Pushkar is an amazing, picturesque, noisy, dusty city. This city is pushed to its limits when the well known Pushkar Camel Festival is on in which thousands of pilgrims, including Hare Krishnas, from all over the world and many tourists (with their $30,000 cameras and half a meter long lenses), flood to this tiny town to witness the magic of the festival.
|This particular man had a camera on a stick and held it above everyone's head. He had a remote control which he pressed when he wanted to take a photo.|
The city comes to life during this time and there is something for everyone. You can witness cow milking races, horse dancing, moustache competitions (which Daniel was a very tough contender) jalebi races, water pot racing, wrestling, camel races, hot air balloons, laser light shows, musical chair races, camel dancing, Bollywood dancing and much to the excitement of all the locals there was a special appearance from a famous Bollywood star.
|The amazing cheap food at the camel fair|
There were also activities to include tourist such as different sports games where the locals vs. the foreigners. It was very amusing to watch the soccer game with the backpackers running around a dusty field in hippie pants and heavy hiking boots, stumbling over their own feet. Some even braved having bare feet, which they soon regretted as they spent most of their time dancing on the sand trying to save their burning feet. Halfway through the game a small “willy willy” took the stage and went right through the game tangling up some players with it, but the game played on. Even though the tourists put up a strong fight the locals won the game.
In the festival grounds there is also a mini-amusement park. It has little arcade style games and even four huge ferris wheels. But these ferris wheels are not designed to be a nice slow ride to enjoy the view and take nice pictures. Oh no. These ferris wheels are thrill rides in themselves. The travel about 5 times faster than the ones at home (as you can see from the video.) You almost need seat belts in them! Later we overheard a English girl refer to it as the ferris wheel of death, Dan later got dragged onto the deathly ferris wheel after our friend from broome had a few beers and decided, “lets go on the ferris wheel” at 3am. Good time and dan said it was the first time he feared for his life on a ferris wheel, but gotta say, great value.
The city itself is beautiful. The town is situated around an ancient lake where the pilgrims come to bathe. It is a beautiful sight all the colours of the saris, women gossiping in the water, young men helping old men down the steps to the water, blessings for families being conducted by priests on the shore, people just enjoying each other’s company. Whatever your religion is it the perfect place to meditate as people will let you be. Because photography isn’t allowed here it is also a nice change, removing the touristy feel from the place and instead making it purely a spiritual visit.
The night time is also beautiful. Around the lake there are coloured lights that make beautiful reflections on the water.
When you climb the nearby hill and look out onto the town down below you can see how small and packed Pushkar really is.
There is also a great music culture in Pushkar as well. One night we payed only 100rp ($2AUD) each for a beautiful intimate performance with two local guys and two foreigners. A mix of western and Indian music combined. They played in a little music room lit with little tealights with only 15 of us in the audience. The band consisted of an indian bongo drum player, an indian accordion pianist, an amazing French guitarist and a lute player. The music they had written was beautiful building up to epic crescendos and lulling down to lovely lullabies. It was a great experience and also nice to know that people, even foreigners, can find a place to play music as they travel.
Pushkar can be summed up in one word- overwhelming. Overwhelming talent, diversity, colour and crowds. The crowds here are amazing and are very similar to a music festival back home- in the mosh pit. Unless you push your way to the front of the crowd at the festival you wont see much of the entertainment unless you hire a camel for an hour and just sit on it nearby, even though it costs 200rp ($4AUD) for an hour it gives you the perfect view. There’s not much space to breathe and even when you get back to your room the noise pollution is overwhelming. The horn is used very differently back home. It is used sparingly and when one goes off it is a shock and alerts everyone like it should. Here the horn is there so it can be used, at anytime, or mostly all the time. It isn’t uncommon for a motorbike to try and squeeze its way down the crowded street knocking people out of the way with their hand planted on the horn not letting go the whole way down the street.
