17 February 2017

Travel: Pushkar, Rajasthan- A Trip I Will Cherish Forever

A trip I've been wanting to take for quite some time now! Pushkar is a destination for nature lovers, for someone looking for a relaxing time, for someone who is looking for great food and great vibe, for spiritual purposes, for experiencing boho lifestyle in India, for backpacking.. basically you get the idea- you can be any kind of traveller, any kind of tourist, Pushkar has something for each one of you. 


I wanted a backpacking sort of a trip, where I can be a 'traveller' and not a 'tourist'. I had planned a gazillion things for my Pushkar trip, and none of those involved lavishness. I wanted to live like the locals do, explore like the backpackers do, and I couldn't be more glad that my trip went EXACTLY the way I planned it. Even more glad that I took this trip with my mother who was such a sport!

Best time to visit:

October-February. I went in the last week of January and on my last day in Pushkar I was chilling at cafes with the fans on. Got a little chilly at night, but the pleasant chilly that you enjoy, not cold per se. The perfect weather I'd say. The minimum temperature here was 13 degrees and the maximum was 24. So got a little hot during the afternoon. 




How to reach:

Pushkar doesn't have a railway station, but the closest one is at Ajmer. Took the Ajmer Shatabdi Express to and fro Pushkar which is a 7 hour journey in the train for one side (booked on www.irctc.co.in). Ajmer Shatabdi starts from Delhi at 6 AM and from Ajmer at 4 45 PM. From Ajmer you have 3 options to reach Pushkar, which is a 30 minute ride at most. A cab will cost you 300 bucks, but the same cab for coming back from Pushkar to Ajmer costs between 350-400. An autorickshaw costs the same amount, but is slower. The cheapest option is a bus. The bus stand from the Ajmer railway station is 5 minutes by autorickshaw (50 bucks). From there you can get on any bus going to Pushkar (the soonest one, of course), and you reach Pushkar in just 12 bucks. I took the bus, and that's what told me my trip was going to be epic. Soak in the entire feel of Pushkar and take the bus!!

Shatabdi Express serves you meals, tea, coffee, snack, and a bottle of water per person, so you save up on spending money on food during the journey too. Also, the food in the train is pretty good and is served hot.

Cost of travelling per head (from Delhi): Rs.1950- split two ways (About 1700 per person on the train, 50 bucks on the auto ride, 12 bucks on the bus journey, 50 bucks for reaching the hotel, 350 on the cab ride back. You split the auto rides and cab rides if you're travelling with someone, so comes out even cheaper.)

Where to Stay:

Booked my room through GoIbibo mobile app under their 1+1 night offer (you pay for 1 night and get 1 night free). Hotel Master Paradise was the hotel where I stayed and took a deal with breakfast inclusive. Merely 15 minutes walking distance from the market, and a great view from all sides. A three star hotel with all amenities, my room had a balcony too, and the washroom was pretty decent as well (my most major concern). They even had in-room dining available and they served some pretty good coffee. Breakfast at the hotel was way way way better than I expected, and the food was delicious! Over the two days that I ate breakfast here, I had some mind-blowing soft aloo paranthas, aloo bonda, aloo poori, fresh orange juice and coffee. Cornflakes, tea, coffee, white toast, jam, butter, milk and juice was served everyday for breakfast, and the two main hot dishes were on a rotational basis. 


The hotel has a courtyard in the centre, and the rooms are made around it (on ground, first and second floor). They have wifi on a chargeable basis but I'll advise you against it- doesn't work at all. Two lifts, at the opposite ends of the hotel, chairs outside each room (because not every room has a balcony), and a very safe hotel. The guests at the hotel include mostly foreigners, along with people coming from different parts of India in big groups. Made a friend at the breakfast table on my first morning here- a sweet lady from Bangalore who was touring her way through Rajasthan with 30 other people.

The hotel has a terrace on the third floor which has a beautiful 360 degree view. Hills, the breathtaking sky during sunrise and sunset, and the amazing weather. Woke up at 7 each day to shoot the sunrise. Pushkar and its skies are simply mesmerizing with all those shades! 


