India has plenty to offer a curious traveler if only we take the time to look beyond the obvious. To call our country diverse is an understatement and people forget that there is a reason we’re called a sub continent. For many travelling to India is restricted to the usual suspects like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Goa, other popular metros and some typical tourist spots. Not that they don’t have their own unique offerings but if one takes the time and makes the effort to explore the interiors of India, you’ll be left speechless and equally impressed. A recent trip to two smaller towns in the regal state of Rajasthan reminded me of how pretty my country is and how you can enjoy smaller towns and see a very different side of the country. Rajasthan is a large north- western state in the country and is known for it’s capital Jaipur and other prominent cities. While I flew to Jaipur, I drove straight to explore the two neighbouring towns of Ajmer and Pushkar.
Both towns are very close to each other and the easiest way to get to each is to drive down. They are about 40 kms away from each other and small enough that you could explore them in a few days. I’ve been to both Ajmer and Pushkar before but it is only on this trip that I managed to do more and enjoy them better. Both towns attract a lot of people because of their temples and religious shrines. India is a country where faith and religion play an important role for the people and both towns are flocked with folks on various religious or spiritual journeys. For some the journey might unexpectedly turn out to be more spiritual than they expected, for others religion or spirituality have nothing to do with their experience but it’s a cultural eye opener. Either way you are left with a memorable experience. If you’re planning to visit then this post should help you plan your stay and sightseeing.
Stay At The Gateway Hotel Pushkar Bypass Ajmer – Both cities have hotels and bed and breakfasts but I find the most convenient would be to stay at the Gateway Hotel Pushkar Bypass Ajmer as the property is equidistant to both towns. It’s in the middle of nowhere surrounded by beautiful hills, peace and quiet and since this is a TAJ group of hotels property and brand you can be assured some top notch service and tasteful luxury. Apart from the location convenience, the hotel organises various trip and excursions on request. The food served here is a grand affair highlighting local regional Rajasthani fare and when the temperatures get too high you can skip everything and just enjoy lounging in their gorgeous outdoor swimming pool.
Brahma Temple – Pushkar is known for it’s famous camel fair, it’s funky laid back style and some trippy cafes but it’s real claim to fame is that it is home to the oldest Brahma temple in the world. Many think it is the only Brahma temple but there are a few others however it is a bit rare to find one as they aren’t many. I’m not exactly sure why but there are various myths and legends about that. The temple is unique and located near the Pushkar Lake which is a holy site and there are plenty of shops and street vendors selling everything from clothes to knickknacks next to the temple. Even if you don’t want to go inside the temple, you can walk around and soak in all the sights and sounds of Pushkar.
Aarti at Pushkar Lake – This is a very small town and the most prominent feature is the lake. You can enjoy the sunset in the evening at the Pushkar Lake ( Sunset Cafe is a great place to grab a bite and watch the sun set ) and then walk across to the other side by 7 pm and witness a beautiful Aarti. An aarti is a Hindu religious ritual of worship and this particular one is done by the lake where the priest lights a huge lamp and everyone chants prayers and mantras and the entire experience is just beautiful. In the end the priests bless you and give you prasad or what is a sweet that has been prayed and blessed for you to eat ( almost like an equivalent to holy water I suppose ).
Savitri Temple – Pushkar is the land of Bhramha. They say that Lord Brahma dropped his lotus ( called Pushpa ) in hindi and it fell in the spot where the currently Pushkar Lake is. The city is named after him and so apart from his temple there is also a temple dedicated to his first wife Savitri. The Savitri temple is perched ontop of a hill and you have to climb nearly 3000 old steps to get to the top. While devout pilgrims make the climb, thankfully for visitors or people who don’t want the strenuous exercise they have introduced a cable car. The ride up and down is stunning as you get beautiful views of the hills and of course a fantastic aerial view of Pushkar.
Ajmer Dargah – The most prominent and famous spot in Ajmer is the Ajmer Sharif Dargah. It is also called Khwaja Gareeb Nawas Dargah named after the Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty. The dargah is extremely holy to people from all faiths and religions as they come to pray to Khwaja ji and seek his blessings. The faith in the dargah is so immense that it is believed that if you pray with a clean and pure heart your wish shall be granted. The main shrine inside or the tomb where Khwaja ji rests is the inner sanctum where you pray however there is also a mosque there and plenty of space outside to sit and pray or meditate. There are guided tours to help you get around as the dargah is incredibly crowded on any given day and they also help explain about Khwaja ji and his work and how even famous kings like Akbar The Great had such unwavering faith in the sufi saint.
Kishangarh Fort – Kishangarh is a small town close to Ajmer and is home to a grand fort. Visiting this fort on a private tour was a personal highlight as it’s incredible to be able to walk inside in a small group and not have to bump into a thousand tourists. The thing is you can not just enter this fort by yourself as it isn’t open to public. There is a palace below the fort called Phool Mahal which has been converted to a small boutique hotel and only if you stay at the hotel or you have lunch at the hotel do you get access to a free guided tour of the Fort. ( If you stay at the Gateway Hotel they can arrange this tour of the Fort along with a delicious lunch at the palace for you ). Interestingly the fort is still well maintained by the Royal Family in Kishangarh and they use the fort for all their family functions. The most recent being the wedding celebrations for Princess Vaishnavi about 5 years ago.
Disclaimer : This trip and post was made possible thanks to the warm and generous hospitality of the Taj group and The Gateway Hotel. As always thoughts, views and opinions are my own.
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