ushkar Lake is one of India’s most sacred lakes. It is believed to mark the spot where a lotus thrown by Brahma landed. It is one of the lakes that constitute the five sacred lakes of Hindu mythology. Ghats
(stone steps) lead down to the water to enable pilgrims to bathe, cows to drink, and the town folk to wash off after festivals and celebrations.
The ghats also provide a hunting ground for Brahmin priests, who lure tourists into their web to perform puja (worship), and then demand huge sums of money from them. We had read about the Pushkar scams briefly in the Lonely Planet, however, they don’t mention how the scams work. Here’s how it goes.
On our first day in Pushkar, we headed to the main ghat on Pushkar Lake to watch the activities, and enjoy the views and ambiance. However, we were there for no longer than a minute when a “Hindu priest” appoached us with a puja plate, consisting of flowers, red powder, and a coconut. He told us we must take the offerings and throw them in the lake for good luck, peace and prosperity. We were a bit ambivalent as we weren’t sure where this would lead, however, he was insistent so we followed him. He proceeded to lead us down the steps of the ghat where he started to lay out a sheet. He told us that he must first perform a puja ceremony with us and we had to sit down on the sheet.
At this point, alarm bells started ringing loudly in our heads, as one thing was leading to the next. We felt like we were being conned into a scam, so we told him that we didn’t want to partake in the puja. He got really angry at hearing this, and told us that we had to leave the ghat and couldn’t stay there if we didn’t perform the puja ceremony with him.
So, we left that particular ghat and went to a quieter ghat a few metres down the main street. Over there, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the Pushkar Lake and didn’t get pestered by anyone.
Over the course of our stay in Pushkar, we saw several people getting scammed into performing puja ceremonies with these so called ‘Brahmin priests’. In fact, at the Pushkar Camel Fair, we met a Western couple who had been scammed and they had to pay Rs 1000 to the priest. Initially, the priest had wanted more money, but they had been able to negotiate the price to Rs 500 per person.
In addition to the Pushkar Lake puja scams, there are several other scams in Pushkar. As we walked around the town, on numerous occasions, men would try to press a flower into Graham’s hand and tell him to throw it in the Pushkar Lake to get good luck. When Graham refused to take it, they insisted that it was the custom to throw a flower in Pushkar Lake, and that we would get bad luck if we didn’t perform this ritual while in Pushkar.
Later, we learnt that if you accept the flower, the scammer then demands an exorbitant sum of money, making a scene and potentially involving the police, who are also party to the scams.
Pushkar is a great place to spend a few days, however, be aware of the scams and say “No” firmly. If this hard-sell version of spirituality appeals to you, agree your price in advance, and be aware that a proportion of the so-called ‘priests’ at Pushkar Lake are fake.