Each city in Rajasthan has a different tale to tell, be it the blue houses of Jodhpur, the Golden city of Jaiselmer, Ajmer Dargah, Jaipur handicrafts or the Pushkar lake and Mela.
In one such city exploration of Rajasthan, we decided to cover temple city – Pushkar. Our research made note of the obvious Pushkar lake and the rare Brahma temple, considered to be among the few built in the world. The Pushkar lake especially is a beautiful sight with silent waters and adjoining 52 ghats in the background of white houses. Hundreds of pigeons flying, are among the noises you hear apart from temple bells and some priests chanting prayers.
That brings me to my experience at Pushkar lake with these priests. We stepped through the gate of Pushkar lake and within minutes a guide forced himself on us to explain the tales about the Gods here. It is far from easy to shoo them away as practically we are much more polite than these thick skinned guides. So we regrettably gave in and went with the guide who took us through the religious stories that surround forming of the Pushkar lake and the near by Brahma temple. After his explanation he left but not until we had tipped him (Rs. 100) for his unrequired services.
Next, we decided to step down the ghats and walk towards the lake. This time it was turn for the temple priests themselves to trick the tourists. As we approached the lake, the priest took us to pray separately from the other, no permissions asked. Naive tourists are generally tricked to believe it is part of the ritual when you step the lake, however this is not the case. The priest then randomly chants some prayers with inclusions of flowers and tikka (colored powder put on the forehead). These prayers often include blessings for your family members and parents. I reckon this makes it easy to remove donation from tourists in the name of prayers offered for family. We were still willing to overlook this fallacy, until the priest asked for a cash offering. Trust Us to donate if the offering went up to Rs. 200 or Rs. 500. But we were stunned to hear a donation offer of Rs. 4000. I sensed something fishy and requested the priest to allow me to have a word with one of my friends before I donated. To this the priest replied that you cannot discuss your offerings and this could result in bad luck and karma. That turned me off completely as I realized I was conned to hear these prayers and offer subsequent donations. Adamant, I decided I will not pay a penny, although he kept pushing his luck. He brought his figure down to Rs. 1000 and then Rs. 500 but now I had changed my mind. Finally, sensing he couldn’t remove money of us, he let us go but not until he shrugged us off as urbanites.
These so-called priests are experts at distinguishing between Indian tourists and locals. Let alone International Travellers who completely stand out from the crowd and are easy preys. Even guides are hand in glove with them.
It is quite ironical for a temple city like Pushkar to behave in the manner I witnessed. As much as I want to tag this incident as a one-off personal experience, I have read and it is a fact that these priestly tricks are becoming a norm in Pushkar and other religious spots like Mathura, of which I read a similar incident. The tourists are left on their own to deal with these unprincipled godmen that go to great lengths to remove money in the name of god.
I do not mean to influence or scare tourists here. Pushkar is definitely worth a visit and these incidents still don’t take away the fact that the city is immersed in tradition. My intention here is just to make naive and vulnerable explorers aware about these cheap tricks that are doing the rounds in the city especially near the Pushkar lake.
The Overall experience at Pushkar was a mixed bag for me. However, I still would like to thank these priests as they just might have made me a more smarter and vigilant traveller.