Pushkar is a provincial town in central Rajasthan, a half-hour bus ride north of the depot at Ajmer. As far as inland Indian cities go it is comparatively quiet and beautiful, as the town borders the north shore of a lake and the eastern and western points are crowned by temple hills, dedicated to the Creator God Brahma's wives, Savitri and Gaytri. The lake is holy, and pilgrims, mostly villagers from the Hindu Belt of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, are daily bused in for worship. A lot of hippies continue to make the journey, young and old, and the tea shops and juice stalls being diminutive and crowded, the traveler often winds up in digressive conversation, in which life story details are divulged.
Not feeling well when I arrived in India in February earlier this year, I'd come straight to Pushkar to convalesce for a few days. It was my fourth time in the town-- I'd spent a few weeks here on several occasions five years before researching and writing a novel set in India. I was creating a path for my characters, and then spending time on it. A lot of that time found me by the lake, which is not just one of my favorite places in India, but in all the world.
The first thing one must accomplish, if one wants to spend considerable time by the water, is a session of puja with a priest. Doing so, gets you a "Pushkar passport," a saffron-colored string the priest ties around your wrist to let the others know you're respecting the old ways. When I'd first come to Pushkar, I'd been annoyed by this aggressive stance, for after all, I was not a Hindu, and had no need of the ceremony. But now I've come to appreciate the ritual, and make some effort to find the right priest, one that doesn't care so much about my rupees as much as he might concern himself with my spirit and the well being of my family (the chanting involves naming the members of one's intimates).
When I leave Pushkar, I don't take the string off my wrist. It reminds me of sitting and wandering by the lake, pigeons figure-eighting in the sky, shrieking children running along the ghats, hippies beating drums at sunset, the smell of ganja wafting in the air, itinerant musicians playing village ballads on heirloom fiddles, thoughtful solitude and improvised companionship, and most of all, the invaluable feeling that while the world might be in the throes of one catastrophe after another, the days in Pushkar have been fine.