|The crowded streets in Pushkar|
As a tourist even though you are welcomed with open arms, I still felt like I was intruding a little during their religious festivities. Maybe it was some of the deliberate elbows to the ribs as the locals pushed past, or the ignorance of the other tourists with their flashy cameras treating people as thought they were animals at a zoo. Taking pictures merely centimetres from the local’s faces and then refusing to pay the person for taking their picture (which it is generally not just polite, but necessary to give something as little as 10 or 20rp).
|The ladies posing for the photo|
Now I’m not trying to scare anyone away from ever visiting Pushkar, it is a magical place but with the festival it also brings a lot of poverty-stricken people who try and get money where they can. Beautifully dressed women will come up and shake your hand, asking you where you are from and then start to put heena on your hand, whilst still holding it tightly. I saw some very confused women pay 500rp ($10AUD) for the henna when it should cost less than 100rp ($2AUD). We even came across a very entrepreneurial little toddler who we aren’t too sure where he learnt his tactics from.
The little rascal would latch onto the nearest tourists (including Daniel) and shout “money, money, money, money” in the complete nude not letting you go until he got some. When you eventually pried his little hands off your body, he would latch straight back on, until he was jumping up and down to reach you arms which we learnt to put them firmly on our heads! Very industrious I must say, learning early at the age of 3.
Due to the huge influx of people coming all at the one time the town’s prices overall sky-rocket. Accommodation rises from around 200rp ($4AUD) for a double room to 800rp ($16AUD). Renting a scooter rises from 200rp ($4AUD) to 500rp ($10AUD) per day. Even the market stalls up the cost of their goods and they are less inclined to let you barter down the price, as they know there are literally thousands of other tourists that would be happy to pay the jacked up prices they offer. The markets, however, are some of the best we have been to with all things touristy from souvenirs to silk skirts to swords, jewellery, antiques to Bollywood movies to fresh fruit and veg and abundant street food…YUM!
You can always find cheap food at little street cafes where you sit on little plastic child-sized stools, get your meal as quick as you order it and are ushered away as soon as you finish. Even though its not a nice leisurely sit-down and eat experience it is as cheap as 50rp ($1AUD) for a deluxe burger with hash brown, salad, eggplant and hommus. Dan became quite the regular there!
It really is true what someone once said about India that “your thoughts can very easily materialize.” If you have a negative attitude people can sense it very easily and will treat you as such, yet if you walk down the street with a spring in your step and a smile across your face you can attract positive people and experiences. Indian people have a real skill in reading body language and can sense your mood very easily. Both sides happened to us on our last day of Pushkar.
After a misunderstanding at the post office, our negative feelings lead for us to be almost ripped off a couple more times at various other shops. And things got worse when Hannah’s calico bag even got slashed with a really sharp knife so the pickpockets could collect any of the contents when it fell out onto the busy street. We didn’t realize until a while after it happened when a kind Indian pointed it out to us. Fortunately, even though we had just visited the ATM, the bag had about 10,000rp ($200AUD) floating loose around the bottom of bag, as well as a camera and bank cards, luckily nothing fell out and the efforts of the bag-slasher were wasted, thank god! (And yes note to self: don’t carry round contents like that around with you, keep it locked up!) Once we calmed down over a cup of chai our attitude changed and so did our fate for the night.
At our hotel we met a couple of lovely Indian men, one who worked in the Supreme Court and another successful property developer. They approached us as they toke particular interest to Dan’s height and body build saying that he would make a perfect Indian police officer (future career maybe?). We were then invited upstairs to enjoy very expensive whisky with them. We were treated as if we were family. They were the most hospitable people we had ever met and after a few minutes of meeting them we were invited to stay at their home in Delhi free of charge for as long as we like, where they would show us the sights that only the locals know; a priceless experience! They said Hannah felt like a granddaughter to them and insisted that as soon as our wedding date is set we give them a call so they can come to Perth for the wedding. We made sure they weren’t holding their breath for our call!