Pushkar

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.

Tagged with: , ,