Pushkar Day 2 – The Expedition Continues

We plucked up courage to slide out of our beds, and set off at 6.30 am looking for some piping hot chai (tea), before our trek to Savitri Mata temple, and spent the next few minutes, soaking in the soft winter vibe before the sunrise. We walked down a few kilometers, to take the ropeway (cable car) to reach the temple.

View of Savitri Mata Temple from the road

Savitri Mata temple is located on the top of Ratnagiri Hill, behind the Brahma Temple. The temple has 2 idols. One of Savitri Mata and the other of Goddess Saraswati, her daughter (I was told). We offered our prayers at the temple, and spent some time in the vicinity, enjoying the picturesque view of Pushkar. Since the temple is at an elevation of 750 feet, it offers a mesmerizing view of the ancient city, Pushkar lake, and its surrounding villages.

On our way back, we hopped on to a Tuk Tuk for Rs. 40/- to drop us around the Brahma Temple road. We were hungry as a hippo by now, and walked towards the Choti Basti to begin our food indulgence. Spoiled for choice, we eventually settled for a combination of savory and sweet starting with Pizza Pakwan to Curry Pakodi and the Rabdi Malpua. Pushkar is indeed a food connoisseur delight.

The distinguished flavors of Rajasthani cuisine comes from a culture that has churned the best from its neighboring states of Sindh, Gujrat, Haryana and Punjab and so, you may find lots of Rajasthani delicacies influenced by the cuisines of these states.

This day also offered me a glimpse of simpler life, as I spent time getting lost in the alleys and the lanes, admiring the art wall murals, interacting with the locals and discovering the magic of this tranquil town.

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Wandering in the lanes of this city

Walking through these lanes, I landed up in a residential courtyard with several women clad in colorful sarees, celebrating the pre-wedding festivities of an impending wedding. I spent some time chatting up with the ladies, and the groom who had his hands colored with Mehendi(a traditional Indian practice applied in beautiful intricate designs, similar to a temporary tattoo).

Well I also received an invite for an evening function, but I had a lot to cover on my agenda and couldn’t make it there ☹

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It was past noon by now, and most temples in Pushkar are shut between 1.00 pm to 4.00 pm and so, we started our temple hopping tour visiting the Gurudwara Singh Sabha. The magnificent complex of the gurudwara, made up of white marble, had an air of divinity surrounding it. Walking through the gurudwara premises, the calm and serene energy of the place grounded us and made us feel at peace. We paid our homage, received the customary blessings in the form of khara-prasad from a sevadar (voluntary helpers), who also led us to the langar (free kitchen) hall, where we had a humble yet delicious meal, that also doubled up as our lunch for the day.

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The humble langar meal

We spent the next few hours admiring the Rangji temples, adobe of Lord Vishnu. A rather rare appearance, the New Rangji and the Old Rangji temple display a unique confluence of Tamil, Rajput and Mughal style of architecture.

Offering our prayers to the deities, we made our way to visit the Varaha temple, after. This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu’s third incarnation i.e Varaha or boar. It is a very old temple and must have been a big and important temple in ancient age. It seems to have lost its importance and popularity since we were the only folks hanging around in the premises. Since it was a part of my to-do, we went searching for it.

It was time for some quick snack and refreshments before starting for the evening aarti at the Brahma Ghat this day. Aarti around the Pushkar lake takes place at Varaha, Gau and Brahma Ghat (at the Savitri Ghat that is next to the Brahma Ghat).

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Walking down the vivid ghats soaking in the sound of temple bells and hymns alongside the ghats, greeted by Pandas (Priest) clad in dhoti’s and tikka on their forehead, witnessing the aarti, watching the evening filled with the gold of setting sun and the lake looking gorgeous with numerous floating diyas was blissful.

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We proceeded to visit the Brahma Temple from here. The last and the most important of our temple hopping expedition. The temple is built on a high plinth, so we had to climb a flight of marble stairs to enter the temple. This entrance opened into a huge outdoor hall, built up of blue-colored pillars. As we walked through this hall, towards the sanctum, we were in awe of the ancient architecture and the surreal vibe of the place. The sanctum housed the image of four headed Brahma, along with his consort, Gayatri. Although crowded, the temple complex had an aura of peace, as devotees from several parts of the world offered their prayers and basked in the tranquility of the place. We paid obeisance to Lord Brahma and it was time to do our favorite thing, Shopping and make use of our “Art of Haggling”

We shopped for everything we could lay our hands on, from apparels to rose products, leather goods, handicrafts, silver jewelry, shawls and returned to our hotel with a sense of accomplishment.

