I went to the Pushkar Fair with a sense of trepidation, concerned the festival had become so well known that it would be overrun with tourists, relinquishing its rustic cultural flavor. But my fear was unfounded. Yes, thousands of foreign visitors were in Pushkar for the fair. But they were easily swallowed up by the hundreds of thousands of Rajasthani peasants.
Only at the orange-tented tourist village did the foreign visitors outnumber the locals. Sometimes, in fact, the tourist village resembled an American lawn party, with westerners lounging on plastic beach chairs, under colorful shade umbrellas, sipping drinks. But if the suburban ambiance grated, you could always dash 300 yards across the sand and lose yourself in the exotic culture of the festival.
The fair generally falls in the month of November, when the weather in Pushkar can be pleasantly hot by day and sweater-cool by night.
WHERE TO STAY: The tourist village, which is organized and run by the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corp., provides wonderful access to the fair. It also offers every imaginable amenity, from a post office to a crafts emporium, from evening cultural dances and camel rides to a bank. Everything is inside tents, including toilets and showers (which are without hot water, although an attendant will provide buckets of piping-hot water on request).
Food is available in a very large community dining hall. Service is buffet style, and the food is exclusively vegetarian, as meat is officially prohibited in Pushkar because of its status as a sacred city. "Deluxe" tents -- which come with two cots, two chairs and one weak light bulb -- are $45 a night for two people, $30 single. The price includes three meals. The most economical accommodation at the tourist village is about $3.50 for a cot in a dormitory-style tent, without meals. The tourist village is very popular, and advance reservations are a must.
Pushkar has almost as many hotels as it has temples. (They are considerably cheaper than similar accommodations at the tourist village, although their rates usually triple during the week of the full moon of Kartik.) The favorite of many visitors is the Sarovar Tourist Bungalow, an old palace located on the lake.
If you arrive at the fair sans room arrangements, you can camp on the sand, or you may have to abandon Pushkar for the night and bed down in the city of Ajmer, seven miles away.
GETTING THERE: Pushkar is 90 miles from Jaipur, the largest city and most popular tourist destination in Rajasthan. Jaipur can be reached from New Delhi by train, plane, bus or chauffeur-driven car. Trains and buses link Jaipur to Ajmer, and from Ajmer you can reach Pushkar by bus or taxi.
INFORMATION: For more information, contact the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corp. in New Delhi or Jaipur, or the Government of India Tourist Office in New York or New Delhi.