Getting off the bus in Pushkar, Rajasthan is like falling through a wormhole in the fabric of time and going backwards 35 years. The 60s are an increasingly distant memory in the West, while here in Pushkar they still exist, at least in their outward and visible signs. Really, there are parts of this town that look like a dreamscape evoked by the Magical Mystery Tour.
There’s the incense, the sitar music, the Indian shirts and the cotton drawstring pants. There are signs and colors: The Enigma Cafe, Dreamland, The Third Eye, Lotus, etc. The flowers are here, too, and the flower children, the hippies, the freaks; except that some of them are older than I remember.
I’m not sure about the drugs. This is a Hindu pilgrimage city with a Holy Lake surrounded by bathing ghats. The town is posted with signs listing various kinds of unacceptable behavior, drugs being a big no-no, and yet judging by the the appearance of some of the characters roaming the streets, I suspect drugs are not far off.
Hindu society is conservative with a big ‘C’. Public displays of affection are forbidden and alcohol is kept out of sight. I can usually find an evening beer, almost always in a large 65 ml bottle, which is often more than I want.
In Pushkar, once the novelty of its appearance wears off, I realize just how much of a tourist racket the town is. The vaunted spirituality, much real, some fake, is at least in one case a hook to get tourist dollars. The town’s most famous temple (there are reputedly hundreds.) is said to be the only one in India devoted to Brahma. As is the case with other temples I’ve visited, the touts and unofficial guides make it very difficult to simply walk in and observe things quietly. They natter continuously in your ear and practically take you by the hand to look at what they want you to see. Of course they expect a tip. Mine put some flowers in my hand and led me to a ghat where a so-called priest wanted me to repeat a lengthy mantra and throw my flowers into the lake. The easiest solution was to go straight to the money counter and make a ‘donation’ for which I received a receipt. No doubt what I was involved in started as a true spiritual practice but has become corrupted by the coarseness of the tourist trade. Greed is universal.
I spent what felt like a very long day In Pushkar, getting lost in the maze of tiny streets, dodging motorbikes, and circling around the many cows that seem to be everywhere. And yes, the streets are full of cow shit.
Although some seem to love it, I didn’t care much for Pushkar. With everybody and his brother out hustling the tourists, the place didn’t seem very spiritual to me. At the Brahma Temple, the only one in India it seems, I had to put up with the services of a young man, who led me to a nearby Ghat and turned me over to a so-called priest who wanted me to repeat a mantra a before throwing the flower buds I’d been given in the lake. All this rigmarole was supposed to bring blessings and good luck to my family. To me it was just a prelude to getting some of my money as a ‘voluntary’ contribution, which didn’t feel voluntary at all. All this, besides which the temple was disgustingly dirty, and I had to parade around in my bare feet. No, I don’t think I’ll be coming back to Pushkar soon.