination for Hindus and Sikhs, so it’s important to respect the nature of the city while visiting. Pushkar is a popular tourist destination, especially with backpackers, but its most-importantly a religious destination.
The rules to follow when visiting Pushkar are similar to the rules of visiting any holy or religious site. The entire city of Pushkar is considered a holy site. From The Blue Mosque to Saint Peters Basilica to Pushkar Lake, the key is respect.
- Wear modest clothing everywhere in Pushkar. This means long pants and long sleeves for men and full-length dresses or pants for women with covered shoulders.
- Avoid public displays of affection in Pushkar.
- Do not take photographs of religious ceremonies in or around the ghats.
- There is no alcohol in Pushkar.
- There is no meat served in Pushkar.
Temples and Religious Places to Visit in Pushkar
There are hundreds of temples in Pushkar. Some are famous for their locations and others for their beauty and of course for the deities that that honor. None of the temples in Pushkar, however, are very old. That’s because the ancient temples were destroyed by Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor who reined from 1658-1707. His father was Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal. Aurangzeb was ruthless compared to his father and did not respect other religions in India. He ruled most of the subcontinent under Sharia Law and is one of the most reviled emperors in Indian history.
Keep in mind that the majority of Hindu temples in India will be forbidden for non-Hindu visitors. This means many will have to be admired from the outside, but these temples are still worthwhile places to visit in Pushkar. If you look around the internet, there are some people who take issue with this, but it’s not personal… it’s cultural. If you realize that, you’ll make the most of all the things you to do in Pushkar and the rest of India.
Without a doubt, Brahma Temple is the most famous temple in Pushkar. As mentioned, it’s one of few temples in the world that are dedicated to the worship of Lord Brahma. It’s easily recognized for its red spire. The interior walls are full of inscriptions that commemorate the dead. Over the entrance you’ll see the hans symbol for Brahma, a goose.
Old Rangji Temple is beautiful from the outside, and for foreigners (non-Hindu) that’s all you’ll be able to see. It’s still an incredible places to visit in ! The exterior of the temple is designed with a blend of architectural styles. The temple represents Mughal design and elements of South Indian architecture.
Savitri Temple is accessible by foot or by cable car. It’s atop a hill with a fantastic view of Pushkar. The climb to the temple is about 1,000 steps or it’s accessible by cable car. The ten-minute ride to the top is easier, but pilgrims prefer to climb by foot in order to gain favor. Hiking to the top, you will also get to enjoy the monkeys who play on the stairs.
The temple is dedicated to the first wife of Lord Brahman. Hindu mythology tells the story of Brahman conducting a ceremony that required his wife. She was late, so he quickly married a local girl named Gayatri. This infuriated his first wife, and to regain her honor, Brahman built Savitri Temple.
Today it’s a wonderful place to watch sunrise or sunset and get great views of Pushkar from above.
Pap Mochani Temple (Gayatri Temple)
Behind the Marwar bus stand you can access a trail to the Gayatri Temple. The 30 minute walk will take you up a hill to the temple. It’s dedicated to one of the wives of Brahman who was a local girl when they married. Besides worshipping the goddess Gayatri, visitors enjoy another scenic hill-top view of Pushkar.
Varaha Temple sits near Lake Pushkar where Lord Vishnu once appeared as an avatar called Varaha. The avatar is half-man and half-boar. Varaha appeared to save the planet from a demon who was seeking to destroy all life on Earth. It was built in the 12th century which makes it one of the oldest Hindu temples remaining in Pushkar.
This sacred lake for Hindus is really the epicenter of Pushkar. You’ll end up spending some time there no matter what your daily itinerary look like. It’s one of the most important places to visit in Pushkar. You’ll quickly realize this from the energy you experience arriving there.
In the fifty-two bathing ghats, you’ll find religious pilgrims cleansing i nthe sacred waters. You’ll also witness puja or “prayers” being made there. On the lake you can watch a sunrise and sunset ceremony each day.
