Pushkar is the rose garden of the desert state, which is now also a fabulous meeting place of hippies. Engulfed by the Aravalli hills, with a holy lake in the middle, this small town leads you to spirituality with a spirit of a gipsy lifestyle. However, my travel was to retrieve my lost soul and connect to spirituality, as I bid farewell to my father’s soul on the ghats of Pushkar. During my visit to Pushkar, a famous Hollywood movie Eat, Pray, and Love came to my head, where Elizabeth Gilbert ends her painful marriage and sets off on a vacation trip to reclaim her life. Interestingly, she looks for spirituality in India, and my visit was Pushkar.
Pushkar is a sedate, laid-back and relaxed city giving a feel of Kochi, with religious spirituality of Varanasi. The town is an easy drive of 3hrs from Jaipur, and you can opt for a cab or buses both ply frequently. Since I was travelling from Gurgaon, I called for the Ajmer Shatabdi Express. It leaves at 6.54 am from Gurgaon railway station & arrives at Ajmer at 12.45 pm. From the Ajmer railway station, you can book a cab, or auto or even call for local buses from the bus stand for Pushkar. Pushkar is 11km from Ajmer, so we chose an auto for our travel. The drive was about 40 min at the cost of Rs200. The route was beautiful with Aravali on both sides, & a touch of greenery amidst them.
Upon arriving Pushkar, we checked into our hotel New Park; a heritage haveli now converted into a hotel. Fenced in by mountains, forest & a beautiful rose garden, it cost me Rs 1800 per night. Though an ideal stay in Pushkar starts at a charge of Rs 800 & goes up to Rs 8000 per night, all, you get here from a backpackers stay or luxury tent. I decided to stay for the afternoon after lunch, and in the evening take a walk in the town.
Round 4.30 pm after a cup of tea, I, along with my mom, set out to explore this small laid back town. We started with Savitri temple that looks out on the entire city and the surrounding valley. My Hotel receptionist advised getting a view of the sunset as well as a sunrise from the brow. Savitri temple can be made either by trekking through steep 650 steps or taking the ropeway cabin. The trek is about 30min to an hour depending on the number of breaks you take while climbing the steep steps. Also, need to keep an eye on the monkeys on the way who are very aggressive. To be on the safer end, decided the ropeway cabin, at the price of Rs 100 both ways.
This temple is situated on the hilltop of Ratnagiri hills and dedicated to goddess Savitri, first wife of Lord Braham. It is conceived that the temple was built in 1687 CE. And it was afterwards rebuilt by the Bangar family in the 20th century. Upon arriving at the hilltop, I was amazed by the scenic view of the lake, town & picturesque villages. It was time for evening Aarti, so we entered the synagogue & saw Idols of Savitri as well Gaytri placed; where the idols of Savitri dates back to the 7th century. I saw the evening Aarti & offered my prayers, then sat down to absorb in a calm and peaceful atmosphere.
As per the legend, the synagogue was built when Goddess Savitri cursed Lord Brahma out of anger- that he will be only worshipped in Pushkar and came to the hilltop. Why was he cursed? There is an interesting story behind it. Lord Brahma was to perform a Yagna in Pushkar where his wife Savitri could not get to on time. Hence, to deliver the Pooja without delay, Lord Brahma completed the ritual with the help of a local girl, Gayatri- who then became the second wife of Brahma. Furious Savitri cursed him; hence Aarti is done first in Savitri Temple and later in Brahma Temple. That’s quite an anger! Thus, I paid my tribute to the goddess before visiting Lord Brahma to save myself from any folly. The night was cold in October month, had an early dinner & hit the bed.
Next morning woke up early, threw a quick bath & left for Pushkar Lake. On the ghats of Pushkar, a Sanskrit verse was prominent -” Om Aryama na triptyātam and Tilodakam tasmai Swadha Namah Om Mrityorama Amritam Gamay.”, means paying respect to the fathers as well mothers along with their ancestors and thank Aryama, the god of father’s, who free them from death & take the soul towards Nectar or heaven. Our Hindu mythology has regarded Pushkar as Adi Tiratha, so it’s referred to Tirth-Raj. Hindus highly revered Pushkar since it is considered one of the sacred place.
There are 52 Ghats with a unique history which circles the lake. The scared lake resounds with the chant and hymns from 400 blue coloured temples located on its bank. The famous ghats are Varaha Ghat where all rituals take place, along with the evening Aarti. Aside from this Brahma Ghat, Gau Ghat is also known as Gandhi Ghat, Man Ghat built by Maharaja Man Singh I, of Jaipur, which was later renamed to Jaipur Ghat are other famous ghats. The ghats are assigned to respective Brahmin Pandit, and shoes are not permitted on Ghats.
