According to legend, PUSHKAR came into existence when Lord Brahma, the Creator, dropped a lotus flower (pushpa) to earth from his hand (kar). At the three spots in the desert where the petals landed, water magically appeared, to form three small blue lakes; on the banks of the largest, Brahma convened a yagya, or gathering of 900,000 celestial beings – the entire Hindu pantheon. Surrounded by whitewashed temples and bathing ghats, the lake is today revered as Pushkaraj Maharaj, literally "Pushkar King of Kings".
The beautiful desert scenery and heady religious atmosphere have made Pushkar a prime destination for foreign tourists since the 1960s, and it remains firmly on the backpacker trail. All food within city limits is strictly veg: meat, eggs and alcohol are banned, as are drugs other than bhang.
Hindus visit Pushkar year-round to dip in the redemptory waters of the lake, but on one particular day – the full moon of the Kartika month (usually Nov) – bathing here is believed to relieve devotees of all their sins, and ultimately free them from the endless cycle of death and reincarnation. The five days leading up to and including the full moon, Pushkar hosts thousands of celebrating devotees. To add to the colour and activity, the simultaneous week-long camel fair in the sand dunes west of the town attracts hordes of herders to parade, race and trade over forty thousand animals. While the commercialism, with camera-toting package tourists now bumping elbows with the event's traditional pilgrims and camel traders, can be off-putting, the festive environment and coming together of cultures can still be hugely enjoyable. Come at least a week before the final weekend, when most of the buying and selling is done. By the full moon, most herders have packed up and gone home.
Hotels hike their rates a fortnight before the camel fair and still fill quickly. Though it's best to book a room as far ahead as possible, via RTDC in Jaipur (Tel:0141/511 4768, Ecro@rajasthantourism.gov.in), if you arrive early in the day securing accommodation shouldn't be a problem. RTDC usually sends its package guests out to tented compounds close to the fairgrounds, where there's a choice between dorm beds (Rs300), deluxe tents (Rs5001 and above), or huts (Rs501-1000) complete with private bathrooms.