Pushkar is a small lakeside town on the edge of a deserty kind of terrain (this loose definition is important later, stay tuned). Pushkar has a ton of temples, and is home to one of the world’s only Brahmin temples. To get to Pushkar, you take the train to Ajmer, a town which makes you run for the hills, literally, by getting on a local bus (upon which we again got a 30% ladies discount!), and riding it for 30 minutes over the Snake Ridge hills. When you get to Pushkar it seems like a maze of narrow alleyways, and it’s really easy to get yourself turned around. Which happened a few times, as you can imagine. We came to Pushkar to ride camels in the desert in India…I’ll get to that!
We got to the Hotel Everest, oddly named since Pushkar is nothing like Everest, and I immediately cooed over a gorgeous black lab named Lion, who seemed to be simultaneously adored and despised by his owner. I only adored him. The hotel had a great rooftop terrace and restaurant, so we immediately plunked ourselves up there and chilled out. There isn’t a ton to do in Pushkar, chilling being the main activity, so we gladly decided to partake in that. And ate food, and shopped, obviously.
Saraswati Temple in Pushkar India
The next morning went to check out the Saraswati Temple. Saraswati, who is the Goddess of Learning, Wisdom, and Speech. She was also known for being a bit of a bitch sometimes, so therefore is my personal favourite of the Hindu Gods. What is truly renowned about this temple is that you have to climb a hill for half hour to get to it and when you get up there you enjoy great views of the town and surrounding hills and landscape.
What the Lonely Planet doesn’t mention is that there are massive black-faced monkeys (which Google tells me are Grey Langurs) lining the path up the hill. Shocking.
We scooted up the path a bit faster than 30 minutes due to the monkeys, lets be honest. Anything to get past the monkeys faster.
Up at the top the view was excellent, and despite having the door of the Saraswati Temple slammed in our faces the minute we arrived, seemingly the temple closes at 11:57am, we hung around up top and enjoyed the view. And the heat that was noticeably increasing every minute. Walking down the hill, there was a marked decrease in monkey population, so they were either off keeping cool in the shade, or more likely feasting on the flesh of a hapless tourist.
Camel Safari in the Desert in Pushkar India
That afternoon was the real reason we had come to Pushkar: to ride camels!!
Now lets just put all the facts on the table: Jaisalmer is the town in India where you truly need to go get the “Ride the camel into the Desert and sleep under the stars” experience. And we knew that. But Pushkar was a heck of a lot closer than going to Jaisalmer, and on a ten day trip in India, we didn’t have time to go to the desert town that is basically on the Pakistani border. So we settled for Pushkar. My [intlink id=”949″ type=”page”]Bucket List[/intlink] item awaited!
We had a “Camel Desert Safari” arranged through our hotel, and we were to be picked up at 4pm, ride a camel for 2 hours into the desert, camp in the desert, and then ride the camel back to town the next morning.
First off, we were ‘picked up’ on a motorcycle. One. So Maddy and I both climbed on, behind the driver, and the three of us wobbled off. Now Lindsay Manko and I did this many times in Southeast Asia, three people on a moto, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t done it since, mainly since it’s horrendously uncomfortable, and oh yah, super dangerous! But hey, we were about to get on a camel, so at least the motorbike won’t spit on you.
We got to the camels meeting place, and were introduced to our awaiting noble steeds. Mine was a wise buck named Romeo. Because the world needs at least one goofy looking camel named Romeo, it just makes it a better place. Maddy’s camel was named Lala, because he was a teenager and was still new at the whole being ridden thing. Comforting. Her camel jockey also looked pretty young, and when asked his age the answer that came from the lead guide, Siri, was “Officially 15. But he’s actually 12.” All of this was so comforting.
How Do You Ride a Camel?
So lets talk about riding camels.
To the inevitable first question, both Romeo and Lala were one-hump camels. They were each fitted with a two-seater saddle, with the hump being the divider between the front and the back seat. Tourist sat in the front saddle seat, and the camel jockey in the back (I’m sure there is a legit name for the men who pilot the desert beasts, but I am already Googled out by finding the species of black faced monkey).
The jockeys have the camels on reins, like a horse, but really they are directed more with verbal cues and the occasional swift kick to the hip.
To get in the saddle, the camel starts by lying on the ground, with their legs bent up underneath them, so you can climb into the saddle straight from the ground, then the jockey climbs on and he directs the camel to stand up, which happens less than gracefully and you start to understand how much core strength it’s going to take on your part to stay in that saddle.
You also have an instant need to pee.
Like, literally 5 seconds atop a camel, and you might pee on that camel. The gait of a camel is not like a horse, more side to side, and that is when it is walking. I will discuss ‘going faster’ later. So your posterior takes a beating, no way around that. You are also a lot higher than when you are on a horse, making that potential fall all the more distressing.
But Maddy and I were both big girls, we did not pee on our camels, and did we cry from fear or pain.
Once we were both in the saddles, and therefore almost 3 meters in the air, off we went, at a shockingly slow pace, plodding through town on our way to the ‘desert’.
Again, the word ‘desert’ used loosely.
The first 30 minutes of the ride was through Pushkar proper, then the next 20 minutes on the outskirts, then after another 20 minutes in the ‘desert’, we rode into a fenced-in paddock with three whitewashed concrete block houses and told this is where we were ‘camping’ for the night.
Now, as some of you know, camping isn’t my favorite thing to begin with, but I was a Brownie, AND a Girl Guide (6 years and I have the many badges to prove it), so I do know what camping is, and this was not it. As several mangy looking dogs from the house down the hill drew nearer I even asked, “Are you sure we’re in the desert?” The guide confidently said, “Yes, this is it.”
Ok. I don’t remember stray dogs in Lawrence of Arabia.