Our late evening craving for chai after relishing on some yummy Italian food at the hotel’s roof top restaurant led us to a chai wala at the Main Square. To our surprise, the stall was packed with tourist, some holding chai and some holding a chillum. With the beats of loud music from nearby cafes we wondered if we are sitting under an open sky or a disco.

The chai scene brought me back to a brief interaction I had with a guest in our hotel who asked me out for a beer the previous night. That’s when It was revealed to me that it was “Party Time” in Pushkar.

Although the town shuts by 11.00 p.m, as the sun sets, the city transforms into a Party place with numerous tourists flocking to the hostels and cafes that are open until late in the night. Several of these hostels and cafes have live music or karaoke to keep the night alive, along with some lip-smacking food, where people can spend the night smoking and enjoying themselves in the company of fellow trippers.

Well, for us poor souls, it was time to hit the sack and take an early morning ride to Osian with a promise to this magnificent city that we shall return. Very Soon!

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C you Soon

Pushkar Day 1 – Immersing in the Serene Chaos

The City of Pushkar

Famous for its temples and Pushkar Lake, the town surrounded by the Aravali hills is one of the five holy cities mentioned in Hindu scriptures. The town is replete with 52 Ghats surrounding the Pushkar lake and over 400 temples, the most prominent one being the Brahma Temple. Pushkar is also known to come alive during its Annual Camel & Livestock Fair, locally called as Kartik Mela or Pushkar ka Mela. The fair is organized around October or November, depending upon the occasion of Kartik Purnima (Hindu Lunar Month of Kartik or Full Moon Day).

Arriving in Pushkar

A breezy 40-minute auto ride from the Ajmer Dargah to Pushkar cost us Rs. 200/- and here we were stepping into our hotel at around 1.00 pm.

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Inn Seventh Heaven, the property, is an old heritage haveli converted in to a hotel and, this adds the old-world charm to this rather comfortable hotel. The heavy wooden doors opened into a beautiful courtyard with a marble fountain in the center, sprinkled with rose petals. Adding to the charm were the green vines, hanging across the length of the hotel, adorning the walls.

The stairs leading to our room were decorated with marble bowls filled with rose petals at the corners. As we entered our room, we were enchanted with the beautiful décor furnished with Turkish lamps complementing the pristine white walls, a traditional wooden bench at the corner enhanced with colorful cushions, a huge poster style bed and windows capturing the view of the streets and the Gayatri temple. We stayed in this hotel for 2 nights and occupied a different room each night.

I was keen at holding the fort in the central part of Pushkar to have easy, in fact anytime access to the main attractions, temples, markets and the culinary joints. I picked Inn Seventh Heaven for its ideal location and also because of the outstanding reviews the hotel had managed to gather on trip advisor.

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Holding the Fort 😀 (Naahh :p) Ramesh Avar, A local from the Gujar Basti of Ajmer

And begins the Exploration

We dropped our bags off and got dressed for a quick photo shoot of the ambience and ourselves of course and then head out to immerse in the serene chaos of this eclectic town.

As we venture out to explore this heritage city, the feeling of finally making it here filled my heart with joy. Walking around women wearing ghagras (long skirt) and kanchlis (blouse) and men in Dhotis (bottoms), engaged in their daily chores was a refreshing sight indeed.

A few meters from our hotel, a brief halt at Mahalaxmi Kangan Store got me conversing with the store’s owner, Dhruv Narayan Mangadi. Dressed in a shirt and dhoti, he was pleasant and friendly, reflecting the true Rajasthani culture of hospitality. We exchanged dialogues about the ghats (steps surrounding the lake) that host the evening aarti, the best spots to get a panoramic view of the Pushkar lake and also the best retailers in town selling rose products.

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Dhruv – The generous man (in the middle)

For the uninitiated, Pushkar is known for its Roses. Pushkar annually grows more roses than any other part of India, nearly 698 hectares of land is dedicated to Rose Cultivation in the town. These Roses then find their way into temples, dargahs, perfume and oil laboratories, food laboratories etc.

