• Photo: Peter Guttman/Peterguttman.com

Pushkar

With more than 500 temples, Pushkar is one of Hinduism's holiest sites and an interesting place to visit even when the famous camel fair (in October or November) isn't being held. The focus of the town is its placid lake and the ghats, havelis, crumbling buildings and temples, all whitewashed a splendid white, that edge the lake. Parts of the town have the vibe of a Rajasthani Varanasi and indeed this place is almost as sacred. But like many Indian towns Pushkar has several flavors. In its narrow car-free main bazaar, sadhus, tribals, hippies, the dreadlocked, backpackers, pilgrims, monkeys, beggars, and five-legged cattle (such birth deformities are considered lucky) vie for space with shops selling everything from religious paraphernalia to water bongs and chillams. Although goods from all over Rajasthan find their way to the bazaar, because Pushkar is such a holy city, no alcohol or meat can be sold here—some restaurants get around the alcohol restriction by serving beer in coffee mugs to their regular customers, but by no means should you count on being able to get anything alcoholic. Alcohol and nonvegetarian food is served in hotels located beyond the city limits. Pushkar's religious significance derives from the Vedic text, Padma Purana, which describes how the town was created. Brahma, creator of the universe, was looking for a place to perform the yajna—a holy ritual that involves placing offerings into a sacrificial fire for Agni, the fire god—that would signify the beginning of the human age. He dropped a lotus from his hand and Pushkar was where it struck the ground.

There are a few interesting types of handicrafts to shop for. Look for interesting tiny wooden chests of drawers, wooden re-created antique telephones, trays, and other such knickknacks. Rajguru Emporium, opposite the Brahma temple has a nice collection Pushkar crafts; bargain some.

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