The Nag Pahar ("Snake Mountain"), a steeply shelving spur of the Aravallis west of Jaipur, forms an appropriately epic backdrop for AJMER, home of the great Sufi saint Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, who founded the Chishtiya Sufi order. To this day, his tomb, the Dargah Khwaja Sahib, ranks among the world's most important Islamic shrines. The streams of pilgrims and dervishes (seven visits here are said to equal one to Mecca), especially pick up during Muharram (Muslim New Year) and Id, and for the saint's anniversary day, or Urs Mela, on the sixth day of the Islamic month of Rajab (approximately 29 June 2009, 18 June 2010).
During Urs Mela, pilgrims honour the saint with qawwali (Sufi devotional) chanting, while kheer (rice pudding) is cooked in huge vats at the dargah and distributed to visitors. At night religious gatherings called mehfils are held. Although it isn't really an affair for non-religious tourists, the city does take on a festive air, and devotees from across the Subcontinent and beyond converge on Ajmer for the preceding week.
For the rest of the year, although Ajmer's dusty main streets are choked with traffic, the narrow lanes of the bazaars and residential quarters around the Dargah Khwaja Sahib retain an almost medieval character, with lines of rose-petal stalls and shops selling prayer mats, beads and lengths of gold-edged green silk offerings. Finely arched Mughal gateways still stand at the main entrances to the old city, whose skyscape of mosque minarets and domes is overlooked from on high by the crumbling Taragarh – for centuries India's most strategically important fortress.
For Hindu pilgrims and foreign travellers, Ajmer is important primarily as a jumping-off place for Pushkar, a twenty-minute bus ride away across the Nag Pahar, and most stay only for as long as it takes to catch a bus out, but as a day-trip from Pushkar it's a highly worthwhile excursion, and as a stronghold of Islam, Ajmer is unique in Hindu-dominated Rajasthan.