Kaleidoscope of colours and culture in the land of the royals
Pushkar is many things at once. If the enchanted land offers a haven for the spiritual-minded, it’s no less an adventure destination for adrenaline junkies out to test their limits on air or land.
When I arrived at The Westin Pushkar Resort & Spa, little did I know that the only five-star property in Pushkar, nestled among the Aravallis and bordered by the golden sand dunes, would be nothing short of an oasis.
It takes almost three hours to get to the resort from the Jaipur International Airport but the journey is never tiresome with a six-laned highway and the breathtaking Aravalli range meandering along the way. As I stepped into the resort, a royal 15-acre property owned by the Marriott International, it took my breath away. If the expanse was glorious, the welcome was majestic — dhols and camels, traditional chillers, replete with the colourful folk culture — made sure that I was truly in the land of the royals — Rajasthan.
I had started the day very early and all I could think of was crashing. As I headed to my villa in a golf cart/buggy, I was blown away by the vastness of the premises. I had been offered the Royal Room, a spacious villa that housed a private plunge pool. The turquoise-blue water looked inviting but I needed to catch up on sleep before I could head to satiate my gastronomical cravings.
The resort had laid out a true-blue Rajasthani thali called Maharani at one of their restaurants called Seasonal Tastes — an eclectic and classy eatery with a live kitchen to customise according to choice. The 75-seater place has live tandoori and Oriental sections, along with an island buffet for salads, desserts and beverages.
The resort is the perfect venue for larger-than-life weddings and the picture-perfect lawns amid waterbodies is just the place you would want to be at. As I went around the sprawling property landscaped with trees, artefacts, stone structures and fountains, the majestic Aravallis seemed to hover over the hotel premises. As the sun set over the mountains, I headed over to the bar, Mix, as the staff had arranged a cocktail-making session.
The Westin specialises in using local ingredients like basil leaves, chilli, mulberry and lemongrass.
Learning the secrets of cocktail mixology, I figured it’s no less than an art. I also got to take home two cocktail recipes that I am going to share here. Cheers!
I enjoyed the self-made cocktails with Tomato Bruschetta, Mutton Seekh Kebab, Fish Tikka and Chicken Tikka. Before calling it a day, I headed over to Seasonal Tastes for a quick dinner comprising Lamb Rogan Josh, Tandoori Roti and dollops of ice cream and brownie.
I woke up to a floating breakfast served in my private plunge pool. On the menu were breads, omelette, pancake, waffles, juices (pineapple and watermelon), a fruit platter and green salad. It’s a nice little touch really to help you slip into vacation mode.
Hunger pangs out of the way, it was time to explore the temple town. As one steps out of the resort gates, it’s in stark contrast to the opulence inside. A rural ambience greets you as one encounters men wearing coloured turbans on bikes. We headed for the Savitri Mata Temple located on Ratnagiri Hill. The temple can be seen from the hotel but it takes 30 minutes to cover the 10 kilometres. You can choose to take the around-1,000 steps carved out of the hill or opt for the cable car ride. The temple is dedicated to Lord Brahma’s wife Goddess Savitri. The view is to die for and you can actually get a 360° view of Pushkar and its famed lake from the hilltop. You get to see trees, vast fields and semi-desert areas from a height of 750 feet. Do click pictures of the surreal sunrise/sunset if you visit.
We headed for the Brahma Temple next, one of the very few shrines dedicated to the Hindu creator-God. After offering prayers here, I took a walk along the iconic Pushkar Lake. Lined by numerous ghats — 52 to be exact — one can get a semi-panoramic view of the lake, the temples dotting the ghats and the ever-present Aravallis in the distance. All in all, it’s a tranquil escape for the religious-minded.
Soul rejuvenated, it was time for the body to be relaxed. Back at the resort, I opted for the Swedish massage at the Heavenly Spa. For the next one hour, I could feel the pain and tension easing away under the masseur’s expert hands. The spa, spread across 10,000 sq ft and two floors, offers an array of techniques to soothe your frayed body and nerves.
The evening was spent at the personalised movie theatre called Recharge — a plush 20-seater cosy amphitheatre that offers you choices from Amazon Prime, on a huge screen. I had to catch up with the Chris Hemsworth-starrer Men in Black: International as I reclined back munching fritters and sipping a cocktail.
The dinner was planned at Splash, the property’s poolside bar and grill restaurant. It’s perfect for a casual dinner date as the setting is spectacular — a dome-shaped gazebo stands bang in the middle of the pool with a small wooden bridge to get there. During the day, it’s a great mix of sun and shade, with a beer, of course!
The resort had planned a specially curated breakfast at the property’s very own rose farm. Post-breakfast, I headed for Ajmer, around 15km southeast of Pushkar, to visit the Ajmer Sharif Dargah, the shrine of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti. We also stopped at the Ana Sagar Lake. The bazaar at Pushkar is a kaleidoscope of colours that lends a very hippie vibe to this quaint town. The streets though are rigged with little shops and one can expect to see mostly foreigners here, especially Israelis.
The post-noon session was set for a camel safari on the glittering sand dunes that host the Pushkar Fair. Though many tourists indulge in the ride in the morning, the evening time is the best as the weather is pleasant. It’s literally a riot of colours as Indians and foreigners jostle for space on the sand. One can interact with a lot of banjaras (nomadic people) who eke out a living on the dunes by singing or dancing. On top of the camel’s back, the golden-hued dunes in the arid landscape also give you the perfect backdrop to click those drool-worthy Instagrammable pictures. It wasn’t the most comfortable being perched on the camel’s back but at least it was ticked off my bucket list. You can also try your hand at horse riding if you fancy equestrian sports. If terra firma doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, you could try air travel, albeit of a different kind — hot air ballooning. The faint-hearted should steer clear of it though.
After the thrilling ride amid the setting sun, I headed back to the hotel for my final evening at the resort. A quick nap, batteries recharged... I ambled around a bit before heading to Panorama, the rooftop bar and lounge for a specially crafted dinner. In the daytime, this place offers incredible views of the Aravalli ranges. Simply take in the view from here with a wine and unwind in quietude. On a cold starry October night, discussing world cuisine, cricket, politics and travel, it was a night to remember and an experience never to forget.