So we reached the Bhramha ghat and met a young Pandit named Pawan, warm and friendly guy. He led us to the Ghat, where I performed the Tarpan for my father and ancestor so that they attain ‘Mukti’-freedom from the wheel of birth and death. After the Tarpan and holy dip in the lake, I asked the Pandit the importance of this lake, and will my soul be released, so I attain peace since it was an emotional ritual for me. The Pandit recited Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.12.61) states, “One who controls his mind, fasts at the holy places Puskar, Mathura, or Dwaraka, and studies this scripture will be freed from all fear.”
He mentioned this holy place is referred to as Adi Tirtha in Hindu Epics because Lord Brahma created the Pushkar lake. According to the Hindu scripture Padma Purana, a demon named Vajra Nabha died with a lotus flower in retaliation by Lord Brahma, as he was attempting to kill his children and harassing people. And few lotus petals fell at three locations, one of which was the site of Pushkar Lake. Here the flower is called Pushp and Kar means hand – the act of lotus falling from Brahma’s hand caused the townsfolk to be named Pushkar (Push+Kar). The yajna is believed to be performed on Kartik Poornima at this lake. Hence the devotees visit Pushkar for the holy dip in the lake on Kartik Poornima in November(as per Hindu Lunar Calendar). I was also told that the mystical water of lake cures skin disease; I’m not sure if this is true. Only since the element of worship here is water, this place is compared to Haridwar and Prayag.
He led me to sit on the Ghat while he talked about the spiritual references of Pushkar. There is a description of Pushkar in Ramanayan, as Rishi Vishwamitra carried his penance at the lake for a thousand years. But Meneka, an Apsara from heaven, came to get a dip in the holy lake of Pushkar, whose beauty enamoured Vishwamitra, and they decided to dwell together in pursuit of pleasure for ten years. Later, Vishwamitra realized that his main activity of penance was disturbed. He, thus, asked leave of Menaka and went away to the north to continue his meditation. Another reference of Ramayana states Lord Rama did the “Pind Daan” of his ancestors here during his exile in Pushkar. On the other hand, Mahabharata while laying down a program for Maharaja Yudhishthira’s travel, “Maharaja after entering the Jungles of Sind and crossing the small rivers along the way should bathe in Pushkara”.
Damn Interesting! Even in the Vaman Purana as per the Pandit, Prahlada on his pilgrim’s journey to holy places visited Pushkarayana. Besides, its believed Pushkar is the birthplace of sage Parasara, and his successor Parasara Brahmanas can be seen in the city who look after the renowned temple of Jeenmata for the past ten centuries. Not only Indian mythology but even an Islamic scholar Alberuni also depicted Pushkar at the pilgrimage site of the Hindus in the 11th century, along with Fa-Hien of 4th century mentioned Pushkar in his chronicles. In the 12th century, a dam built was across the tributary of the Luni river by Nahadarava, Pratihara Monarch of Mandore. He even renovated Pushkar in the 7th century, by cleaning & beautifying the lake. He then constructed ancient forts, ghats & 12 Dharamshala at the three corners of the lake. I seated on the Ghat, listening to the chants & watching people taking a dip in the holy water or doing the ritual for their ancestors; experienced a connection towards these Vedic chants, & cold, calming water, it did render peace to some extent.
Afterwards, I went to the Jagatpita Brahma temple, one of the remarkably few existing temples dedicated to the Hindu creator-Lord Brahma in India and remained the most prominent among them. It is said that sage Vishwamitra has built the temple after Brahma’s Yagna (ritual), and Lord Brahma chose the location himself. The temple’s architecture dates back to the 14th century; yet, in the 8th century, Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara Charya renovated this temple. In comparison, the current medieval structure dates to King of Ratlam who made additions and repairs, though the original temple design is kept back. It is constructed of marble and rock slabs, with a distinct red pinnacle (shikhara) and a Hansa bird motif. The Idol of four-headed Brahma and his consort Gayatri (goddess of milk) is positioned in the temple sanctum, along with an ancient Shivalinga in its basement. Pushkar is said to hold more than 500 temples, which was destroyed during Aurangzeb’s rule (1658–1707) but were rebuilt subsequently, & the Brahma temple was one of them. After offering our prayers and attending the Aarti, we went towards the Bazaar.