It was at about this point that Maddy and I started calling this the Best Exotic Marigold Camel Safari, in reference to the wonderful movie where, in India, what is promised in the brochure is not exactly what you get.
Our camel ride was about 70 minutes, our desert was more of a dusty paddock, and our tents were concrete slabs with tin roofs.
And the ‘toilet’ was deniably so, my first thought was cesspool of disease, I won’t go into further detail.
Thankfully there was no wedding on in the massive wedding party complex that was literally right beside our “campsite” or else we would have heard the melodies of Bollywood pleasure deep into the night. But hey, we had taken the cheap and geographically convenient way out, we knew this was no Jaisalmer.
Making the best of our absurd situation, we just enjoyed what was happening, watched the sun set over the ‘desert’, took in the glorious stars, and reminisced that we had ridden camels that day, which really was the whole point of the expedition anyways (Bucket List Item #10- Ride a Camel: CHECK!).
We also watched the stray dogs meander around us, and pet some puppies when they summoned up the courage to come close enough.
The next morning I did catch the sunrise, which was gorgeous, and took even more pictures of Romeo, with the sun behind him, making him look like a Camel God of some kind. And then we remounted our noble beasts of burden for the jaunt home.
Romeo, was the more experienced of the two camels, and I was up on Romeo with the more experienced of the two camel jockeys, Siri, who had actually hit and passed puberty, unlike Maddy’s fearless leader. So we were lead camel, and on the way back to town Siri asked if I wanted to ‘go faster’.
Sure, I’m a girl who likes a rush, lets go faster, how fast can a goofy camel really move anyways?? Well, the answer to that naïve question is: Really really fast, but not at all gracefully. Horses? The faster they go, the smoother the ride. Camels? Completely the opposite!
The faster that majestic one-humped beast moves, the more you think you are going fly off into the desert and succumb to paraplegia. The instruction to staying on the camel while it is running is to put all of your weight down into the stirrups.
That is excellent in theory, except that the very rotund nature of a camel’s back, not to mention it’s sheer breadth, means that your legs are straddled in an unnaturally wide angle, not conducive to putting your weight anywhere except your increasingly bruised ass. Never have I seen my legs flail like they did on that galloping camel. It was like Lord of the Dance.
Note to self: focus on hip openers in yoga prior to next camel safari. I almost fell off the camel, instantly.
So we slowed down, regrouped and Siri explained the stirrup thing again.
Oh yes, I understand the instruction and the benefits of it’s adherence, namely not falling off, but the actual exercise is far more difficult to put into practice. Much like flossing every day, like who does that?!
Siri, still wanting to give me the full camel experience asked if it was ok that he hold onto me, and he promised not to let me fall off the camel.
“Yes, you can hold onto me, just don’t let me fall off this camel”.
So he held onto me. Around the mid-section.
Which was full of dhal baat and lassis and naan bread, and is an area of my body which I’m not ashamed to say has fully embraced the Indian glamorization of a somewhat curvier female physique. He was literally holding onto me by my love handles.
And then we started galloping.
And I doubt you need to have taken high school physics to imagine what happens to the wobbly bits on your body when you are on top of a galloping camel. That’s right, they wobble. Everywhere. The whole ‘for every action there is an equal or greater reaction’?? Great reactions indeed.
Even with a slight Indian man holding onto my love handles, I was still bouncing everywhere. Nevertheless, by holding my handles, he did maintain his end of the bargain, and I did not fall off Romeo. So that was a blessing. And then we stopped “going fast” and just walked, which was another blessing.
And Siri tactfully never said a word about the extra body bits he had literally just held onto, yet another blessing.
The camels were exciting indeed. We got back to town, fairly glad to be off the camels and to be able to start the process of letting our bodies and pride heal. We had some lunch, made some more Best Exotic Marigold jokes, and caught a train to Jodphur, happy to be on a more modern form of transportation that only moved in one direction.
Top Things to do in Pushkar
Pushkar is actually quite touristy and therefore has a bazaar street full of shops with tourist tack and souvenirs. As a part of this experience, we decided we wanted henna, the gorgeous inking that Indian women get on their hands for special occasions. Our special occasion was that we hadn’t fallen off any camels that day.
We found a shop that advertised henna, asked the guy and he said, “Yes follow!” and off he went walking through the streets of Pushkar with us following, wondering where we were going. He led us to what looked to be a wood shop (or kill shed depending on how many episodes of CSI you’ve watched) and told us this was his house, and his wife was upstairs and she would do our henna. Ok! Upstairs we went; he didn’t seem like a maniac. And we got our hands hennaed while sitting on this lovely couple’s marital bed.
In Pushkar I saw one of those travellers who maybe has been travelling for too long. Around his neck, he was wearing what is commonly known as a Swastika, yes of Nazi fame. In reality, this symbol (with a slight difference) was around well before Adolf, as it is an Asian symbol of peace and it is frequently on temples and traditional art. But come on buddy, I don’t care how enlightened you are, I still don’t think it’s that appropriate for anybody of any white-ish ethnic persuasion to don it around his neck. Even if you have dreadlocks.
When in Pushkar, I finished the Grapes of Wrath. I traded it for, wait for it, the sequel to the Devil Wears Prada. Vomit. I read that drivel in a day and then was disappointed in myself. By the way, the Grapes of Wrath ending is crazy! That didn’t happen in the movie…
Maddy got me a present as we were leaving Pushkar, a bottle of Thums Up, an Indian cola beverage that is 5 times sweeter than Coke and probably gave me an ulcer.
When we were on the train, I was really hot, and had let my scarf fall off my shoulders, which were bare, hence me keeping the scarf over them. I was totally engrossed in the Devil wearing Prada, and didn’t notice the old man across the car staring daggers at my shoulders. My whorish shoulders. I quickly covered them.