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According to legend, PUSHKAR, 15km northwest of Ajmer, came into existence when Lord Brahma, the Creator, dropped a lotus flower (pushpa) to earth from his hand (kar). At the three spots where the petals landed, water magically appeared in the midst of the desert to form three small blue lakes, and it was on the banks of the largest of these that Brahma subsequently convened a gathering of some 900,000 celestial beings – the entire Hindu pantheon. Surrounded by whitewashed temples and bathing ghats, the lake is today revered as one of India’s most sacred sites: Pushkaraj Maharaj, literally “Pushkar King of Kings”. During the auspicious full-moon phase of October/November (the anniversary of the gods’ mass meeting, or yagya), its waters are believed to cleanse the soul of all impurities, drawing pilgrims from all over the country. Alongside this annual religious festival, Rajasthani villagers also buy and sell livestock at what has become the largest camel market (unt mela) in the world, when more than 150,000 dealers, tourists and traders fill the dunes to the west of the lake.

There are more than five hundred temples in and around Pushkar, although some, like the splendid Vishnu Temple, are out of bounds to non-Hindus. Pushkar’s most important shrine, the Brahma Temple, houses a four-headed image of Brahma in its main sanctuary, and is one of the few temples in India devoted to him. Raised on a stepped platform in the centre of a courtyard, the inevitably crowded chamber is surrounded on three sides by smaller subsidiary shrines topped with flat roofs providing views across the desert to Savitri Temple on the summit of a nearby hill. The one-hour climb to the top of that hill is rewarded by matchless vistas over the town, surrounded on all sides by desert, and is best done before dawn, to reach the summit for sunrise, though it’s also a great spot to watch the sun set. The temple itself is modern, but the image of Savitri is supposed to date back to the seventh century. Gayitri Temple (Pap Mochini Mandir), set on a hill east of the town, also offers great views, especially at sunrise.

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