Pushkar’s camel fair, which takes place in the fall, is deservedly one of India’s most famous festivals. Derek and I went together in 2003, and Derek again, alone, in 2009. Last weekend, we thought we’d try Pushkar sans fair, and found it a very enjoyable getaway.
To get to Pushkar, we traveled by the Haridwar Ahmedabad Mail, which is scheduled to leave Old Delhi Railway Station at 10:20 PM and arrive in Ajmer at 6:40 AM, though our train ran a bit late. We traveled via 2AC tickets we bought last minute using the tatkal system. We returned to Delhi on the Ajmer Jat Express, which leaves Ajmer at 2:15 PM and arrives at Delhi Cantonment at 9:13 (and New Delhi Railway Station a bit later). If tickets had been available, we would probably have preferred the Shatabdi, which leaves Ajmer at 3:45 PM and arrives at New Delhi Railway Station at 10:40 PM. Those comfortable taking an overnight train back to Delhi could take the Chetak Express, which leaves Ajmer at 10:45 PM and arrives at Delhi’s S Rohilla Station at 5:10 AM.
In Ajmer, we took a quick look at Ajmer’s most famous site before we headed out to Pushkar. A short autorickshaw ride away from the railway station is the famous shrine of Sufi saint Muinuddin Chisti, which is probably the most significant Muslim religious site in India, if not all of South Asia. A place of pilgrimage for centuries, the Ajmer shrine is in some ways a giant version of the Nizamuddin shrine in Delhi, a huge religious site full of living medieval architecture and hundreds of pilgrims. Bags and photography are not allowed–which is a bit annoying–but the energy is incredibly positive and you are likely to hear a bit of Sufi qawwali music. (Before going to the shrine we also went to the Adhai Din ka Jhonpra, a Jain temple-to-mosque conversion dating from the 12th century–but this is optional. In case you decide to go, it is walking distance from the shrine.) From the shrine, we took an autorickshaw direct to Pushkar, which cost 300 rupees. Cheaper, and probably just as fast, would be to go to the bus station and take a proper bus, although that would also require two short autorickshaw rides to/from the bus stations. Returning to Ajmer we took a bus, which was fast, and fun. Early for our train, we had lunch at the local/divey, terrific Medina Hotel across the street from Ajmer’s railway station.
In Pushkar we stayed at the Paramount Palace, in a lovely room with a small balcony overlooking Pushkar, perhaps slightly overpriced at 1000 rupees. Had we booked in advance, we probably would have stayed at Seventh Heaven, which is the most proper/professional of the budget hotels in Pushkar. The Bharapur Palace was also tempting, with its lakeside location.
What is there to see or do in Pushkar? Almost nothing, which makes for a very relaxing weekend indeed. We walked over to see the fairgrounds just outside of town, which were almost entirely empty (since the fair was not on), and did one circuit of Pushkar’s holy lake, where people were bathing (and some guards/priests enforcing the “no shoe” rule in an annoying manner). Pushkar is a huge destination for both tourists and pilgrims, even when the fair is not on, making for good people watching (everything from very colorful Rajputs in marvelous turbans to Israelis with dreads) and shopping. We had kurtas tailored, with special iPhone-sized pockets. We had cokes and pots of chai on our balcony, overlooking the town. We sat eating terrific falafel wraps and watched folks walk down the main bazaar (the town is entirely veg–not even eggs available for breakfast!). Admittedly, some of the relaxingness of the weekend wore away with the long slog back home (which would have been better, I think, had we been on the Shatabdi), but we will certainly return to Pushkar again, for both the camel fair and for simple relaxation.