Last Updated on September 17, 2023 by Ellen
I think Pushkar Lake is a fantastic destination for slow budget travelers. It has a population of 22,000 (last official count was 11 years ago) and it’s tiny compared to the mega cities elsewhere in India. It’s the smallest place we have visited so far. Maybe that’s why Pushkar Lake is also my favorite spot so far.
There are more domestic tourists than foreigners here, as people slowly return to international travel in the COVID era. We just missed the famous Camel Festival that has the town bursting with more than 100,000 visitors every year. (Theo had dengue fever so we canceled a weekend side trip from Jaipur, and honestly, I’m glad to have avoided the crowds.)
Before the pandemic, a million foreigners came through each year. Locals tell us 15 years ago, it was hardly on the tourism radar, a sleepy little place. Now you can see the town expanding into the desert from the hilltop temples.
At first glance, Pushkar reminded me a little of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, or Chiang Mai, Thailand, with its ‘hippie’ kinda feel that caters to western tourists. But after a few days, I absorbed its truly spiritual essence. Indeed, I like Pushkar way more than Chiang Mai or Ubud.
Why Pushkar Lake is a fantastic destination
For people who want a more ‘touristy’ experience like Ubud and Chiang Mai, there is plenty of shopping all around the lake, with everything you can imagine – Indian dresses and pants and shirts, shawls, scarves, hats, bags, shoes, incense, trinkets, home decorations, swords, books, incense, oils, old records. Restaurants are everywhere you turn with a variety of food from classic Rajasthani to Mexican, Lebanese, Italian.
However, there is no meat, no eggs, no alcohol in town. Pushkar is a holy place for Hindus and Sikhs, and therein lies its utter charm. People come here to celebrate God or gods – in whatever form that/they/she/he take(s).
No shoes are allowed within 40 feet from the water’s edge. Except for cow pies, monkey, bird and dog dung, Pushkar Lake is cleaner than almost all of India I’ve seen so far. (Outside the lake area into the desert is another story, however.)
Enjoy morning meditation, priest blessings, yoga, barefoot lake edge walks, shopping, dining, hiking, camel or horse or ATV rides, temple visiting, people watching, chai drinking — and more.
It sounds like a lot – but actually, there’s really not much to do. That’s why I could live here a month, easily. This time around, we are here for one week in late November.
Our hotel/guesthouse owners host monthly renters with enough notice – they book up fast.
Pushkar Lake recommendations
Where we stayed – and would return
There are a gazillion hotels in Pushkar, but few are right on Pushkar Lake. We highly recommend a lakeside stay, and we loved our hotel.
We stayed at Hotel Bharatput Palace. Brother Dilip and sister Meena are really nice people. Their family history with the property is quite interesting. If you visit, ask Meena about that story.
We found their place on booking.com. Our room was about $10 a night and we added huge lovely breakfast for two people so our daily total was $14.75. Pancakes and fruit or muesli and fruit with curd, coffee, fresh juice (ask what’s fresh), toast, honey, jam, butter, small biscuits. (Remember, no eggs allowed on the lake.)
The top pictures show our room, the bottom picture shows the seating area for the Day and Night Restaurant, inside the hotel.
During our late-November stay, the sun is strong and the nights are chilly. There are no big festivals this time of year, so the rates may have reflected that. In fact, exactly because there are no major festivals, it is marriage season! We witnessed and heard several happy processions as celebrants marched through town with loud music.
If there is any drawback to this fantastic hotel right on the lake, it’s that the front entrance is next to the public toilet, which is smelly. It might smell worse during the summer months or monsoon season – but during our stay it was fine. There is also side/back entrance you can use so you never have to walk right by the restroom.
Our favorite Pushkar Lake restaurants
COVID changed the restaurant scene. Some closed and didn’t reopen, some are opened and so new they weren’t on Google maps yet. And some are old staples that have been around for years. Like our favorite.
Our absolute favorite restaurant in Pushkar during our week-long visit: Il Fornaio. We loved this Italian place for a few reasons:
- Delicious food (al dente homemade pasta, fresh raw salads, rich and flavorful deserts)
- Great prices
- Great staff, including Baplu, our waiter
- Lake view, street view from the third floor
- Bottles of olive oil from Spain and balsamic vinegar from Italy are set on the table
- Many ingredients are grown in the organic gardens outside town
We had homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli, spaghetti with tomatoes and homemade pesto, hummus and falafel, rosemary garlic focaccia, and my favorite: the giant green special house salad with shredded beets and carrots, green olives and tofu. Even though India is mostly vegetarian, we have not seen green salads on menus during our travels in northern India.
Usually we are so full from dinners we didn’t get desert, but one time I did. The chocolate ball. Fan-tas-tic.
Out of the Blue
This restaurant was across the street from our hotel and we went there a couple of times. At first, Theo wanted to watch a World Cup game. The next time, we went back for their food.
Thin-crust pizza is tasty here, from a wood fire oven. And their special thali dish is fresh with more vegetables than liquid sauce, as most thali ‘fast food’ dishes come.
Pizzas are $3.75 – $4.50; the ‘special thali’ is about $2.50. The thali is the top picture below, and our hotel ‘fixed’ breakfast is the bottom picture.
Things to do and see in Pushkar
Temples are everywhere. My opinion: four of them are a ‘must visit’.
One: the Brahma Temple is one of only six for that god in all of India, and this is why Hindus come to Pushkar. It’s set a bit back from the lake, and the entry is off a street of shops. Pictures are allowed inside the temple areas.
Two: the Shree Gayatri Temple. It’s an easy walk up a hill, and you can see the start of the trail in the bottom picture below. The top part of the trail is rough stone steps.
Shree Gayatri offers a great sunset view, as well as views of Pushkar Lake, the town, mountains, desert, and the taller mountaintop temple.
Three: Savirtri Mata Hindu Temple, in the top two pictures below. You can hike up or take the cable car. We got a late start that day and took the cable car – $3.75 for two people. We just made it for sunset! Most of the views face the desert.
Four: Gurudwara Sahib temple (Sikh) on the back side of Pushkar Lake. It gleams in the afternoon sun and might be the most gorgeous building on the horizon.
Pushkar Lake is also holy in Sikhism.
People at this temple were so friendly. We were invited to visit a family in Punjab, the only state in India where Sikh’s are majority. And one day, we just might.
I really like a lot about the Sikh religion: a humanitarian focus, women are equal, a monotheistic god of your own understanding, all religions welcome, community lunches/meals.
Pictures below are from the Gururdwara Sahib temple.
If you are a meat needer or alcohol drinker, you might find Pushkar Lake bland or boring. Theo had to venture onto desert streets to find and drink a cold brew.
These dietary omissions only added to the charm of Pushkar for me. I would absolutely return and stay longer.
Life is Now – so travel now!