Everywhere I turn, I hear music.In temple bells in the narrow lane near Varaha Ghat, where I see my friend turn away from the marigolds at the flower stall by a shrine to soak up the lush perfume of the roses and jasmine. Or at night returning from a late dinner. Strains of trance music are heard over the thunder of the bikes in the medieval bazaar or in the rhythms of the chanting priests by the Brahma Temple by the ghats at the newly launched The Sacred, a yoga, music and meditation festival, where nagara player Nathu Lal Solanki mesmerised us with his métier at Raj Bohra Ghat.
And I hear dance. I never really got the hang of the quick step but I could dance with abandon with my friends and the priests in the temple forecourt under a spreading peepal tree. A whirling mass of sheer joi de vivre in a sacred space.
I rediscovered math, which I hated in school. I re-learned multiplication when gobbling malpua at Sarweshwar Sweets in Halwai Gali near Gau Ghat. I had a rethink on addition as we watched the guinea pig at the resort sort out her babies from the others in the cage. I rediscovered subtraction while bargaining for a mirrorwork notebook at the craftshop. I re-learned division while sharing the prasad with my fellow companions at the Krishna shrine.
I rediscovered the equation of death with life. Varanasi, whose business is death, intimidates me. It’s too in-your-face. At Pushkar, you embrace the equation with joyful wonderment as you watch a man go through the time-worn pind daan rituals in the lake, while along the ghats a monkey runs off with a poori from a luckless kid.
It is at Pushkar that I rejigged my concept of time when unspooling the legends of the gods and goddesses who walked this sacred terrain, playing out emotions we mere mortals are all too familiar with. Brahma fuming at the tardiness of his spouse Savitri for delaying his great yagna, an enraged Savitri leaving him when he finds another woman to take her place at the auspicious moment, Lord Shiva mad at him for not being invited
This is my Pushkar, and mela or not, small and medieval as it is, it will sweep you off your feet, as it celebrates the riddle of life in countless ways, all year round. The everyday world of Pushkar did more than ‘inspire and encourage well-being, tranquillity and self-discovery through music, yoga, and meditation’. I found a fresh take on everything which has become routine.
Our highly erudite guide, Pandit Ravikant Sharma, knows how to deliver the goods on his beloved Pushkar. Ravi also runs Roots of Pushkar Records, which promotes Rajasthani folk music, art and culture. Through his eyes we spied another world, beyond the layers of the mela mania. We experienced it all, from the ghats and temples and the havelis, to the music and yoga schools, from the craft shops which offered lessons in painting, to the wonder of exploring the local villages on motorbikes or the sand dunes on camels or horseback.
Wandering in his wake through the lake city’s noodle-thin medieval lanes, we clambered up narrow staircases to arrive on terraces with jharokhas which offered new vignettes of the lake with its ghats and the leisurely sprawl of the temples on the hills and the sprawl of the township around its sacred waters. In ancient courtyards and lake-facing terraces, we saw yoga lessons in progress. In the shaded flanks of an ancient temple, we found a clutch of sadhus deep in ‘spiritual’ debate. From temple to temple, we took our leisurely way discovering many aspects of both northern and southern nuances in their architecture.
Music To The Ears
This is the land of Saraswati, patron goddess of the arts and music. This is the sacred land where the Gayatri Mantra was first recited, the Aditya Hridya Stotram was written. The newly launched The Sacred certainly refreshed Pushkar’s ancient associations with Hindustani classical music and dance. So delightful were some of the renditions that it was not difficult to get inspired to enroll for music lessons—vocal or instrumental. I overheard some foreigners talking of staying on in the town to take a short course at the Pushkar Music School. Other good options are the Krishna School of Music and Saraswati Dance and Music School.
Marigolds And Marijuana
Near the Rangji Temple ghats, I come upon a bunch of backpackers dozing on the steps with their musical instruments nearby, after an all-nighter. You can chill out with the backpacking crowd that stays on to enjoy the gay abandon of Pushkar’s Holi celebrations when they are not jamming by the lake or listening entranced to bhajans or trance music.