I was hungry after the long & hectic rituals, and it was 9.30 am. Hence our young Pandit suggested us Lakshmi Misthan Bhandar, near Gau ghat famous for its Puri Sabzi and tasty Lassi. Thus, we made our way to the shop and hell what a long queue. I had to wait for a good 10 mins before I was able to place my order. But trust me, the wait was worth, as the taste & quality of food was excellent. At the cost of Rs 60 per person, I had a sumptuous breakfast. The young Pandit even suggested trying Malpua of Pushkar from the Halwai Gali near to Gau Ghat; I left it for the evening desert.
Strolling down the street of Pushkar was fun as no cars or autos on the main roads, apart from the moody cows that roam freely. I witnessed a mix of the old structures, that now adapted to the new construction. It’s hard to lose the vibrancy of the main street which circumambulates the Ghats of Pushkar Lake. The roads here have a life with a distinct buzz around.
Walking through the lanes, we worked our way to Varaha temple. Varaha temple is supposed as one of the eight Swayambhu Kshetra of Vishnu, where the presiding deity is believed to have manifested in its own. It is an ancient temple in Pushkar, with the Idol of Varaha & mother called Pudareegavalli.
Varaha means Boar; it’s an incarnation of God Vishnu listed as third in the Dashavatara, the ten principal avatars of Vishnu. It is linked with the legend of lifting the Earth (personified as the goddess Bhudevi) out of the cosmic ocean. The origin of Varaha is found in the Vedas- which is described initially as a form of Prajapati (equates to Brahma) but developed into the avatar of Vishnu in later Hindu scriptures. Even the Ayodhya Kanda refers to Varaha retaining his connection to Prajapati-Brahma. But in a cosmogonic myth, Brahma appears in the primal universe full of water and takes the shape of a boar lifting the Earth from the waters; creation begins with Brahma and his progeny. On the other hand, Yuddha Kanda praises Rama (Vishnu avatar) as “the single-tusked boar”, which is understood as an allusion to Varaha and links Varaha with Vishnu.
As per legend demon, Hiranyaksha stole the Earth and hid her in the primordial waters. Hence Vishnu appeared as Varaha to rescue her slewing the devil and recast the Earth from the cosmic sea. He lifted her on his tusks and restored Bhudevi to her place in the universe. Thus this associates the presence of Vishnu in place of Brahma worship.
The temple was built in 1130-1150 AD, during the rule of Anaji Chauhan, though the Ghaznavid army demolished it. The Hada Chatrasal of Bundi reconstructed the temple but again ruined during Aurangzeb’s rule. In 1727 the temple was constructed yet by Raja Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur and later renovated in 1806 by Gokul Chand Parikh a Scindia minister. The temple architecture is in a typical Haveli style, with massive pillars, gateway, chhatris and hanging caves. The carvings are intricate with life-size statues of Drawapalaks and gold styled posts depicting Garuda. We sat at the Varaha Ghat for a while & then started with the 7km traditional Parikrama.
Post our Parikrama; we headed for lunch. Pushkar is a place to enjoy the sin of gluttony, as its the melting point of traditional and international cuisine. I am yet to cross a city in Rajasthan which offer a platter as Pushkar. Hence I headed to a falafel wrap shop. Despite being a pure vegetarian, the food has not taken a backseat in Pushkar. After Hampi, Pushkar is another place where I had good wood burn Pizza, and Falafel roll. These wrap sellers are incredibly popular on the Varha ghat. The food in Pushkar is delicious, fresh, authentic, and cheap. But before heading to my next destination, my mom needed a cup of tea, so we opted for the street tea vendor. The tea was made using a lot of ginger and less milk, and it was delicious. You can find this stall near the Main Market Square of Pushkar.
The remnant of the day was drawing closer, and I was at peace. I understood that spirituality is a brave search for the Truth about existence, belief, and let go of emotional rift.
My next destination of spirituality was Gurudwara Sahib, Pushkar Raj. Gurudwara Singh Sahib was previously a lodge; hence I decided to dig into the significance of its presence in Pushkar. Upon entering the Gurudwara, covering my head with a scarf, the first thing that strikes my ear was the Gurmukhi chants -“Ik Oankaar Satnaam Kartaa Purakh Nirbhau Nirbhay Akaal Moorat Agoonee Saibhan Gur Prasaad”. It means One supreme Creator- God, where Truth and eternal is the name, being creative, Without Fear, Without Enmity, Timeless and deathless Form. And not affected by the circle of life and death – unborn, Self-Existent, He can be actualized by the grace of the faithful and eternal Guru who has the power to enlighten us. As per their scriptures, Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh have spent time in Pushkar. It is believed that Guru Gobind Singh spent many months here when he was ousted from Anandpur by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb during the early 18th C. In that respect is a ghat dedicated to Guru Gobind Singh – The Gobind Ghat on Pushkar Lake.
