Pushkar. Home of an annual camel fair that draws in thousands of people from near and far, a time when the cost of a tent in the tourist village can run to over US$100 - bucket hot water free (our very un-tentlike accommodation at the moment is costing about US$10 a night), and the Lonely Planet guide paints a picture of a somewhat dusty desert town.
I didn't really expect this place to be more like an oasis - the last place I'd have expected a camel fair to be held. I'm beginning to understand why when we've talked to other travellers who have stopped here, they invariably seem to stay for 4 or 5 days. It's just that type of place, a bit of relief from the insanity that can be large Indian cities.
It also may explain why there seem to be a whole heap of travellers who appear to have stopped here indefinately. They're the ones who are simply lounging in little juice or chai bars along the bazaar, in no hurry to go anywhere. Pushkar, it would seem, is a little Goa of the north - a place for modern (and not so modern) hippies to call home, where dreadlocks are commonplace, as are long, bushy beards.
The strange thing is, it almost feels like an elitist form of society that's been created here - an underworld of westerners who are so chilled, that they can't smile at a fellow traveller any more. It's like you're invading their little paradise, and I can't help but at times feel almost a sense of distain at the 'tourist' looking through the shops, so out of touch with what this place is all about, man...
Which is a real shame, because apart from being famous for the camel fair, Pushkar is a holy city - spread around Pushkar lake, where locals and pilgrims alike bathe morning and evening, crowding the ghats, and forming a mad aray of colour. Looking out from the balcony of the hotel early this morning, below me were dozens of people, immersing themselves in the waters, while across the lake the steps of the ghat were turned into a patchwork quilt of dazzeling colour, as dozens of saris were laid out to dry. Drummers bash out a beat from the steps in front of another temple - out of sight, which simply lends an additional level of mystery as I wonder who is creating this intoxicating beat - and at 6.30am, this city is truly alive.
I wonder how many of those people I see, attempting to fulfil their own spiritual journey, have forgotten the wonder at this simple sight laid out before them morning and night, every single day? I wonder how many of them are stuck on the ideal of finding this spirituality they seek, and dismiss something so simple and pure? I guess what gets to me the most, is that walking around the streets of this little town, I can't remember any of them smiling full stop.
Pushkar is a holy city. Meat is completely banned, as is alcohol, eggs, and drugs. 5 minutes after checking into our hotel, I was being offered beer if I wanted it, and was handed a ball of hash - you know, 'all these things I can get for you, very good quality.' As a western traveller entering a place of such spiritual significance to so many people of India, I can't help but feel a sense of shame at what the tourist presence has bought to this place.
When your search for enlightenment means that you need a drug in a city where these things are not only banned, but deeply offend the people who have a real reason for being here, I can't help but wonder whether these people are looking in the right places for what they seek.
Perhaps they should set the alarm, get up at 6am, and have a bath.