The most vivid celebrations of the festival of colours take place at Varaha Ghat near the Rangji Temple. Artists travel from afar to give performances of the traditional Ras Leela—Braj-style. Everyone—even the Radha and Krishna avatars in their finery and the chillum-smoking sadhus—jumps into the fray, dancing and playing with marigold petals and other vegetal powders, fortified, of course, by lashings of bhang lassi, for which Pushkar is famous. The jamboree doesn’t stop— Shivratri is celebrated a la-Benaras of old at the Atamataheshwar Temple, with prayers and fasting and ritual dips in the lake. This is central to so many festivals here, be it Ganesh Chaturthi or Janmashtami, when artists play out the teenage days of the naughty Krishna and the tricks he would play on the gopis with all his friends.
Devotion And The Divine
Pind daan, performed to propitiate one’s ancestors, is a time-worn ritual, even if the lake dries up and becomes a mere shadow of itself during a drought. This is the power of belief which pervades the aura of devotion and divinity here. Pigeons coo on in the shade of an ancient peepal tree where a sadhu is lost in deep meditation, mindless of the scurrying crowds heading down to the lake.
In the violet evening, as the sun slips into the lake, Varaha Ghat comes alive with the flickering of lamps during the scenic aarti accompanied by the chanting of the priests and mesmerised devotees.
Sign up For Yoga And Meditation
Brahma set the trend here with his great yagna, even if he had to take a new wife to begin it at the auspicious time. My humble meditation and yoga session got a whole new flavour as I watched the sunrise from my bedroom window. An excellent place to start, if you haven’t already, is to join classes at the Pushkar Yoga Garden or Pushkar Meditation Temple—also a big hit with foreigners who visit Pushkar, regardless of what time of year it is.
Roses All The Way
Pushkar is inextricably linked to its floral heritage on a spiritual platform, but not just the divine lotus. The glorious spill of the roses in a carpet of fields, just as we traverse the main bridge to explore another aspect of this lakeside retreat, brings us in direct contact to its ties with the temporal world. Pushkar sends its beautiful roses to the dargah of Ajmer across the Nag Pahar, and even exports them to the Middle East.
International Culinary Culture
The lines are blurring very fast in the bazaars of Pushkar where we plunge into a round of culinary delights. Taking the slow-paced road to pleasures, it’s not difficult to soak up the nuances of a life measured out in coffee spoons in bistros and cafés with tantalising food experiences. Over dinner in the colourfully embellished three-storeyed Out Of The Blue café with its wall art and blue lamps, we enjoy stunning views of the lake bathed in the evanescent hues of a sailing moon over starry skies.
Pump Up The Adrenalin
Shops in the market hire out both bikes and motorcycles. Trekking buffs can go on the one-and-a-half-hour hike up to Savitri Devi Temple atop Ratnagiri Hill for sublime sunset views over the lake. Post the monsoon, the skies are fabulous canvasses of delight.
The adventure buffs amongst us went off on their own to explore villages nearby. I’m supposed to join friends on a camel ride to the dunes on cooler days, in September. A friend had talked about the fabulous horse safari he had taken some foreign friends on after the monsoon. If you enjoy horse riding, you will have the privilege of riding Kathiawar and Marwari mounts bred here. A good place to go is Shannu’s Riding School.
Cocooned by the Aravali Hills on three sides and sand dunes, the holy town of Pushkar is located on the outskirts of the Thar Desert. It is separated by the Nag Pahar from Ajmer (10km/30 mins), the main railhead.
By Air: Jaipur’s Sanganer Airport is 146km away and is connected to Delhi and other major cities.
By Rail: Ajmer Railway Station is connected to Delhi by the Ajmer Shatabdi and Pink City Express.
By Road: Taxis and car rentals are available outside the station for drives to Pushkar, less than an hour away.
Pandit Ravikant Sharma of Roots of Pushkar Records (https://www.facebook.com/RootsOfPushkarRecords/) organises heritage tours.
Where To Stay
Pushkar now has a range of heritage hotels and guesthouses on offer. Ananta Spa & Resort, at Leela Sevri Village, 4km from Pushkar, is an excellent choice if you enjoy luxury. The villa rooms offer private balconies with garden views and open air bathrooms. There’s an outdoor pool and health club at the spa which offers a range of treatments and also arranges yoga and meditation (https://www.anantahotels.com/ananta-spa-resorts-pushkar/). Bhanwar Singh Palace, located in nearby Hokra village, is a spanking new offering with 61 rooms with private terraces, a swimming pool and spa services (www.bhanwarsinghpalace.com).