Over three thousand (3.000!) pilgrims arrive daily in tiny Pushkar, Hindi from all over India and even abroad. They come for one reason – to leave money with the countless priests and temples. Even the most devout Hindi commits the odd sin that hurts his karma… A pilgrimage to Pushkar and a pile of money can undo that.
There are plenty of opportunities to get rid of your cash – the most obvious ones wait at the many Ghats (bathing places) on the holy lake. Priests prey for the never-ending caravan of pilgrims and they are tough bargainers. The typical ritual is to repeat the mantra mumbled by the priest, be splashed with holy water and turn over the money. Most people take a dip in the holy lake too, you never know.
Actually only few dare the suspicious looking waters of the lake to wash away their problems. Especially men – stripped down to their underwear – use the large pools filled with tape water. Built for those times of the year when there is very little or even no water at all in the lake. Women usually sit on the steps leading into the lake (fully dressed) and pour buckets of holy water over their heads, screeching with delight. You even see them splashing water at each other like children. The commotion can get so rowdy that the loud fuss annoys even the priests. Maybe our expectations were too high, but the complete lack of any spirituality came a bit surprising to us.
The holiness of the city comes with a few rules. Meat and alcohol are banned within the city. This does not keep international tourists away. And they can be so obvious in Pushlkar! Apart from the usual visitors, the city has a tradition of attracting what we called hippies in the 1960s. These troops with their dreadlocks and funky clothes have come here for decades. But nowadays, with Indians driving their huge SUVs through the narrows streets, with children in the backseats that type away on iPads, they seem a bit of an anachronism.
For those who think the city is too packed with tourists, you have seen nothing yet. For a week in November Pushkar’s camel fair attracts 100.000 people. This literally makes the city burst from its seams. A camp made up of tents is set up on the outskirts to take in the overflow.