The Pushkar Mela is an annual 5 day camel and livestock fair, held in the 5th most sacred Hindu pilgrimage town Pushkar, Rajasthan.
A few miles north of Ajmer is the sacred town of Pushkar (meaning â€˜lotusâ€™), situated on the shores of a jewel-like glacial lake. Brownish-grey temple topped hills and sandy fields surround the town. This sacred town of the Hindus, also known as the Lourdes of the East, is one of the oldest cities in India, with its origins unknown, but with legends associated with Lord Brahma, the creator himself. While some legends say Brahma performed penance here for 60,000 years to have a glimpse of Vishnu, others say he was searching for somewhere to perform Mahayagna (a sacred fire-based Hindu ritual), and he found this place suitable.
After a long time, Brahma discovered that a demon, Vajranash, was killing people here, so the Lord intoned a sacred chant on a lotus flower and killed it. During this process, parts of flower fell in three places, later known as Jyaistha, Madhya and Kanistha Pushkar. Brahma then performed a yagna to protect the place from further demons. His consort, Saraswati, was needed to offer Ahuti for the yagna, but she was not present at that time, so instead Gayatri, a Gurjar girl, married Brahma to perform the ritual. This angered Saraswati, and she cursed Brahma, saying he would be only worshiped in Pushkar. As a result, Pushkar is commonly (but erroneously) said to be the only town in India housing a temple to Lord Brahma. And with the legend grew folklore surrounding the lake, with people believing it to be so holy that the greatest of sinners, by bathing in it, could earn the delights of Paradise. Pushkar is also mentioned in the sacred Hindu scriptures.
The Ramayan mentions it and says that sage Vishvamitra meditated here, and that the Menaka came to bathe in the sacred waters. Elsewhere, the Mahabharata states, while laying down a programme for Maharaja Yudhishtharaâ€™s travels: â€œThe Maharaja, after entering the Jungles of Sind and crossing the small rivers, should on the way bathe in Pushkara.â€ A Gurjara Pratihara (Gurjar) ruler of Mandore, Nahadarava, restored the sacred town in the seventh century. He rebuilt old palaces and built twelve dharmashalas (resting places) and ghats on three sides of the lake. The sage Parasara is also said to have been born here, and the famous temple of Jeenmata has been cared for by his descendents, Parasara Brahmans, for the last 1,000 years. Today the city today has over 400 temples instead of the usual five (dedicated to Brahma, Savitri, Badri-Narayan, Varha and Siva Atmateshwara), and the lake is encompassed by 52 ghats where devotees flock to take a Holy Dip. Normally quiet, Pushkar sees a small but steady stream of visitors to its temples and bathing ghats. But once a year, at the time of the Karthik Purnima full moon in November, the town explodes with colourful crowds of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
This time also forms the stage for the annual Pushkar Camel Fair. The fair begins on the day of Kartik Shukla Ekadashi, and goes on for five long days until the full moon. It involves the mass trading of camels, horses, cattle, goats and sheep, and traders come from all over the Rajasthan and nearby states dressed in vibrant traditional costumes to set up camp in the fairgrounds, some accompanied by their families. Although various animals are traded, camels rule the roost. They are washed clean and adorned with cloths in various patterns. Around them, stalls set up selling jewellery and other finery designed for the camels, and many sport silver bells and bangles around their hooves, and jingle when they walk past the golden sand dunes. The camels preen before the crowd, seeming to enjoy the attention they receive. From adornments for cattle, ranging from saddles, straps, beads, strings and cowries, to items specifically intended for the humans, the array of artefacts exhibited is just endless. The Pushkar Fair is the biggest in India, and so draws in an interesting array of merchants, traders, gypsies, magicians, circus folk and snake charmers, and an entertainment factory sets up with high decibel sounds to mark the event. Silver ornaments and bead necklaces from Nagaur, patchwork, printed textiles, and the famous tie-dye fabrics from Ajmer are a major attraction. But fashion does not end there.
