Pushkar is a beautiful oasis in the deserts of Rajasthan. Legend says that Brahma slew a demon with his weapon, the lotus flower, and where the petals fell to earth Pushkar lake appeared. Nomads and travelers in the first millennium tell stories of Pushkar Lake’s healing properties and it is still a place of worship today even though Pushkar itself has become a place for travelers and expats to relax for a few weeks or even months.
You’ll find dozens of Israeli restaurants lining the marketplace and even local Indians sell falafel and hummus. Many Israelis head to Pushkar after their military service and hang out to meet other travelers. Backpackers like myself often come for a day or two and stay for a week. I probably would have stayed longer if not for the Rickshaw Run next week!
The desert town is full of gypsies from the lowest castes in Indian society. In spite of their lowborn status they are some of the most cheerful and happy people that I’ve ever met. Many of them play music or dance in the streets. Sunset can be viewed from Pushkar Lake with locals jamming out on drums and other traditional instruments.
I met a local man named Ram who showed me his handmade instrument. He couldn’t come up with an English name for it but its strings sang beautifully in proper Rajasthani fashion. He played me a song and walked with me for a while telling me about his Bhopa caste. The Bhopa are all musicians and even though he cannot read, write or even understand a map he learned the beauty of music. There is no written music for the Bhopa to follow, only what was passed on from father to son, similarly to the design of his instrument. In the end I gave Ram 500 INR ($10). Well no, I actually bought him a box of Chopati flour which he says will feed his family for a month. We both felt this was more meaningful than simply giving him the money.
Visiting a Gypsy Camp in Pushkar
Lloyd, a fellow American I met at the hostel through my friend Adam, from Holi & Agra, met a local woman named Sunita in a similar fashion. She invited us back to her home in the Gypsy village nearby for a traditional dance, to meet her snake charmer husband and see how the locals live & eat. The offer came with an understanding that we would donate about 2000 INR ($40) for the 5 of us but we happily obliged.
“Pushkar itself was one of the cleanest cities I’ve visited in India”
Walking through the desert to her village the usual garbage lining the streets of India became more and more apparent. Pushkar itself was one of the cleanest cities I’ve visited in India but when you leave the market area that quickly dissipates. We followed Sunita off the roads and into the desert passing a water basin teeming with who knows what atrocities. Yet a local boy was drinking straight from it.
Around the corner we could see dilapidated houses. If you can even call them that. In truth these houses were cement hollows or tattered shacks but we had finally reached the gypsy village. Walking around the bend I found an unfortunate pile of barbed wire on the ground which scratched the top of my foot! Freaking out I prayed that it would be superficial but moments later a trickle of blood appeared. Shit.
I told my friends and we agreed that there was nothing I could do about it here, no one even had soap let alone a first aid kit. Adam said I needed to get a tetanus shot within 24 hours but otherwise should be fine and after a quick Google (thank you Trabug for an Indian phone!) my nerves were calmed and we continued to Sunita’s house. I would thoroughly clean it as soon as we got back to the hostel.
Are you heading to India? You should check out Trabug! They’ll mail a smartphone to your hotel or guesthouse!
It works great as a mobile hotspot for you devices or as an Indian phone.
Her snake charmer husband was waiting by the stove with a small child. The scene was one of dire poverty yet smiles were all around. Sunita’s friends and family slowly joined us and her eldest daughter began making chopati and her sister came by wearing a traditional dancer’s outfit. Sunita drew henna on our hands and arms while her other kids came by. Lloyd let them play on his smart phone and I snapped photos eliciting even more smiles. Then suddenly her husband asked if we wanted to see the snake.
Adam recoiled immediately but hilariously said “YES, just keep it away from me!” The rest of us gathered around as he opened a woven basket producing a cobra. It was most definitely NOT a pet but they insisted it wasn’t dangerous since they removed its “teeth and poison.”
When the snake was put away the crowd of locals grew thicker and a small band appeared. Another of Sunita’s sisters came by wearing a black dress inlaid with every color you can imagine, now the party was really starting! They danced for us as we all laughed and clapped along. The music reminded me of native american tunes yet was distinctly Rajasthani. We enjoyed a few more songs and dances as the sun slowly fell behind the mountains.
Just before nightfall they invited us to join them in one last dance before everyone dispersed. Sunita fed us all a spicy chicken curry and chopati with fresh tomatoes. I reluctantly sampled the sauce on a chopati but have been vegetarian my whole time in India and didn’t trust the water or cleanliness of this meal enough to break that tradition. Lloyd was the only one who ate everything offered and although the rest of us felt bad we hoped that our stomachs would thank us for this decision later.
After finishing the meal we gave Sunita the promised donation and walked back through the desert to Pushkar. Unfortunately the next day everyone of us (except Lloyd!) fell ill with an awful case of Delhi belly! Sadly I spent the rest of my time in Pushkar sick but I would highly recommend visiting if you are in India!
From Pushkar I had a quick stop in Jodhpur before venturing forth to Jaisalmer for a Camel Safari and to get ready for the Rickshaw Run! If you’re interested in a camel safari be sure to check out Real Desert Man Safari in Jaisalmer!