Travel within Pushkar: 

If you are within the market, you don't need to take any rickshaw (called tuktuk), just walk. If you live in the main market area, every place is only 10-15 minutes walking distance. If you plan to live in the resorts on the highway, you will have to ask for the hotel/resort to arrange for a drop for you, because the highway doesn't have public transport waiting outside. For coming back you can always take the public transport. 

The tuktuk drivers in Pushkar are too moody, and they judge you by your appearance and colour to know what to charge you. A trip to the market and the ghats was 50 bucks for me from my hotel, but till the Brahma temple it was 150. 

If you know how to ride a bike, then think no more and take a scooty or a bike on rent here. It doesn't get better than that!!

Where to eat:

The major attraction for me to go to Pushkar was the crazy cafe and restaurant scene that Pushkar boasts of. Italian, Lebanese and Mediterrenean are the most famous and the ones that are done authentically here. Owing to the major tourist crowd being foreigners, Pushkar does these cuisines so so so well. Italian coffee, healthy cuisines, places that do yoghurt based breakfast options, Lebanese rolls and woodfire oven pizzas- the food scene here is incredible!

Listing down all the places I visited and my two cents about them:




1. La Pizzeria- The BEST restaurant in Pushkar. An open air restaurant made inside the courtyard of the owner's house. Chairs and tables, sofas and cushions on the floor, vibrant colourful walls and interiors, and exceptional food! My first meal in Pushkar was here and I cannot emphasize enough on how every person visiting Pushkar should definitely go here. The best pizza in all of Pushakr- thin crust with such crisp edges, amazing toppings and outstanding sauce in the base. Puttanesca Penne Pasta- too good in taste, a thick tomatoey cream sauce with veggies. The most mouth-watering Hummus Pita in Pushkar is also here. Fresh soft pita with hummus flavored perfectly. And I thought it wouldn't get better than this, but the Lemon Mint then came to tell me how this place is a mecca for great food. Lemon Mint is a drink extremely popular in Pushkar. Every single cafe has it on the menu. It is basically crushed ice mixed with lemon and mint leaves crushed to the tiniest bit. The end result of this is a very very refreshing and very delicious drink. Oh, and every table has a bottle of olive oil on it. Doesn't get more real!! Spent 750 on my entire meal here. 



2. Out Of The Blue- You cannot miss this restaurant. The tallest building in Badi Basti, striking with the blue paint on it. Made on third floor till the fifth floor that has a terrace, the place is done beautifully! Blue interiors, a combination of seating, low-lying and sofas. They have the best view of the Pushkar Lake from the terrace! Went here for lunch on day 2 and ordered for Hummus Pita and Lemon Mint to begin with. The hummus here is too thin, and the Lemon Mint isn't balanced- too lemony. Got it fixed twice but it was still the same. Ordered for a pizza then, and that too wasn't any great. A place you can totally skip, there are way better options to choose from. Spent 550 on my meal.




3. Honey Dew Cafe & Restaurant- One of the oldest places in Pushkar (since 1985), situated diagonally opposite Out Of The Blue, Honey Dew is a very very small cafe that's extremely famous for its freshly brewed Italian coffee. The place does some kickass paranthas, known as chapatis, and they do a small section of sweet somethings too. Tried the Nutella crepe but it was too eggy in texture. The owner is a very very sweet person who didn't like the fact that I ate my pancake like a rat and only wiped off the nutella, and I was feeling too bad to tell the sweet person that I didn't like it. Go here for the coffee and the old world rustic charm of Pushkar cafes. Oh, and they have old slow hindi songs playing here. Spent 165 here- 120 on the nutella pancake and 45 on a pot of coffee that served two. 



