The pilgrimage


It’s Saturday morning in Pushkar. The pilgrims have increased throughout the week, all culminating in the official full moon at midnight tonight. That’s when the lake will be swarming with bathers who believe that this is the holiest moment for their pilgrimage.


I wonder if any of us will go in the water. We should, right, though I’m noticing that we’re tentative travelers. The other night for the bride-and-groom contest a mother approached Liam with her boy by her side. He was wearing a fabulous wedding outfit, but since the contest was only open to foreigners, he wanted the only 11-year-old American in sight to put on his clothes. Great experience, right? But Liam stepped back and turned his whole body away from the boy and the chance to thrill a thousand people gathered around the stage. I pleaded (pled?) but no luck, no contest, no memory for a lifetime.


I envy these pilgrims. Over the past few days I’ve observed them from the top steps of the ghats during all times of the morning and night. There are a few holy men with long matted hair and streaks of orange across their forehead, but most go to the lake as families or groups of friends. There is a ritual around entering the water—scoop up water and hold it to the sky, sprinkle water across the top of the head, lay an offering of flower petals on the surface of the lake—but then the attitude becomes playful, especially when there are little kids involved. There’s lots of splashing, lots of laughter at the chill of the water.


These people believe. Their young people believe. We haven’t seen this in the countries to the west, where the only ones who attend services in the Catholic Church or the Greek Orthodox Church or the mosque in Istanbul are the elderly. Not here. All ages practice Hinduism. I wonder if there are any atheists in India, since to be a non-believer would disrespect your parents and elders. That’s the hook here, this thread that ties you to the past. Verticality, I think it’s called, something which we Americans know little about. Do you have an altar to your great grandparents? Do you take flower petals down to a lake that Brahma visited many thousands of years ago? Do you enter a room where your parents are sitting and touch their feet to show respect?


If anything, America encourages a certain amount of irreverence. Each generation is to reinvent itself. If you take over your father’s profession there’s the sense that you took the easy route. In an American classroom it’s encouraged to dispute your teacher.


We could use a pilgrimage. Americans should stream to the headwaters of the Mississippi in northern Minnesota on the last full moon of the summer to bathe by the millions in these holy waters. Instead, there is a warped sense of a pilgrimage by going to Las Vegas, or Disneyland, or Yankee Stadium, or Lambeau Field, or maybe the Washington Monument. But these are done on your own rather than a collective day that gets a whole population to look up at the sky to chart the progress of the moon.




Pushkar has delivered. It has swept up its streets and shoveled out its gutters that run with sewage down every street. It has provided us with entertainment in the stadium during the day (moustache contest, water-carrying contest, wrestling, soccer, turban-tying contest) and entertainment at night (reenactment of Brahma coming to Pushkar, fireworks, regional music and dance). It’s opened its arms to us foreigners by providing a roped-off area to watch all the festivities, plus invited us to be part of all the contests. The streets have felt safe at all hours of the day and night. The people have been quick to approach us with a welcome and not just for money. And of course, there’s the oasis of our hotel, the Paramount Palace (which I’ve been calling the Paradise in earlier blogs).


Pushkar has delivered with its many different scenes: the scene of the pilgrims down at the lake, the scene of the camels and the rugged tribesmen on the sand dunes, the scene of the fair with its four ferris wheels with open cages, the scene at the stadium of the contests and the sprinting camels, the scene at the hundreds of temples that dot this town, the scene on the street of markets and bulls and men peeing against any wall. It’s also delivered by bringing us just enough foreigners for good conversation and good advice as we move onward tomorrow to northern India.


On we go. Next stop is Rishikesh, a town in northern India that the Beatles made famous with their stay in an ashram in the 60s. It’ll be an adventure getting there—but more on that later.


Breakfast has arrived: a bowl of fruit, a chai, two chippotti to dip in the tin cups of curry. Out there the chanting goes on—as it goes on for 24 hours.




Quick update: We met a young couple from San Francisco at our hotel and spent the day with them. We watched a very competitive game of musical chairs for women only, a game in which at least two plastic chairs broke. The Rajisthanis loved it, and when the winner was declared the crowd rushed toward her as if she were a Bollywood star. Next we went on an hour excursion with camels—two riding on one camel while the other three took the comfortable option of a cart with thick pillows which another camel pulled. Finally, we walked from ghat to ghat on this, the holy day in Pushkar. Mark and I suddenly got the urge to join the thousands of others in the lake, so off went everything except our underwear and in we went. It was thrilling to us and to all the others—policemen included—cheering on this rare sight of white boys immersing themselves in their holy lake. It became more thrilling when Liam joined us in the water, too.


So at least for this one moment, we weren’t observers on the sideline but literally we jumped in the water. A test still awaits us: at midnight tonight the moon is officially full, and is regarded as prime time for dousing. Will we do it? Stay tuned…






  1. sheila

    Pleaded is correct . not pled !!
    I seem to remember that Dolora had a little alter ,or at least a candle on the table for her brother one Christmas when I visited Sonora . So rituals are not quite so alien .
    I remember writing , I think ,that the journey from the airport to Jaipur in the dark, is probably the worst you will ( hopefully ) encounter . There is something different in the air in Rajastan . I went up to Jaiselmir near the Pakistani border but would not particularly want to go again . Pity to miss Uidapur and the Blue city though whilst you are in the general area .
    There is a lot of news at the moment re Sri Lanka. Don’t know if you are keeping up with the world outside Pushkar ,and why would you . There seems to be more than enough to experience there .
    Was the English comedian from the north west or the north east of England ? That’s just what you need an English comic in a place like the Paradise Hotel or whatever it’s name is.Sounds marvellous there.( Within a certain criteria of course )

  2. susan day

    We are by a lake this weekend too. Very few people here though, which I love, because I inevitably shift into a sense of sacredness when I am in near solitude in nature. In America when people flock to this lake it is for holidays that are not holy but secular and/or patriotic. I avoid the lake on these days. I have assumed this was due to too many people for my introverted soul but perhaps it is has more to do with focus and intention. This story of your experiences has me wondering what it would be like to be sharing this lake with flocks of people who see the lake as sacred and who participate in rituals along its shore and in its waters.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *