Pushkar, a small town to the west of Jaipur, is built around holy Pushkar lake, and pilgrimage site for Hindus and Sikhs. It’s a very touristy place and the narrow streets are lined with countless shops selling textiles, leather items, jewelry, and all kinds of souvenirs, and in between the shops are myriad of restaurants catering mainly to tourists.
It’s a pleasant enough place to spend a day or maybe two. The pollution isn’t that bad, the setting is pretty and you can spend the day shopping and taking photos; just beware of the motorcycles that drive through the narrow streets at crazy speeds. Don’t expect to bargain a lot here: most shops have signs announcing “fixed prices”, probably due to too many tourists eager to demonstrate and refine their bargaining skills. However, the salesmen are very friendly and have endless patience for undecided shoppers.
We had a hotel with amazing views of the lake and a rooftop terrace where you could watch the sun set while sipping a mango lassi. The downside of having a room facing the lake is that early in the morning (I’m talking about 4 or 5 a.m., long before sunrise) the religious ceremonies start with music, singing, bells ringing, and people bathing in the lake. So obviously we were up early for the next leg of our journey through Rajasthan.
If you go to Chittorgarh, or Chittor (and you really should go, the fort is amazing), try to find a place to stay on the hill inside the fort. This hill towers 180 meters above the valley below where the modern city of Chittor lies.
The walled fort area takes up the whole of the hill and includes several palaces, temples and gates as well as a small village. We stayed at Fort Haveli, a small hotel in that village, with lovely decorated rooms and a rooftop terrace with amazing views of the plains below. It’s a place where you can relax, one of the few places free from the otherwise constant traffic noise. The guys from the hotel cook a wonderful dinner and whenever you finish a plate, they bring more food. In the evenings, they light a fire in the fireplace on the terrace so the guests can sit around it, soak up the warmth and enjoy a cup of delicious masala chai.
For your visit of Chittorgarh fort, be sure to hire a guide. Otherwise, the whole visit would be a bit of a disappointment. The fort area is spread across the whole hill and only a guide will know where to go and which place is what as there are no signs whatsoever. Since the place is so big, you’ll also need a driver; you can go with yours or hire an auto rickshaw at the entrance.
There’s nothing written anywhere but a good guide (and ours was great) will bring the otherwise a bit uninteresting places to life. The buildings are stunning, of course, but lifeless without the astonishing stories of the events that unfolded inside and outside their walls. There are the buildings where the royal family used to live, where the children learned to fight and ride, a massive victory tower and temples, adorned with intricate stone carvings that reminded me of Angkor in Cambodia. There’s a field, just a green lawn, inconspicuous, that suddenly becomes a sinister place when you hear that’s where the women immolated themselves during sieges when defeat seemed inevitable. And there’s the queen’s summer castle with views of a small lake, very romantic at sunset and where a beautiful love story took place (ask your guide about it).