Pushkar – the hippie paradise

After dropping my rucksack at the guesthouse, I wandered into town. I saw an English-looking couple having tea outside a cafe and started talking to them. They were neighbours in Spain. Eventually the man, who had been a builder in London before he retired, joined me on my stroll through town. He had been coming to Pushkar for many years and ended up giving me a tour of the town centre. He knew many of the shopkeepers and pointed out safe/good restaurants to eat in, where to buy various stuff, where to change money, decent travel agents, and other practical advice. It was a wonderful introduction to Pushkar.

Pushkar (“blue lotus” flower in Sanskrit) is a pilgrimage site for Hindus and Sikhs. It’s mentioned in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and many texts dated to the first millennium.

The lake at the heart of Pushkar was created by none other than the creator of the universe himself, Lord Brahma, when a lotus dropped from his hand and a lake emerged in that place.

In the UK, Sundays were for going to church. Now you’re more likely to find people going shopping. The shopping mall has replaced the church. Shopping has become the new opium of the masses.

So it seems fitting that even Pushkar, a town with legendary religious significance, has become a centre of commerce too. The main street threads its way through Pushkar. It is one long bazaar, selling the usual stuff and filled with restaurants.

Even religion is being sold. The priests here are trying to scam you, using coercive tactics to extract money once they’ve persuaded you to do puja (prayer). The guidebooks warn you not to accept a flower or anything else from someone in the street. It’s not a gift. You will pay for it – sometimes considerably! Young, educated Indians joke that if they wanted to become rich, they would give up everything and become gurus for Westerners!

If you don’t want to shop, there’s not much to do in Pushkar except chill out and, optionally, smoke dope – the most popular of the many drugs available.

The main interest, apart from shopping, is the lake and the ghats (steps leading down to the lake). People bathe in the sacred water. Gandhi’s ashes were scattered in it. Despite the commercialism, Pushkar is a sacred city for Hindus. They’ll want to visit it at least once in their lifetime.

There are temples but few have much history. Most were destroyed during various Muslim conquests. Some have been rebuilt.

Despite the lack of attractive architecture, I’ve seen more Westerners here than anywhere else in India. They’re mostly ageing and aspiring hippies dressed like Indians. Or rather dressed in clothes Indians sell to foreigners but never wear themselves! This technicality is strangely lost on the travellers. They can see in plain sight what Indians are wearing – and it’s not multicoloured baggy trousers and decorative tops!

It appears as if these “Indian-dressed” visitors want to be Indian! One English women said to me, when she found out I had Indian parents, that she “wished she was half Indian”! She seemed genuinely envious of me.

Where there are hippies, there are, fortunately for me, veggie restaurants! I’ve had good vegan food here. There are stalls and cafes selling vegan cakes!

There are also many places selling falafels – that well known Indian dish! As it happens, Pushkar is popular with Israelis. So much so that shops have signs in Hindi, English, and Hebrew! Many shopkeepers speak Hebrew. Pushkar is on the “hummus trail” – places that Israelis visit in India.

Many people I met return regularly to Pushkar, partly because of the religious/spiritual history. India, perhaps more than any other country, epitomises spirituality. It’s not surprising that those people in the West seeking spirituality, who are disenchanted with or can’t relate to Christianity or other organised religions, come to India looking for spiritual answers and solace.

Leave a Reply