4. Honey & Spice- A restaurant frequented by the foriegner crowd here because of their uber healthy menu. 'Healthy' at this restaurant isn't there to fool you, it's healthy in every sense of the world, healthier than any restaurant in Delhi can ever get with the 'healthy' tag. Tried coffee with cinnamon, coffee with chocolate, and a chocolate cake with stevia. Loved it! They do some mean meal-in-a-bowls, salads and breakfast options here. A major attraction for the foreigners because of how tasty and healthy the food is. The place is made inside a small complex with shops around it. Damn damn sweet owners, loved the sweet aunty- she could hypnotize me with her voice!! They're open only till 5PM, so don't plan dinner here. . Spent 300 on two coffees and a cake.

5. Sunset Cafe- All other cafes in Pushkar are situated in the main market, this cafe is situated on the opposite side, next to Pushkar Palace. Right in front of the ghats, where people gather majorly in the evening to watch the beautiful sunset. The Sun sets bang opposite this cafe, and hands down this is the best view of the sunset in Pushkar. Hence, totally justifies the name. The place is huge, and the menu is even bigger. Had a lovely spaghetti in mixed sauce and a Chinese Spaghetti Sizzler. Both the dishes were outstanding! My favourite place in Pushkar after La Pizzeria. Great portions, droolworthy food, amazing Iced Tea, and what a vibe! They have everything going right for them. A place you cannot miss!! Spent 700 on my meal here.



6. Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar- Stopped here to have the famous Rabri Malpua of Pushkar. Totally deserves all the hype! Malpua made of rabri, not topped with it, as I thought. A little chewy in texture (in a good way), soft, and so so so good! You cannot stop at one piece! I was too full when I went here so couldn't try more stuff, but the Kachori with Kadhi cannot be missed. Another mishthan right opposite this also serves the same food, and there's no reason why I chose this one. They both serve the same stuff, and taste almost the same too. But wherever you go, don't miss out on the Rabri Malpua! It's for 35 bucks for a piece (very expensive according to the Pushkar standards but worth every penny)


7. Pawan Restaurant- Pushkar is damn famous for Lebanese and Mediterranean food. The street food here comprises of these cuisines and they're so good that they give the cafes around a run for their money. Pawan Restaurant is bang on the road, a little before Honey & Spice, and does some 100 kinds of Lebanese rolls, burrito rolls, . Exceptional falafel, exceptional rolls, something that instantly fills your heart and soul with joy! There are about 10 plastic chairs and stools laid down, a tawa on which the rolls are made, and a huge menu to choose from. I took the Avocado, Paneer, Falafel Wrap and shared it with my mother. Too too filling, and we were in heaven after the first bite. Saucy, spicy as per your taste, generous fillings, and the roll then heated on the tawa to make it crisp. The complete roll can be your entire meal- it's that filling. Spent 150 on the roll. Minus the avocado and the rolls here are cheaper. 


8. Sonu Juice Shop- As the name suggests, it's a juice shop that does a great variety of juices, but it's not just any juice shop. They also have a big menu full of muesli, sundaes, healthy fruit bowls, yoghurt based stuff, and it's as delicous as it looks. Another place on the road, with just 10-12 plastic chairs for people to sit. They make their food very very pretty, the quality of fruits they use is lovely, and the presentation and looks make you want to order everything on the menu. Tried the Fruit Muesli and Icecream Coco and Choco, and it was marvellous! Layers of fruits (and a lot of them), a layer of muesli, lots of vanilla icecream, sliced almonds on top, and lots of chocolate sauce drizzled. Paid 150 for this. The place is frequented by foreigners the most and I think the reason is they're not like us Indians who would like to load up on fried stuff early in the morning. These healthy places are like home for them. 

 





9. Laura's Cafe- The best place for coffee in Pushkar. Laidback vibe, cane chairs to sit on, people working on their laptops or chilling- it's one of the most calm cafes in Pushkar. A great view of the lake and the only place that also serves beer in Pushkar. Reason enough to go, right? Spent 200 on the beer and 100 on coffee. And they can also arrange for a cab for you.



10. Baba Restaurant- Situated in Chhoti Basti, Baba Restaurant gives you a view of the market as well as the lake. Decent food, the vibe is just the same as every other place in Pushkar- relaxing and laidback, and the pizza is real good. Thin crust but not extremely thin, and the Pesto Pasta was good too. One place after La Pizzeria that did a superb Lemon Mint! Spent 550 on my meal here. If you're in Pushkar for long then do try Baba Cafe, but if you're pressed for time you can give it a miss too. 


