Legend has it that Brahma (The Hindu God of Creation) wanted to protect Pushkar from demons and had to perform a yagna (a ritual of offerings) in order to do so. His wife Saraswati was not around at the time so he married some other chick, Gayatri, a gurjar girl, to offer Ahuti as part of the yagna. Saraswati, obviously pissed about her husband going and getting himself another wife angrily cursed Brahma, saying he would only ever be worshipped in Pushkar (and this humanisation of Gods is what makes Hinduism so complex and interesting). Now, despite Brahma being one of the three most important Gods in the Hindu religion, there are very few temples devoted to his worship, so thousands of Hindus come to Pushkar just to give offerings in the famous Brahma temple.

Once upon a time Pushkar was a small pilgrimage town that also hosted a yearly camel-trading event (The Camel Festival that occurs every October or November), but many people saw the potential for business and now the streets are saturated with hundreds of overpriced cafes, hostels and shops selling the same handbags, trousers, jewellery and ‘antiques’ for international tourists, as well as lots of plastic China-made toys and bangles for the domestic tourists that grossly outnumber the foreign ones, particularly during religious festivals.

The Camel Fair occurs in time for Kartik Purnima (full moon). The original reason for this fair was to buy and trade camels, horses and other livestock, but in recent years, along with the town, it has become a money-making scheme that has lost a lot of its original charm. Along with the camel drivers (you can buy a camel for just 10,000RS / £100) you will find a fairground with dodgems, carousels, ice cream and events designed purely for tourists included cricket and football matches and hoards of people offering camel rides that really, are just a small, overpriced walk along the busy main road.

Despite my aversions to it, the Pushkar Camel Fair has been growing more and more popular each year, but this year there has been a huge drop in numbers, but nobody has seemed to give a straight answer as to why. If the Camel Fair doesn’t sound like your thing it is best to avoid Pushkar during the main fair period as accommodation prices go up to around triple their usual rates, and accommodation is created purely for people coming to the fair (‘Desert Tents’ created for $100 a night that are really just in someone’s back garden). The streets become more crowded than usual and people become much pushier for ‘religious donations’- I had one girl push a plate in front of me on the street, and when I tried to skirt around her she stood in front of me until I nearly had to push her out of the way.

Avoiding this time of year (or not if it sounds interesting to you) Pushkar is fairly laid back as far as India is concerned, but be prepared to pay for it. You will see many tourists in Pushkar, both international and domestic, and because of guidebooks like Lonely Planet you will see the same people again, and again, not only because Pushkar is tiny, but because many people will seem to follow recommendations to the letter and will eat, sleep and visit the same places as everyone else.

It is difficult to avoid people completely, but if you are willing to wake up early and go off the beaten track a little bit you can, however, find small pockets of tranquility in Pushkar, as well as accommodation and food that is not outlandishly priced when coming from anywhere else in India.

There are a number of rooftop cafes all offering both Indian and foreign food alternatives, but our favourite was a little-known place called Laura’s Cafe that we stumbled on by chance. It is a bright pink building on the main market street that is also houses ‘Bharat’s Tours’ on its upper floors. You have to climb a good few sets of stairs to reach the top, but it is completely worth it. With stunning views of the lake (which you can photograph without getting into trouble like you do on the ghats due to the bathers) and town, good food and the nicest people we have met so far in India it is really worth a visit.

It is owned by a Canadian called Laura who came to Pushkar when she was 19 and created the cafe. She employed a local Indian called Bharat, who spent the morning we visited the cafe explaining everything about Pushkar, the local area, how the police work (bribes-a-plenty) and pointing out monkeys to us. We went back twice during our visit, and both times it was very quiet (usually a tell-tale sign it is not a good place, but we felt like it’s an undiscovered gem).

Another place that is worth going to is Honey and Spice, also on the main market street, that serves ‘food for your soul’: a delicious array of vegetable dishes and amazing teas served with a smile, tucked away in a little side alley up a set of stairs.

The standard things to do in Pushkar include visiting the lake (note- no pictures are allowed to be taken on the ghats) and the Brahma temple, but be warned- they are incredibly busy. If you want a little bit more of a quiet time go at sunrise to both- you will get the dedicated Hindus going for prayer, but you will avoid tourists almost completely and be able to just enjoy the views of the array of colours the bathers are wearing, and hundreds of pigeons flying over every few minutes, and the lighting is much more beautiful. You can also sneak in a few pictures (but it is still not respectful to photograph ANY of the bathers directly).

Another thing that is worth doing is climbing up the Ratnagiri Hill to see the Savitri Temple at sunrise. We got it a bit mixed up (excellent photographers…) and ended up going at sunset, but because of the Asian Brown Cloud which creates a sort of haze, the sunset and sunrises were unspectacular because they were so subtle. The view from half way up the Savitri temple hill is a nice view of Pushkar and the surrounding desert and mountains and it doesn’t get much better higher up so if you are going for the view stop half way! The temple on top is not particularly interesting and there are far, far more interesting temples in India, but later in the afternoon it is quiet (rare in India) and there are usually grey langur monkeys and the other standard Indian animals (cows and dogs) lounging about.

Accommodation-wise there are a lot of places in Pushkar to choose from, but for the very limited budget Pushkar may not be the place to go due to the cost of the food and accommodation combined, which are part of necessary spending. We couchsurfed, which meant we had free accommodation and throughout India there are a lot of people offering spare beds and sofas for free because of the pride that appears to come with having a foreign friend.

If you want to purchase gifts the n Pushkar is apparently the place in India for clothing (trousers galore) because of the factory located near it, but there are also leather and non-leather bags, silver jewellery and plenty of other items that are cheaper in Pushkar than elsewhere. Pushkar doesn’t seem so abundant with antiques or larger items, but mainly small things tourists can take away. There are also a lot of packaging services to send items abroad.

Overall Pushkar is a place that is worth seeing because of its historical value, but you can stay for two nights and experience most of what Pushkar has to offer. It is also a great place to meet other travellers as you cannot avoid them in the cafes and restaurants, especially the ones with wifi!

Image Credit: Aurimas Sapolas