I was back at the Brahma Ghat for evening Aarti and its one of my favourite memory. The Ghat was beckoning with spirituality, the sound of bells, the high flames of Aarti, verses of chants, and rose petals all around. The Aarti song makes your soul travel to a cosmic world, and you feel connected. During the Aarti, I realized our soul usually knows what to do to heal itself; the challenge is to silence the mind. After the Aarti, I sat down on the steps of the Ghat, watching people floating lit lamps on the lake water offering their payers. Bells ringing on all the ghats at the same time, with hymns said in the chorus which reminded me of lines spoken by Stephen Richards- “When you connect to silence within you, that’s when you can make sense of the disturbance going around you”. I understood my prayers for my father and ancestors were accepted.
With a calm and relaxed mind, I walked towards the Bazaar, which was brightly lit, crowded and lively. Many shops lining the street have a variety of things to catch your attention from embroidered clothes, leather bags, handicraft, costume jewellery, and so on. But I suggest you go for rose Itar, Gulkand & some rose fragrant incense. You can bargain, but be respectful. Since its a rose state most of the roses or its products are exported, as its the manufacturing hub. It was almost past 9 pm, time for dinner, and we were exhausted. I opted for a Rajasthani thali -it’s a complete meal, which comes with dal, Rotis, a few vegetables. The veg thali at the Karni Maa restaurant in Pushkar is traditional and best.
I woke up late next morning, after a quick bath & steaming cup of tea I left for Paap Mokshini temple or Gayatri Shaktipeth. We hired an auto to reach the temple via an unpaved trail. The road was bumpy, but on both sides, I could see the cultivation of roses and the veggie of the season- cauliflower. Gayatri Shaktipeth is located on Gayathri hills providing a panoramic sight of the holy town. This temple is devoted to Goddess Sakthi, & is among the 51 Shaktipeths. It is a seat, where Goddess Sati’s two Manivedikas – wrists fell and is known as Manivedika Shaktipeth. And the Idol, installed later in the temple is called Gayatri Devi. There are two idols here, one is of Devi Sati, and another is of Gayatri Mata. Bhairav here is the Sarvananda (the one who gets everyone happy). There are also idols of Ganesh & Kali in the temple premises. This temple is considered as the idealistic place for Gayatri Mantra Sadhana. It is sad to discover that despite situated amidst a significant pilgrimage centre Pushkar, this temple relatively remains unknown. The spirituality and tranquillity of this place will stick you. My mom did her worship with all rituals and offered her prayers.
I had time before I bid farewell to Pushkar; hence made my way to Varaha Ghat as I required to visit the Old Rangji temple. It’s a 19th-century construction, dedicated to Rangji an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The architecture caught my attention, and it’s an amalgamation of multiple styles, where southern Indian architecture being prominent with painted Gopuram. The synagogue is not prominently visible as its located in the bustling market place; thus, landmark would be beside street-side wrap vendors. Some other quite popular activity is a camel ride or safari. Well, I did not opt for any as I owned a delightful experience in Jaisalmer. But you will see many operators offering camel safari in Pushkar.
The new crowd puller of Pushkar in recent years is the Pushkar Camel Fair, which is ideally a cattle fair. It is one of the oldest & famous fairs that primarily is celebrated to glorify the Kartik Purnima festival. But this fair is a place where you can see myriads of colours, tradition, culture, rural life & the dazzling lifestyle of the desert. However, I have not visited the fair yet, sometime soon, will attend it. It was time to say goodbye; I steered towards the Ghat to offer my final prayers. Along the way back from the Ghat, I packed some famous & mouth-watering Malupas of Pushkar from the Sarwadiya Misthan Bhandar.
Travelling back to the Ajmer railway station, I realized that the spiritual journey is private & highly personal. It cannot be organized or regulated; one needs to pursue their inner Truth. Since no one can escape Karma, two events which may at first seem disconnected can be Karmically linked. I understood it while sitting on the Ghats of Pushkar lake. After all, Karma works on a spiritual level, which may manifest itself.
How to reach:
By Air :
Jaipur is the nearest airport to Pushkar, 140 kilometres away. This airport is well connected to major metros. Upon reaching you can hire a cab for Pushkar.
Ajmer railways station is the nearest to Pushkar, its 30min drive from Ajmer. The Ajmer railhead is well connected with major cities of the country. Can hire a Cab, Auto or Buse to reach Pushkar.
Buses from Delhi & Jaipur to Ajmer and further to Pushkar are readily available. The Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation runs deluxe and semi-deluxe buses (both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned) connecting Ajmer to nearby cities and then transport you to Pushkar for a very nominal fare.