The tale of the wife, the mistress and holy drops of water…
Once upon a time, Lord Brahma decided to do a fire worship and decided upon the city of Pushkar as the chosen venue. Now as per the prevalent rules of the time he was supposed to have his wife, Savitri, along with him, but somehow she did not turn up. Being the pragmatic gentleman that he is, he married a local village belle, Gayatri, to do the honors For whatever reason, this upset Savitri and she cursed Brahma, one of the members of the holy trinity of the powerful triumvirate comprising of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, that his presence in temples to be limited only to one town in the whole world, and thus only in the town of Pushkar in the entire land of Hindustan will you find a temple dedicated to Brahma!!
The temple of Brahma is in the centre of the town and the two ladies have their own temples on two hill tops diagonally facing each other. You can work out the moral of the story for yourself.
During the 1970s the quaint little town of Pushkar was discovered by western tourists and hippies on their trip to discover eastern spiritual mysticism. For centuries there has been the pratice of people assembling here to conduct cattle trade. This annual cattle sale,has come to become a camel festival catering to the tourists as well as the trade.
We reached Ajmer by road and set across a hillock to arrive at Pushkar just as the sun was dipping against the horizon. Pushkar is more akin to Goa with its fancy resorts and western tourists and yet retains all of its charm and little pathways, while offering everything from bandhinis to jewellery to metal bras to the discerning tourist.
A point to note for all future visitors is that the holy town is out of limits for the meat eating traveler and the one who enjoys his evening tippling of alcoholic beverages. Being a completely vegetarian town it offers grass as a way to enhance and absorb the spiritual learning within and around us.
We left for the mela at around 05.30 am the next day, sufficiently armed with tripods, off camera flashes and reflectors. The town was also getting up with people going to the temples and the women leaving for the rose farms.
The town is almost two square kms in size and can be enjoyed by foot. The mela area was a huge dust bowl with the traders setting up their morning tea by burning firewood. We enjoyed the local hospitality and soon came across the habit of “bakshish” or fee of 10 rupees for every portrait that you shoot.
Photography Tip of the day: Carry 500 rupees in changes of 10 and you will get 50 models. The kids and women are vociferous and haggle for money. The men are ok even if you don’t pay them and you get lovely shots with colorful turbans and smoking the pipe with their unique way of wrapping the fingers around them. Their skin is also weather beaten and has a lot of character. Women are dressed either in yellow or red or a combination of the two.
The sadhus will curse you to eternal damnation and women will curse you to a life of celibacy for non payment towards the above cause. The morning continued with the opening ceremony of the fair at the parade grounds where all competitions including “the longest moustache” are held. The prettiest girls dressed in traditional finery from the local schools in and around the town lend themselves as eye candy.
In the afternoon we walked around the ghats shooting people and more people. It was random, it was mindless and it was brutal. Never have I walked into a street where you just have to point your camera anywhere and a frame appears. The only thing to be wary of is the inevitable photographers, who are everywhere. The whole town was infested with them and it was with great difficulty and perseverance that I managed to get my frames stay clear of them!
By evening we took a camel walk across the mela. Not very highly recommended as you suffer too many jolts and bounces. There were restaurants that were fancifully titled Pink Floyd Cafe and the Blue Rainbow with many posters of Bob Marley adorning the walls. The picture perfect shots of the mela were taken against the setting sun with dust rising and the belching of the camels. By the way camels stink just like most animals.
Traders come in to buy and sell and it is a tough bargain interlocked with gaalis, swear words, in the local language. The camels bought and sold here are to be used to pull stuff as well as take the tourists around.
More famous and prestigious at the fair is the more beautiful and elegant counterpart, the Marwari horse. Fetching up to 2 lakh rupees (2,00,000), these are intelligent animals do the trot and the samba and are very pretty to look at too.
We wound up for the night shooting the diyaas (earthern lamps) at the Ghat during the Aarthi (a process in worship) accompanied by great fireworks.
The next day began with an air balloon trip across the town to witness how it nestled along the Aravali ranges while the sun rose majestically across the mountain. It offered lovely shots with the mist and fog rising across the foliage while the rays of the Sun flowed through. Our captain was tongue in cheek with his announcement of a non smoking flight and no stepping out of the box.
Highly recommended: A sumptuous breakfast with all types of stuffed parathas at the RS restaurant near the Brahman temple.(Right from the time we had started out on this trip into Jaipur the trip had transformed into a foodie binge with me gorging on all local delicacies from the “ghatta curry” to the “vegetable khormas”)
Before leaving the town we stepped into the temple to seek blessings and inner peace. Along with the main diety, there is also Lord Kubera, who in Hindu mythology, is the bringer of wealth and prosperity.
We left Pushkar by noon and this travelogue will be incomplete without a mention of Lucy, a beautiful Great Dane pup, all of 8 months and 3 feet tall. She struts around the Gulab Niwas hotel where we were hosted very grandly, like she owned the place.
Place: Pushkar, Rajasthan
Event: Pushkar Mela, week long cattle fair held every November
No of Days: 2
Food: To die for
People: Very friendly
Spiritual Enlightenment: No photography of women at the bathing Ghats
Recommended lenses: A wide angle like 14mm, the 70-200 mm, f 2.8 and the nifty 50mm Off camera flashes with a large soft box and tripod also recommended
Rating: 4 out of 5
This is a guest post by Raju Alexis winner of Oman Today Photography award under the Culture and Heritage Section in 2005. He is currently based in Kochi working with Lumiere Strategic Design a branding and visual identity firm and also finds time for various fine art photography projects. He would like to be a story teller with his images.