Interacting with locals has been of my interest while travelling. Nothing enables you to literally live the city more knowing the pulse of the people who make it! And maybe that is why someone once said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. It’s best to follow the leads of those who know the ropes.

Walking down the lane, i see a familiar face right across the street.

Me: Hey, are you the You Tube Vlogger, Mr. Ravi Uuumm…

He: Oh yes, Ravi Sharma, pointing his finger to a huge hoarding with his face on it, advertising his You Tube Channel.

Me (muttering to myself): Thank god he din’t take offence in me forgetting his name, LOL!

Me: So glad to bump into you right here, I have been following your You tube channel while planning my itinerary to Pushkar.

He: Pleased to know that. I am also going to do Jodhpur soon.

Me: Ahh nice, I shall continue to follow your channel for more updates on your travels.

He: Do attend the Aarti at Varaha Ghat. I will be there too. Smiles.

Some more chitter – chatter, here and there, we bid Ta-Ta (bye bye) to each other and I proceed to walk further into the market.

It was 4.00 pm by now and we were feeling peckish and wanted to nibble on something along with a cup of piping hot chai (tea). We stopped by at a Laffa & Falafel Outlet, also a part of my bucket list of places to eat in Pushkar. We ordered for Pizza Rolls and Chai and stayed there for a while talking to the folks at the outlet and watching the tourists and locals twinning around.

The spiritual town of Rajasthan hosts thousands of tourists every day. Yeah, nothing different from any other touristy town in India, I know!

However, few know about the presence of Israeli culture in its everyday life. At any given time, you will find around several Israelis in Pushkar, either for the purpose of recreation, or for rejuvenation after their harsh military training. Pushkar even has a Chabad house on the main road (A place of worship/offering prayers for Jews), local shopkeepers (and others too) speak Hebrew and greet people with a “Shallom”, several name plates and commercial posters are mentioned/translated in Hebrew too! Goes without saying, Lebanese cuisine is big in the town, with several outlets dedicated to it.

We continued wandering around, and I found myself scouting for some funky and traditional pieces of jewelry and there I was at this popular jewelry shop, also a part of my bucket list, right at the end of the market, displaying a huge variety of authentic Rajasthani tribal jewelry, new age fusion jewelry, beaded necklaces and gemstones. By the time we finished admiring the array of offerings it was time for the sunset aarti.

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The Main Market

Another specialty of Pushkar is its silver jewelry. Pushkar is home to some of the finest silver jewelry makers in the country, known for their intricate designs, quality and craftsmanship.

Just a little before time, at the Varaha Ghat for the evening aarti, we made our way to take a seat on the steps closer to the lake. The idyllic scene of the lake capturing the molten-gold crown on top of the mountains was spellbinding. As the chants from various temples surrounding the lake filled the atmosphere, it felt as if being transported into another realm of divinity. Our senses further enhanced by the fragrance oozing out of the incense sticks and roses. A surreal experience, to say the least. We participated in the aarti, paid homage to our forefathers and also got to cascade some rose petals distributed by the priest into the lake.

The priest who led the evening aarti at Varaha Ghat was none other than Ravi Sharma ji, also the priest of the temple located at the Varaha Ghat. Multiple facets of one man. A priest aka Vlogger. Interesting, isn’t it?

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Ravi Sharmaji

We spent the rest of our leisure evening walking through the narrow lanes of the main market packed with several cafes serving Indian, Chinese, Continental, Lebanese on their menu, the shops selling everything from traditional Rajasthani outfits to bohemian clothing, handicrafts, leather goods, rose products, home décor and more. Adding to this already overwhelming experience were the music shops playing traditional bhajans to the fusions like the “Jai Jai Shiv Shambho” that had us grooving. The vibrancy of this beautiful town of Rajasthan comes alive as you walk across the lanes at dusk strolling through illuminated outlets in this lake city.

We closed our day with a lip smacking traditional Indian meal at a local Paratha (bread) joint and got back to our hotel to spend some time chatting on the swinging benches, whilst experiencing the relaxing vibes of the property.

