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Stumbling Along After a few years or travelling and then a couple years of settling down in Sweden, I'm back on the road. 7 mths or maybe forever, in South Africa, the Seychelles, India, Nepal, SE Asia...

Pushkar and the Price of Karma

INDIA | Saturday, 1 March 2014 | Views [431] | Comments [1]

According to the Hindu religion, the god Brahma dropped a lotus flower and the town of Pushkar sprouted up from where it landed. Unfortunately for the deity, he also had a love affair here which enraged his first wife. She cursed him, saying that only in Pushkar would he ever be worshiped. Today, Pushkar is home to one of only three temples dedicated to Brahma in all of India, and the main place of worship and pilgrimage for the creator god. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, whether you're a god or not.

We had heard good things about Pushkar, and Bisham suggested that we might want to use the extra night we had after cutting our trip short in Ranthambore here. As soon as we pulled into the hotel, we were sold. A big room with a terrace over-looking a garden and multi-tiered swimming pool, fast wifi, HOT water and for once we weren't freezing at night and forced to sleep in a fleece sweater. When we dropped off our bags and went to explore the small town of 15,000, we were also pleasantly surprised. No one begging, trying to sell us stuff or drag us into their shop. That sealed the deal, three days it would be.

The town is centered around a holy lake which, along with the Brahma and about 100 other temples, attracts tourists from all over India. Around the lake are a string of markets, hotels and restaurants and more Western faces than I had seen since arriving to the country. Along with attracting Hindus hoping to give a blessing of luck and prosperity to their family and more devout pilgrims coming to pay homage to Brahma, it seemed that Pushkar attracted all the soul-searching, harem-pant wearing, wannabe hippies not currently taking up space on the beaches of Goa. It was almost impossible to find a foreign tourist not dressed up in some sort of 'traditional' Indian garb they had bought at the market the day before.

While it's hard to say Pushkar is more touristy than Agra, it is touristy in a different way. It has a kind of alcohol-free Koh Phi Phi, Thailand sort of feel to it. All the shops sell the standard spices, trinkets, saris, pashminas and camel leather shoes, but a few extra shops specialize in what I would call Indian fashion for western backpackers. That is to say, clothes that travelers put on to feel like they're blending in and becoming a part of India, but that you will never actually see any Indians wearing. Like the baggy crouched, harem pants my friend Kevin refers to as 'I went to India and bought these pants' pants. This style is very similar to fashion sold in Thailand, Egypt and every other place where people feel the need to peel off their Abercrombie and exchange it for batik pants and a crocheted vest.

All this aside, Pushkar is a nice little laid back town that's easy to walk around, has very few beggars or pushers and has great, cheap vegetarian food as well as some delicious home-made pastas and wood-oven pizzas. And, it allowed us to finally stop and catch our breaths after a few hectic days in Rajasthan.

On our second day in Pushkar, we decided to head down to one of the Ghats (small pools around the lake where Pilgrims bath in the holy waters). We were warned of Brahman priests who would push you to bless your family for the price of a small (or not so small) donation. One such priest, suspiciously riding a motorcycle and wearing a track suit, found us in front of the Brahma temple and placed a small red flower in each of our hands. He said if we went to a ghat, to throw the flower in the water, bless our family, give a small donation and we would be given a Pushkar Passport (a small string tied around your wrist signifying that you had blessed and donated) and then would be free to roam the streets of Pushkar hassle free. If anyone bothered us to donate to a temple, he said, just show them your 'passport'.

We had read as much, and so thanked him and headed to a nearby ghat. Two seconds later, he parks, hops off his bike and is leading us (with a swagger that was more drug dealer than Brahman priest) to what he ensures us is the best ghat. Wearily, we followed. Once at the ghat, he showed us to a little stand where we were given a metal plate with colored powder, rice, sugar, some flower petals and a whole coconut. He told us to take off our shoes, touch the plate to our heads, and then we headed down the steps to the edge of the water. There waiting was a Brahman priest (this one at least dressed all in white). I sat in front of him, and Mikko followed our motorcycle priest to a spot a few meters away.

I was told by the priest that I was to repeat after him, and began chanting names of gods and random other Hindu phrases, most of which I couldn't understand so I just mumbled along trying to match his tone and pronunciation as best I could. He then explained that the red was for blood, yellow for family, sugar for a sweet life and rice for nourishment (or something like that). I never did find out what the coconut was for. We chanted more, he asked me the names of my family members and then more chanting.

Then, he popped the million dollar question. How much money was I planning on donating. Mind you, we hadn't even finished blessing my family yet. I told him 300 hundred rupees was all I could afford. He tsk tsked and said that was too little. I asked how much, and he asked, "How much is your karma worth?". I thought about it for about half a second and answered, "300 rupees" (5 dollars). He explained that Indians give rupees and usually 5-10,000. Foreigners should give dollars or euros, 50-100 of them. I explained that: first, I have no dollars or euros as I'm traveling in India and my country of residence uses neither; and second, I don't have that kind of money to spare. Eventually he accepted the 300 rupees, finished blessing my family and journey, tied on my Pushkar passport and led me up the stairs to the donation window where I gave 300 for me and 300 for Mikko (who's track pant priest apparently gave him a much less traditional blessing ceremony and spent most of the time on the donation part). They had agreed on 100 rupees - after Mikko's initial suggestion of 20 rupees - but they kept us apart clearly seeing that I would give more money as I obviously valued my karma more than my cheap boyfriend. After payment I was given a government-approved donation receipt, though I doubt it will be tax deductible.

Our pockets a bit lighter, but Karma-meter nicely recharged, we headed down past the ghat to the edge of the lake where the faithful were bathing in the holy water. I thought I should seal my newly purchased karma with a little dip of my toes in the lake. But, after one look at the greasy film, rotting flowers, pigeon feathers and other mystery particles floating along the edge of the water mixing with runoff from the streets, I figured the receipt was good enough.

Though all in all, I can say that Pushkar has been a highlight with it's lazy pace, sunset views from the mountain-top temples and scrumptious vegetarian food. But, if anything happens on my trip or to my family, I will be coming back to Pushkar and demanding a refund. (It is, however, quite possible that this post will cost me a couple of those Karma points I just earned)

Tags: hinduism, pushkar, religion

 

Comments

1

Nice Article!
I went by the ghat today, had the same ceremony about blessing my family, and all.. and I got asked to donate in the form of meals (each meal 1500 rupees). He asked me how many meal I could donate?
Of course I had not even the money for 1 meal, but I felt obliged to give everything I had on me, which was 700 rupees (the money for the bus I had planned to take back to Jaipur), and was almost ashamed to not give 1 entire meal, and even was said to come back to give the rest of the amount to complete 1500 rupees.
But hey few hours after, I just thought about it, and I feel I got screwed up by this scam tourist trap! First, I'm not Hindu, and have no special belief in these gods nor have any understanding on who they are. Then second, a good meal i India could be approximate at 150 rupees not 1500 !! So the 700 rupees are more than enough for me and my close family (parents and brother) to have good karma.
Then I thought, How can he dare asked the name of my close family, and put good karma on the amount of money I would give??? This is a scam technique that worked on me, because of course I care about my family!
Anyway the whole town is a tourist trap, with camel's ride, stupid souvenirs, fake beggars, and anything you can think of to extract money from visitors.
Please come visit as it's still an interesting place with strong and unique culture, but be aware and informed ahead.
Peace! and Travel Wise!

  Stephane Nov 6, 2018 1:08 AM

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