Pushkar: Beyond the camel

Pushkar: Beyond the camel


Pushkar: Beyond the camel

Pushkar, with its burst of colour, unfettered facets of holiness, and a heady mix of India and the west, unravelled itself in quite an intimate manner when I impulsively accompanied a Dutch designer friend some two years ago.

It really took me this trip to realise that there is more to the small town in Rajasthan than its famous Camel Fair.

My friend had booked us a room at a cosy resort by the famous Lake Pushkar. I stood a good 20 minutes in front of the lake, thinking as to what was so special about it. I had seen much bigger lakes in other parts of India! That was when a sadhu, meditating on a chillum nearby, declared to the skies, “Isn’t it a beauty for something like this to exist right in the middle of a desert?”

Sadhus with chillums are spotted all over the place in happy, holy delirium. Pushkar maintains a tolerance for chillums amidst strict vegetarianism and teetotalism. A sadhu in one of the temples by the lake told me, “Brahma is the creator of this lake. Even the Ramayana and the Mahabharata refer to it as the most sacred water body.” And then, pointing towards the ghats (there are some 52 of them), he said that each of these ghats is for people from a specific caste or village.

In the midst of this holy surrounding, where devotees (including foreigners) go about barefoot, thrives the marketplace. It is full of colourful clothes that would delight the hippie within one’s self, silver jewellry, massage parlours and tailors. “I have been coming to Pushkar for many years now,” says my Dutch friend, “And there are some faces that I see every time I am here.

Some of these foreigners are designers like me. We select the fabric, give tailors here the designs and measurements, and then ship the products to the markets in our countries.” The fabric that is often used for their clothes is from old sarees that shopkeepers and tailors stock up.

And as designer clothes for foreign markets get stitched in these parts of the country, tales get woven too. My Dutch friend shared an interesting story about her tailor, Kalu. Apparently in his mid-20s, married with two or three children, he is desperately in love with my friend.

Such is the story of several other European designers and their Indian tailors. “At Pushkar, you will feel that Indian men are the most romantic and sensitive,” my friend said, and then added humorously, “Until, of course, you hear about their wives and children and how they got married in their childhood and are now under an obligation to maintain these relationships!”

These inter-continental love stories are like an intrinsic part of Pushkar’s being. I met Umesh — a young, lanky fellow — at Inn Seventh Heaven, a beautiful 100-year-old haveli that has been transformed into a hotel. My Dutch friend had, like many of her acquaintances in Pushkar, befriended him at some point in time.

Umesh was hosting dinner for us at the Inn and celebrating the fact that his French girlfriend had just given birth to their love child. She had sent him a return air ticket to Paris so that he could be with her and the child for six months.

The next morning, while my friend was busy at work, I went with Umesh for his ‘holy walk’, a seemingly regular ritual for everybody in Pushkar. A torturous, barefoot round of Lake Pushkar in the sun was followed by a trip to what Umesh, like every other soul in the town, claimed, “the only Brahma Temple in the world.”

A priest at the temple informed, “The temple is 2,000 years old, but the current structure was built in the 14th century. Brahma wanted to perform a yajna at the Pushkar lake and when his wife Saraswati could not make it in time, he married Gayatri — a Gujar’s daughter — and completed the yajna.

Saraswati was enraged at this and cursed that the only place Brahma would ever be worshipped is Pushkar.” “This temple,” he added, “has always had priests from the Gujar community.”

That evening, before boarding the bus back to Delhi, I sat at the porch of our resort overlooking the lake as a group of starry-eyed young men, with red roses in their hands, rushed towards a taxi, from which emerged two European women.

In a corner of the porch, an American with matted hair was singing some soulful Hindi film songs. Relishing for the last time the great continental food that Pushkar offers, I savoured the surreal world in front of me — a world that was in India, but at the same time, far away from it.

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