India days 1-3: first days in holy city of Pushkar + Pushkar Lake + Savitri Temple hike + camel safari

I made it to India!! My first days have been packed with wonderful experiences in a small, religious desert town called Pushkar. Pushkar is in the Rajasthan state (the largest Indian state and where most tourists go). I’m focusing on Northern India this trip because I wanted a different experience than Sri Lanka, which I thought would be more culturally similar to Southern India.

I decided to start my trip in Pushkar after Rene recommended it for its religious focus, hippie vibes, and chill(ish) atmosphere (although nowhere in India is really chill 😉 ) – overall Pushkar sounded like the perfect intro to India. Overall, I’m adjusting to India more quickly than I imagined, and a big reason was finding a great community at my hostel. Let’s dive in:

Day 1: settling into Pushkar + Pushkar Lake

After a long travel day from Sri Lanka yesterday, I settled into my Pushkar hostel and woke up in search of caffeine. After walking around different places, I found that chai was common here, so I switched my caffeine source to chai for the next few days. Plus it was delicious. 🙂

From my short walk, it was clear I would need to adjust my plans around the desert heat. Rajasthan is SUPER hot this time of year (daily highs of 105°F / 40°C). The whole city was asleep in the morning anyway, so I decided to chill at my hostel until ~5pm when it cooled down.

I stayed at Madpackers Hostel – I loved the chill vibe here and the colorful wall art. The hostel manager, Nick, and I developed a friendship quickly; he was great company and was invested in making me feel comfortable. During my time here, he let me borrow his scooter and even accompanied me on simple errands like buying groceries to make sure I got the best price. I’m so grateful for the hostel community – most of the guests were other Indian travelers; doing activities together helped me adjust to India especially as I was anxious about being alone here.

Finally, it was time to emerge at golden hour. I walked around and got a feel for Pushkar – immediately I could feel its religious vibes. There were temples everywhere as Pushkar is a holy city and pilgrimage site for Hindus and Sikhs. Meat, eggs, and alcohol are forbidden in Pushkar. There were cows roaming EVERYWHERE similar to stray dogs.

Pushkar still had a hustle, but I appreciated its small town vibes (especially after coming from Delhi which was insane). The dry desert atmosphere was an adjustment, but I ended up finding beauty in it.

Lots of colorful shops sold hippie clothing, accessories, and just about anything in town. Pushkar was actually a pleasant place to shop as fewer people were around and vendors weren’t super aggressive.

My main site for today was Pushkar Lake, a sacred site for Hindus. The lake was surrounded by bathing ghats (a series of steps leading to the lake), where devotees could take a sacred bath. It is believed that taking bath in the lake washes all sins and cures skin diseases. There were no shoes allowed while walking around the lake. I strolled around while avoiding the cow poop. 🙂

Beautiful architecture surrounded the lake. It was a gorgeous sight at sunset.

After my walk, I headed back to the hostel. Nick and I cooked dinner together – he taught me how to make this tomato & egg curry with chapati bread. I felt so at home! What a wonderful first day.

Day 2: hiking Savitri Temple + nightlife in Pushkar

The next day, I took it easy again during the day. I hung out Mali Thali cafe near my hostel which I would frequent for lunch each day.

Then in the late afternoon, I set out for the day’s activity: hiking Savitri Temple, another holy site for Hindus. The temple was on a mountain and a strenuous climb of 970 steps.

I went with a friend from the hostel named Stefan, from Southern India. Stefan and I became quick friends, and he made great company over the next few days. It was also nice to have a native accompany me for bargaining, learning, etc. 🙂

The climb was hard, not going to lie. It was basically a looong stair-master workout, but in 99°F / 37°C heat. 😉 We took lots of breaks and patiently climbed away.

Lots of monkeys surrounded us.

Finally, we made it to the top. The temple itself was pretty basic, but the best part was the views. We could see all of Pushkar town, the lake, and the surrounded desert hills. We stayed around for sunset, and it was just lovely. So worth the climb!

We climbed down the mountain and headed back to town in search of dinner. Pushkar truly lighted up after sunset – everyone was out and about, shopping and eating on the streets. My love for the city grew instantly as I saw a whole new side to the city at night.

For dinner, we had some street food. Stefan introduced me to a local dish called pani puri. It was a round, hollow crispy flatbread, filled with a potato mixture. It was served in a cold soup that was tangy and sweetish. On top of its yumminess, the most interesting part was the actual eating experience. Each person waits in line for their turn, and then you stand in front of the cook who assembles each piece one by one, and you have to eat yours immediately. He put a new one on my plate every 5 seconds, so I was stuffing them in my mouth and racing to avoid a huge pile-up! So fun and tasty!

Day 3: camel safari

We had something special planned for this day…a camel safari! This seemed to be a popular activity, as we noticed camel vendors left and right. Jaisalmer (near the Pakistan border) is typically the popular spot in India for camel safaris as its desert is more epic, but I wasn’t going to make it there this time, so I figured Pushkar was a good spot to check this off my bucket list.

Stefan and I found a tour company in town, and after bargaining the price down, we set off on our 2-hour adventure.

Is it just me, or do camels look like they have a permanent smile?

They took us on a ~10km route – the desert was just outside of town and we were basically right off the road, ha. But the vibes were still neat as it certainly felt like we were in the desert. I also loved riding the camel as it was so large that it felt more stable and comfortable than riding a horse.

We stopped at a nice viewpoint part-way where we drank some chai and watched the sunset. Surrounding us were the desert gypsies – nomads who live in the desert and make money from playing music and begging from tourists. It made for some chaos, but I guess that’s India. 😉

Sunset over the desert sand was gorgeous.

Overall, I would rate the camel safari super high! It was a unique experience, and Stefan and I agreed we wish we signed up for the overnight camping tour. It definitely makes me want to go to a Jaisalmer someday and do a multi-day safari.

The evening ended with another stroll through the lively market. We got street falafel and it hit the spot. Then we hung out at the hostel with Nick and the other hostel mates under the stars in the warm desert night.

I feel so grateful for my first days in India. My time has been easier than I imagined, and I’m surprised by how quickly I’m connecting to India. Also, physically being here has helped calm the nerves I had before this trip. Im so excited to experience more of this beautiful country.


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