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PUSHKAR

I don't think I'd ever visited a vegetarian alcohol-free temple town to see hippies, silver jewellery, trippy trance CDs, beaded shoes and psychedelic paintings until I visited Pushkar. It is one of the most complex regions in Rajasthan and there are primarily two kinds of visitors—the devout pilgrim and the flower child. But still nothing had prepared me for sumptuous Israeli and German cuisine at cafés littering the region. 'Love Me Like You Do' pulsed through every nook and cranny though post-sundown the tracks shifted to trance. Tourists stretched out on benches overlooking the lake glowing with diyas offered by pilgrims.. it took me a while to realise they weren't here to grab a bite after the puja; they'd come to make the scene!!

 

Tucking into the most sumptuous vegetarian steak with mammoth green chilli at Sunset Café, I couldn't help noticing occupants at the adjacent table. The young foreigners wore bikinis covered by sheer chiffon kurtas and sarongs and no one gave it a second thought as its a commonplace sight there perhaps because its on the farthest point from the temples.. Pushkar is home to one of two Brahma temples in the country and a significant pilgrimage spot! The town, with its 500-odd temples, 52 ghats and ancient palaces, is situated around the holy lake said to have appeared when Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower and performed Mahayagna. The region is saturated with mysticism and old-world allure. 'Worshipping at Brahma Temple and a dip in the lake ensures a devotee would be forgiven, purified and saved,' a priest told me as he gave me marigold flowers and a sacred thread. 'A pilgrimage to this temple is a journey of salvation and thousands of pilgrims come here on Kartik Purnima when the moon descends into the lake.' 

 

For me, the fascination with Pushkar is that it seems a compressed a model of the globe. When I awoke at dawn at Pushkar Resorts outside city limits, I made my way into the city at 6 am and heard prayer bells, drums and chants in the temples though I also heard the faint sounds of trance in the lanes!! Pushkar is attractive for its layered past.. its mythology, holy lake, temples and heritage palaces. Camels, proud natives in regional garb. The moment I arrived—I could feel the excitement. The narrow, cobblestoned streets were crowded with pilgrims on one side of the lane leading to the temple and tourists crowding cafes for breakfast lining the other side. As I navigated my way, I saw locals offering to be a guide for INR 50. And young boys offering water, fruits and umbrellas at a considerable cost. The region is forked.. on its way to becoming a huge tourist destination [spa resorts are mushrooming on the border], a significant pilgrimage spot and a hertiage site where the camel fair attracts millions of people from around the world.. so it's a fair guess that a majority of people in the country see hipness and temples as pointing in opposite directions. But, to go there today, is to see the conundrum that confronts all fast-growing holy, heritage, historical regions as they aspire to be global yet retain their heritage character.

— JASMEEN DUGAL

 
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