11. Street Food Breakfast in Pushkar- You haven't experienced Pushkar if you haven't stepped out on the streets of the Pushkar market early in the morning. Fresh Poha and Dal Pakwaan being sold at small carts (the one I went to was right outside Baba Restaurant), served hot and fresh, and food that is so high on taste. Brilliant brilliant stuff! Fluffy soft poha for only 10 bucks- beat that! Dal Pakwaan where the dal is made according to your spice preference, and you have it with the crisp pakwaan. Only for 20 bucks a plate. Do not come back from Pushkar without having this!! These carts open up at 6-6 30 in the morning and are there till about 11 30-12.




Things to do in Pushkar:

1. Shopping- Beautiful salwars, jackets, bags, accessories, juttis, sarees, clutches, sling bags, dupattas and suits, western wear, loose pyjamas and razor back tshirts, shorts and kurtis, the list just goes on! Things typical to Rajasthan and Pushkar, and very pretty. Haggle a lot with the vendors and you'll get a steal deal. The clothes are available closer to the Brahma Temple, and that's where you will also find bags, shoes and the likes. There are some great shops selling silver jewellery and silver artefacts in the market. If you're looking to indulge in some silver shopping, do give these shops a try. You'll find furniture shops, utensils, and what not!

2. A visit to the Brahma Temple, which is the oldest Brahma Temple in the world. There will be shops outside the temple that will give you tokris with prasad and flowers in them. Take the smallest one which is for about 100 bucks and don't get fooled by the shopkeepers who tell you the bigger your tokri is the more blessed you will be. You can leave your shoes at the shop you buy the tokri from. No cameras allowed inside the temple so leave them at the hotel and prefer not trusting the shopkeepers with it. I had no other option so I had to keep my camera with them and thankfully it was in one piece when I came back.

3. Visit the Pushkar Ghats- You cannot enter within 200-300 metres of the ghats with your shoes on, so don't wear too expensive shoes that you have to feel bad about losing them in case they get stolen. The priests will literally be after your life to get a puja done here. Any sort of puja, doesn't matter for what, as long as you're giving them money. I'd say just go to the ghats and enjoy the peace and calm there. Sit on the steps beside the water and spend some quiet time with yourself. It's a  beautiful experience!



4. Watch the sunset sitting at the ghat in front of Sunset Cafe. Truly an experience that calms you down and moves you into a state of tranquility. It is just so much to soak in through just the experience of a sunset- indescribable! The vibe at the ghats during sunset is phenomenal! People dancing, playing different instruments, a time of merry and a state of nirvana. What a vibe! Do not miss the sunset at any cost and stay there for all shades of the sky- it's one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.



5. Taking a stroll through the market- If you have time to kill and you're bored of sitting at a cafe (though I'd strongly advise you continue doing the latter at different ones), take a stroll through the market and see the different things Pushkar has to offer. I loved walking here, and I walked for 8 kilometres on one of the days I was here. The more I walked the more that place felt like home. Soak in the spirit, see the tourists, watch the passersby, see what a melting pot of cultures this place is, and be a traveller with an open mind. 

Things to note:

1. There are a total of four-five ATMs in the main Pushkar market area and not all of them are functional. Sundays the ATMs don't get refilled with money, so please stock up on enough cash and go. 
2. 95% places don't accept cards/Paytm here
3. There are hardly any tuktuks available after 9PM
4. Beware of 'special lassi'

Pushkar is a place that deserves to be visited by all! Great vibe, great culture, great atmosphere- I just won't get tired of saying this because I can never emphasize enough. See live videos from my Pushkar trip here:

https://www.facebook.com/thetastingfork/videos/939786736122612/
https://www.facebook.com/thetastingfork/videos/939851789449440/
https://www.facebook.com/thetastingfork/videos/940591986042087/

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