"What is your grandmothers name?"
"She wishes you a long life. Do you wish to bless her?"
"Throw the flowers onto the lake..."
So I sat barefooted on the stone ghat, feeling faintly ridiculous, with a teenage pujari sitting next to with red kohl smeared on his forehead. All around me were the bathing ghats of Pushkar (see photo). The air was humming with activity - sadhus bathed in the lake, stalls brimmed with birdseed and saried pilgrims shared the ghats with scrawny cows. But I was participating in one of the rituals of India and really felt I was getting close to this fascinating country.
As with most visitors, westerners are approached in Pushkar as soon as they leave their hotels by pujaris. Mostly teenage boys they try and steer visitors to the ghats and persuade them to take the puja. I would recommend this even if you haven't got a spiritual bone in your body, such as I, as you get close to the country and with your Pushkar passport you can wander around the ghats unmolested by the Brahmins and pujaris. We decided to particpate and were herded down to the bird-filth encrusted Varah ghat by our pujari. There we were ordered to take off our shoes and follow him out onto the stone breakwater and crouch down next to him,
He enclosed fifty red rose petals in my hand and asked me to speak the mantra after him. I felt ridiculous but complied, then red powder was poured onto my hands and I had to continue the mantra. Once I had finished I had to throw the rosepetals onto the water, and then my hands were cleaned by a silver bowl and a red dot was drawn on my forehead with kohl. I am now spiritually cleansed; a red and yellow piece of string was tied around my wrist to prove this.
It came as no surprise to be charged 500 rupees for this priveledge, so I pretended to get annoyed and beat him down to 200 rupees. He grumbled that it did not cover the cost of materials (just how much does red powder cost?) but in the end he accepted. I was allowed to put my boots back and was given a little packet of sweet sugar. We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the ghats taking sacrilegous pictures. The entire scene was fascintating; Brahmin priests patrolled the ghats, Indian youths jumped in and out of the water, cows followed each other nose-to-tail along the breakwater and sadhus poured the holy liquid onto their bodies while reciting a mantra.
And then there was the view of Pushkar lake itself, which must be one of the most exotic sights in Asia (see photo). A holy lake for thousands of years and surrounded by the hundreds of domed whitewashed temples and palaces. Each of the temples was built by maharajah's hundreds of years ago so he could have a private puja - they gave the town a stunning facade especially when reflected in the waters of the lake when the sun goes down....