Pushkar is a special place, one that will remain long in blissful memory. After an anxiety-inducing bus ride from Jaipur – featuring no less than three near-death experiences – I arrive at the lake where Brahma, it is said, once dropped a lotus leaf. I will be staying at the Bharatpur Palace, a whitewashed guesthouse that would not look out of place in the Cyclades, and yet, instead of towering over a beach of glistening Germans, my room watches over ghats of glistening pilgrims. They have come to bathe in holy waters.
Pushkar is a hybrid place, the lake one of India’s key holy sites, yet also a key tourist stop in Rajasthan. The encircling town remains small, and so those worlds – secular and sacred – are balanced in rare harmony. It is, therefore, the perfect place to rest and to recharge after a long journey overland from West Bengal. Presiding over the Palace is Meena, and she runs her guesthouse with a matronly benevolence and strict all-seeing eye.
I love people – I really do – and yet travel alone much of the time. It’s my preferred therapy, all the better to let out the old, and in the new. But sometimes on the road one falls into company so very lovely, so very good, that it is near impossible to say goodbye. And so it was that in Pushkar I met Jim, Fiona, Emilie and Jo, with whom I spent the rest of the week, first in Pushkar, then in Bundi.
Jim and Jo were in India on business (in Jo’s case, jewelry, in Jim’s, tents). Fiona is an artist from London, partly funding her journey with the proceeds of “Jez We Can” bags sold online, and Emily was a wandering soul from Montreal, who had been on the road for years. In so many ways we were all such different people, and yet all connected on that sun-haloed guesthouse roof, even to a point where all participated in our own ritual by the lake, unlocking Jim’s dreads for the first time in a quarter of a century. Until that moment, I had never been so intimate with another grown man’s hair.
I recommend it.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its favoured status with travellers, Pushkar maintains strict discipline over its sacred spaces. One is not permitted to take photos on the ghats. Indeed, as one Italian found out when chased by a naked sadhu with a sword, one really is not permitted to take photos on the ghats! Fortunately for me, the guesthouse’s privileged place, overlooking the holy lake, meant that I might wake each day to witness the old ablution. And hear it too. The sound of bells and chanting rose daily from the temple only feet from my sleeping quarters.
Together we all take sunset walks to hilltop temples (replete with evil monkeys), or stroll around the lake.
We eat, we read, we chat, we sleep.
Pushkar is one of those places.