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Legend holds that at the beginning of time Lord Brahma dropped a Pushkara, or lotus flower, into the desert. Where the flower fell, a holy lake sprung — with its purifying waters pilgrims could be cleansed of all their sins. The lake is now the central attraction of the calm town of Pushkar, the site of the only Brahma temple in all of India. Some Hindu pilgrims consider Pushkar the final stop on their pilgrimages — a dip in the waters completes the circuit of redemption. Visitors come for a variety of reasons — if not for spiritual enlightenment, merely for some respite from the hassles and hustles of the bigger cities. The noisy auto-rickshaw that plagues other cities is delightfully absent in Pushkar; a stroll around the 1 km long city is peaceful and relaxed. This serenity is transformed into a beehive of activity in November for the annual Pushkar Fair, but otherwise the mellow mood prevails.

Pushkar runs less than 1 km in each direction, so getting lost is hardly an issue. Most travelers arrive from Ajmer at the Ajmer Bus Stand, on Ajmer Road in the southeast side of town. In town, Ajmer becomes Chhoti Basti (Main Bazaar), the main thoroughfare, which follows the north Shore of Pushkar Lake. Chotti Basti terminates on the east side of town, near Brahma Mandir. A right turn on one of the meandering side streets off Chhoti Basti leads to the road that marks the northern boundary of the town and hosts the GPO, the Marwar Bus Stand, and the government hospital.

Most of Pushkar’s 540 temples were rebuilt after assorted raids and pillages by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century. A few of the temples are only open to Hindus. The most visited temple is the Brahma Mandir, which has the surprising distinction of being the only temple in India dedicated to Brahma, the Hindu creator god. The temple has a red minaret with a blue-and-green base and smaller shrines flanking the sides. Expect to be mobbed by eager guides; their services are hardly necessary to view the temple. There are two major hillside temples in Pushkar, offering superb panoramic vistas of the town and valley, especially at sunset and sunrise. Named for two of Brahma’s wives, Saivitri Mandir and Gayitri Mandir crown hills on the east and west side of town (both a 1 and half hr. climb). Other temples of interest include Rangji Mandir with its white stone facade, the Hanuman Mandir, a colorful tower depicting Hanuman’s exploits, and the turquoise-green Baba Ramdev Mandir. Encircling Pushkar Lake are ghats, connecting the temples and the holy waters. Of Pushkar’s 52 ghats, the most important are the Gau Ghat, where an assortment of politicians, ministers, and VIPs have paid their respects, Brahma Ghat which Brahma himself is said to have used, and the central Varah Ghat, where Vishnu is said to have cameoed in the form of a bore. Signs in almost every hotel instruct visitors to remove their shoes 50m from the lake, and to refrain from smoking and taking photographs while at the ghats. Pilgrims and tourists at the ghats request local priests to perform a Pushkar Puja, a ceremony of scripture-reading and rose-petal-scattering for a donation which usually goes to the temple, but occasionally to the priest. Do not feel pressured into donating the exorbitant amounts that the priests insist are ‘standard’. After the Puja, your patronage is officially recognized with a red wrist-band—the ‘Pushkar Passport’ — giving you the freedom to visit ghats and stroll around town without harassment from priests.

Map of Pushkar

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