Ajmer Dargah – A Fortuitous Visit

Stepping out of the Jaipur airport, under the soft winter sun, was a surreal feeling. I was now embarking on the holiday that I had been planning for weeks. From the airport, we (my friend Sakina and I) took a cab to Ajmer Sharif Dargah (Also known as Dargah Sharif). Although it was not a part of my plan, but as the saying goes, ‘what is meant to be, always finds a way’. Maybe, this was my calling. There are so many people, with sufficient resources and time, who wish to visit the Dargah but are unable to do so for one reason or the other. However, in my first attempt to visit the shrine, I had the good fortune to make it there.

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The Main Sanctum

Dargah Sharif is the shrine of a Sufi Saint, Moinuddin Chishti. It consists of several white marble buildings, two courtyards, a massive gate and the Akbari Mosque, which contains the tomb of the saint.

Our cab driver dropped us at a spot that was about a kilometers walk through the market to the Nizam gate, the first gate of the Dargah, other two being the Shah Jahan Gate and the Buland Darwaza.

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Nizam Gate, the first gate to enter the Dargah

The walk through the market was quite overwhelming for us. It’s one of the most vibrant and lively markets of Ajmer. The entire route houses many hotels and lodges, several shops selling clothing such as bandhini sarees and suits, Jaipuri mojaris, incense sticks, crockery, chaddar (blanket) and flowers for the Dargah. As we walked further, we realized that this place is actually a foodie’s paradise. Right from succulent kebabs to lip smacking biryanis; from yummy curries to jalebis and kachoris; the assortment of food available on the streets is easily any food lover’s delight. Add to it, the rich aroma of these delicacies being cooked engulfing the air. Bliss.

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Market around the Dargah

Just before we entered the Dargah premises, I first enquired about lockers to keep my backpack. The attendant there was helpful and informed that it would cost Rs. 20/- to keep the backpack in locker for 24 hours. While the tariff to rent the locker was pretty affordable, the route to the locker wasn’t that smooth.

The locker room was in the basement of the premises and the stairs leading to the cloak room were creepy, to say the least. Since I had little choice or say in this matter, we went ahead, locked our bags, took the bill and proceeded to the Dargah.

Ajmer Sharif is one of the Dargahs where women are granted access in the inner sanctum.All men and women are required to cover their heads and wear full sleeves clothing while visiting the Dargah. Dargah Sharif being a place of religious significance, no footwear are allowed inside.

We removed our shoes, kept them in the shoe rack and proceeded to the Dargah. Dargah premises has a lot of Khadims (helpers) who voluntarily act as your guide and take you around. The area between Nizam gate and Buland Darwaza is home to several shops that sell offerings for the Dargah, local handicrafts, ittars (perfumes) etc. The Khadim took us to one of the shops to buy offerings for the Dargah. I purchased flowers, and my friend bought a Chaddar along with flowers. These offerings came with a few incense sticks and mannat dhaga (a sacred thread that can be tied inside the Dargah premises to make a wish).

After buying the offerings, we, along with the Khadim, entered the Dargah through Buland Darwaza. On either side of the Darwaza there were Degis (Iron cauldron), one big and one small, where pilgrims donate dry fruits, rice, butter, sugar etc., which is then cooked together and distributed as blessings.

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Badi Degi

As we proceeded towards the main sanctum, we also witnessed a group of musicians reciting Qawallis. Qawalli is a form of inspirational Sufi Islamic devotional messages delivered to an assembly of devotees.

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Qawallas reciting the Sufi devotional messages

With each step closer to the shrine, the already existing scent of roses and sandalwood was getting stronger. The tomb is daily covered with sandalwood paste and locally manufactured perfume called ittar.

Inside the sanctum, the Khadim placed the Chaddar (Blanket) on our heads and made a few prayers before offering the Chaddar on the tomb. My friend and I then went near the tomb and offered our reverence by bowing our head on the tomb.

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Jannati Darwaza

According to the legends, when you visit the Dargah with a desire to manifest a specific wish, you tie the mannat dhaga at the Jannati Darwaza inside the Dargah, and then go to untie it when the wish is fulfilled. Since we din’t have any specific wishes, the Khadim tied the mannat dhaga, that we got along with the flowers, on our wrists.

As we came out of the Dargah, we spotted a tiny stall on the right of the Nizam gate, frying pakodas which looked delicious, so we hopped to the stall to grab a plate a pakodas with piping hot tea! After satisfying our taste buds, we walked across the market to negotiate a deal with the rickshaw drivers, to take us on our onward journey to Pushkar.