The fair is also known for the varied body tattoos on offer. Since this is the time to gear up the townâ€™s otherwise slacking business, every household seems to set up some or other stall to tempt the passing crowd, turning the whole town into one giant bazaar. A host of other activities take place at the stadium just outside the fairgrounds. The Great Indian Moustache competition is as exotic as any contest gets. This year the winner sported a 12-footer he had groomed over two decades. Other attractions include the Turban tying competition for international tourists, and the water pot, or Matka race, where women race each other with earthen pots filled with water on their heads. Regular horse and camel auctions go on everyday. The highest bid this year was US$1.2 million for a well-bred pedigree horse, but this was rejected by the owner as he expected more than $2 million. Folk dances and folk song performances are a regular feature, but evenings are reserved for exotic dances and similar events: the Fire Dance is a rare dance form where the troupe perform on and around blazing embers. To involve the international guests, a bride competition is also held, in which women tourists dress up as beautiful Indian brides in traditional attire. This year also marked the launch of hot air balloon tethered flights, for aerial views. Displays of rural sports like wrestling and kabaddi are put on through a series of competitions; cultural and spiritual walks are organized; and if this doesnâ€™t appeal then there are the entertainment options such as Ferris Wheels, magic and circus shows, and snake charmers.
The local markets are abuzz with activity too. The Art and Craft Bazaar sells wares to locals and visitors alike. While alcohol and non-vegetarian food is strictly prohibited, certain restaurants serve eggs. An interesting hangout preferred by international tourists is the Funky Monkey CafÃ©, which serves all kind of food - and at times even serves alcohol in tea mugs. Sunset CafÃ© at Jaipur Ghat, Moondance CafÃ© near the New Rangji Temple, and Baba Restaurant by the Varah Ghat are other popular eating joints. Being a religious city, the other attraction during this period is at the ghats, where thousands of devotees flock to take the Holy Dip. While photography is strictly prohibited in the bathing areas and priests and authorities will zealously confiscate camera, the evening aarti by the lakeside, performed by Ravi Kant Sharma, is a spectacular sight at sunset. Visitors can also visit the Brahma Temple, the most important in Pushkar and one of the holy trinity of Hinduism. The temple houses a life-size idol of Lord Brahma, while the Savitri Temple, located at the top of Ratnagiri Hill, is dedicated to his wife, Savitri, and has a magnificent statue of the goddess. While Camel and livestock traders start leaving one day prior to the full moon, the religious fervour more than makes up.
Hordes of villagers flock to the town to shop, as the Pushkar Fair finally draws to a spectacular close at midnight of the day of Karthik Purnima. Practical information Public transport within Pushkar consists of cycle rickshaws. The nearest train station is in Ajmer, 11 km from Pushkar. For pilgrims with cars, car parks are available at most hotels and guesthouses. There are no 5-star hotels in the city, but there are several decent options, including Pushkar Valley Resorts and Pushkar Green Park Resorts. All accommodation can be booked online at sites such as www.makemytrip.com. Another Hotel, Pushkar Resorts on the Nagaur Road is the closest place to the city that serves alcohol and non-vegetarian food.
Tented camps run by State Tourism are also available, but must be booked in advance. Pilgrims usually donâ€™t spend much time there, preferring to bathe and then leave the city quickly. Convenient train times make an overnight trip from Delhi possible. The Nearest Airport is Sanganer Airport in Jaipur â€“ a 3-hour drive from Pushkar. While in the area, tourists can also explore the rugged terrain of the Great Indian Desert, or Thar Desert, from the back of a camel. The Aravalli Range here is one of the worldâ€™s oldest mountain ranges, and has sand dunes, beautiful hills and mesmerising sunrises and sunsets. Camel safaris from Pushkar also pass through small farming villages where tourists can watch the harvesting of crops while enjoying exceptional views.