If you’d like to experience a puja ceremony, arrange one with a trusted source. Your hotel or tour guide will be able to book one for you. Never accept flowers or an unplanned prayer ceremony from a stranger on the street. It’s a common scam in Pushkar for someone to approach you and give you flowers or a red ribbon. They’ll lead you to ghat and demand a donation. If this happens to you WALK AWAY. Those who do this can be annoying and sometimes even intimidating, and aggressive.
Ghats to Visit in Pushkar
The ghats around Pushkar Lake are abuzz every day from sunrise to sundown. Some of the fifty-two ghats have extra significance for visitors. At these ghats you may see larger crowds and religious ceremonies. Here’s where you may see the busiest ghats.
Varah Ghat is the ghat associated with Varaha Temple. Pilgrims to that temple will often access Pushkar Lake from this ghat and you are likely to see religious ceremonies being conducted at this point on the lake.
Brahma Ghat is located in the spot on Pushkar Lake where Brahma is said to have bathed. As you would imagine, it’s also a very sacred spot. You will find pilgrims soaking in the waters at this spot for sure.
As the name suggests, Gandhi plays a role in the significance of this ghat. It’s the location on Pushkar Lake where Gandhi’s ashes were sprinkled. It was originally called Gau Ghat, but is now known as Gandhi Ghat.
Activities, Tours and Other Things to do in Pushkar
There are a ton of places to visit in Pushkar, but there are also tours and activities that you should consider. Here are some of the experiences I had that enhanced my visit.
Explore the Bazaar
Check out the bazaar in Pushkar. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs or other goods you may need for your travels. Prices tend to be a little lower than other places in India and I grabbed some really great clothes, toiletries and trinkets to bring home.It’s located on the main street, Sadar Bazaar and you’ll definitely find some good deals!
Get a Massage
Almost everywhere in the world I travel, a massage seems cheaper than Copenhagen, but India is a great place for an affordable massage. It’s also the home of many therapeutic techniques like ayurveda. Book a massage in Pushkar so that you can relax, heal your body and experience the spiritual healing associated with massage.
Go on a Camel Safari
Camels have a well-earned place in the heart of visitors to Pushkar. From the annual Camel Fair to a camel safari – the animal plays a cool role in Pushkar. Learn how cool camels are on a camel safari into the surrounding desert. The camel safari that my tour group took ended with a fire-side dinner an amazing sunset and entertainment from locals. We got to enjoy dancing and a magic show over a delicious meal. These safaris can be booked from most hotels and in the city center at stands along Sadar Bazaar.
The Pushkar Fair or Pushkar Camel Fair
In October/November each year, the city of Pushkar swells with people. The reason is a local event that’s known the world over. It’s the Pushkar Fair or Pushkar Camel Fair, an enormous celebration during the full moon of the Hindu calendar’s eight lunar month.
This period is called Kartik Purnima and it’s when about 200,000 people and 50,000 camels, horses and cattle swarm Pushkar. The event has a Carnival-like atmosphere with mystics, snake-charmers, musicians and tourists filling the streets. It coincides with a large Hindu pilgrimage to Pushkar Lake for cleansing ceremonies. Therefore you have a lot of people in Pushkar for religious and commercial reasons and the atmosphere is exciting for anyone who visits during the Pushkar Camel Fair.
Where to Stay in Pushkar
Pushkar is so popular with backpackers, that it tends to cater to budget lodging. There are a number of mid-range options as well, but shop around. Know that in India a three-star hotel may not be the same standards for travelers from other regions of the world. During the time of The Camel Fair, you will also need to book far in advance. Expect price increases during that time as well.
Small Group Tours that Include Pushkar
Like I mentioned, I visited Pushkar with an awesome tour through G Adventures. I spent about a month exploring India from North to South and spent a few nights on my own in Varanasi. Below is a link to G Adventures India and their catalogue of awesome small group tours.