My Two Cents:

If possible, leave your bags in the hotel as leaving them with the shopkeepers from where you purchase the offerings is not a very safe option, and the route to the Cloak room may not be as per your likings.

Since Pushkar is just a few kilometers from Ajmer, there are several vendors near the Dargah market, that offer return trips for as affordable as Rs. 300 /-.

Rajasthan – A Quirky Jaunt

A Culture enthusiast, I had been wanting to experience the vibrancy, tranquility, and serenity of Pushkar & Jaisalmer for almost three years now. One reason or other always kept this desire of mine a step away from materializing, until one fine evening of October 2018, when I noticed Spicejet’s advertisement billboard, announcing direct Mumbai – Jaisalmer flights. In that instant, I knew that I had to do this. Soon.

In addition to being a culture enthusiast, I am a foodie and a shopaholic too! An explorer at heart, I have always loved the idea of assimilating in local culture of the places I visit and experience the locales as one among them. So in an endeavor to get a hang of what lies ahead, there I was – speaking to people who have visited Pushkar & Jaisalmer, reading literature, reviews, travel experiences etc. about these fascinating places- and by the end of it all, my research equipped me with enough information to plan the trip itinerary.

It was a week long trip to Pushkar, HACRA (Osian), Jaisalmer and the holy city of Ajmer!

Yes, Ajmer and HACRA (Osian) were never a part of the original plan, but as they say, “what is meant to be, always finds a way”. Maybe, this was my calling to visit the ‘Ajmer Dargah’ and experiencing the wilderness of Osian. More on that later.

So the plan was to do a Mumbai – Pushkar (via Jaipur) – Jaisalmer – Mumbai trip, without really pondering much over the 500 kilometer distance between Pushkar and Jaisalmer, that I was to cover by road! The thrill of visiting these two places overrode the thoughts of any possible minor discomforts.

Jaisalmer has a name for the Golden Fort and the Desert Safaris. While reading up and enquiring online about the options to have the most authentic experiences that capture the essence of Rajasthan, someone recommended using services from HACRA, an organization that specializes in providing authentic desert and other experiences in the Osian region of Rajasthan. As I read more about HACRA, I was more and more intrigued by its unique offerings, and eventually I decided to cut down on one day of Pushkar, to spend a day in Osian, staying in a hut called “Jhumpa”, with no electricity or running water connection, living an authentic village life. This experience also came with a village desert safari.

So I squeezed Osian in my trip, and then planned to proceed to Jaisalmer, to explore the various facets of the Golden City and another Desert Adventure 😁.Jaisalmer has two dunes for Desert Safari – Sam dunes and Khuri dunes. While Sam dunes is extremely popular, it is also very crowded. So I decided that I would head to Khuri dunes for my Desert/Camel Safari. Besides the Desert Safari, I was looking forward to experiencing both sides of Jaisalmer, as I had planned to stay both – Inside the Fort, and Outside.

I was to fly on December 08, but the travel bunny in me had started counting days, 10 days in advance. Yes, I was that excited!!! 😀 In the wee hours of December 08, when most people were in deep slumber, I was glowing with excitement. For this was the day I had been waiting for, since weeks now.

Heavenly Stay at Seventh Heaven – Pushkar

Seventh Heaven is the best property to stay in Pushkar, Hands Down! The ambiance if this hotel gives a feeling of staying in a Spa literally. Here are some points i would like to highlight about this property;

Perfect Location:
This hotel is close to Varaha Ghat and the most prominent places to eat and shop.

Great Staff:
My impression about the staff has stayed consistent since my first interaction with Sunil followed by my interaction with Tiger during my booking. Both Sunil and Tiger have been very accommodating and flexible with any request i have had before and during my stay. All the other staff members are very good too.

Beautiful Rooms:
I stayed in Rapunzel and Daima during my visit. Both the rooms were wonderfully done up. I loved each one of them. I also checked out Silk Sari and Mishti and found these rooms to be beautiful as well. Each room has its own unique touch.

The Sixth Sense restaurant is a cozy place for your meals as well. The courtyard is beautiful.

Seventh Heaven is one of the best hotels i have ever stayed in and i will return to this place for sure.