Pushkar, India - Solo Traveling

Welcome to Pushkar, India! 

There’s a certain charm about this deeply rooted religious city. Cows wander around every corner and white marble is littered with flowers for Hindu Blessings. It’s grungy, cultural and a solo traveling photographer’s dream!

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When I had first decided to add Pushkar to my solo traveling itinerary, I had originally been on the fence between Northern India, bordering Nepal or heading Northwest towards Jaipur. So once the decision was made to head to Jaipur, Pushkar was also added and I’m SO glad!

When I first arrived to Pushkar I wanted to find a highpoint! Like somebody lost in the woods, I wanted to gather my bearings. So I ran up five flights of stairs following a sign that read "Cafe" and ended up on a rooftop with a few dusty tables and chairs. I was confused, but that become a normal occurrence for me during my time in India, so I stood there taking in the views of the holy Hindu city!  

Then a sleepish man showed up and asked if I wanted anything. Feeling bad, I ordered a coke and thirty minutes later he brought me a warm coke, which I'm pretty positive he went and bought to resell to me.

Once I headed down from my rooftop cafe I started wandering the dirty marble steps. There were palaces everywhere and they all lead down to the Pushkar Lake. Having done zero research before arriving I knew little about Pushkar, other than it is one of five sacred sites for devout Hindus. It is also believed to be one of the oldest cities in India. 

FUN FACT: Pushkar also has almost 400 temples and 52 Ghats, (Holy Lakes) giving this city enormous religious importance. It is also one of the few places in the world to still have Brahma temples, making this city basically filled with religious tourism. 

So now that we know the Pushkar Lake is a holy Hindu Lake formed from Shiva's tears, I just want you to be aware of a harmless scam. 

I'm usually pretty good about knowing when I'm getting into even the silliest of scams, and sometimes I let it happen because I know they're only going to ask for a small fortune...but did I mention I was giddy about this city?

They've perfected this "scam" obviously, but I was so freaking excited I missed that this guy is probably wanting something from me. 

THIS IS THE SCAM: The best part about this is that they literally give you a Hindu mark on your forehead to basically say, "don't ask her, we already scammed her." 

  • You will be warmly welcomed to Pushkar!
  • A very nice younger man will ask if you've been blessed and will in some way say you "must" be blessed in order to explore the city because it's such a religious city. 
  • You will say - OK!
  • Or you will not say ok, but before you know it you have flowers in your hands and you're getting blessed. 
  • You will then sit down with a "Holy Man" and he will start saying a Hindu blessing, and before you realize you're being scammed, his words seem so meaningful!  
  • You will have the Holy Lake water splashed on you and red color put on your forehead. 
  • At this point you're filled with joy thinking - man I LOVE this city! 
  • Then...here it comes...
  • The "Holy Man" will ask you how much you would like to donate to their "charity" to feed and maintain the 52 lakes and poor people of Pushkar. You might say, well that's not too bad? But...they will then refuse to take anything less than 2,000-3,000 rupee's and will ask if you are from The United States? He will then DOUBLE the donation amount.  

WHAT I DID: I sincerely told the man I was upset he "tricked" me and said I would have happily paid for the blessing, but I will not give what you're asking. He wanted me to pay like $50...no! He was very persistent and I finally had to be firm saying this is all you're going to get and gave him like 1000 rupee's, which is still like $8. Honestly, I still liked the experience I just hate falling for a scam. Overall, I would suggest avoiding it or trying to give a price up front so you don't deal with them haggling you!  

After my "Hindu Blessing" I wandered around the markets and alleyways around the lake. In some ways it reminded me of Venice, just a little less romance and again did I mention the Holy cows? 

At one point I was walking past a cow that started peeing in the middle of the street and an elderly man walked up mid-stream....and....started drinking the cow's urine strait from the tap! I am slightly sad I didn't photograph this and then again I'm slightly not. 

The market shops are wonderful though and the prices are half of Jaipur, so I bought most of my fun jewelry from here. I also found it to be a more pleasant shopping experience than in Jaipur. The shop owners weren't as aggressive and actually quite warm and welcoming. 

Oh, and monkeys. 

Yes, they are cute...but seriously keep your distance! I had one run after me in Jaipur and a nice Indian man literally grabbed my am and pulled me to safety. They look so cute and small, but I watched these monkey's knock over a motorcycle and chase kids walking down the streets. So be careful and keep your distance!

My favorite place was along the palace steps around the lake. I was dodging cow urine and poop, (notice the brown on the walls) but the architecture was amazing. 

I never felt unsafe, even after a few people yelled about having my camera out. Pushkar is still  a city to be a little more aware and conservative.

Throughout all of India I wore longer shirts over pants even though the weather is beyond hot and humid. In Pushkar I added a scarf not only to cover more, but to help mask some smells when needed, but I wouldn't say it was necessary. 

I also traveled all through India with my Lowepro Flipside Trek Backpack, which allows for quick access to my gear without even putting my bag on the ground. 

I seriously don't even know how many hours I spent running around before I realized I hadn't eaten anything all day, and for the first time in India, I found a pizza place! WHAT?

It was surprisingly good pizza, (or I was just starving) but again I was on a rooftop. When I told the man I was in a hurry (because I realized sunset would be soon) he said, "When you come to Pushkar, you should be relaxed...you're not relaxed!" So I told him I'd take his advice for at least an hour and sat and enjoyed my pizza while I overlooked the city.

I was still surprised how touristy this small desert city was, but at the same time I could see why. 

I did notice that due to the higher tourism in Pushkar, it was a little more difficult to capture street photography and portraits. I have always found this to be a fine dance, especially traveling alone as a woman. I always want to be aware of the situations I'm getting in, and the dark alleyways I might end up wandering down with a large camera around my neck. 

So if you only feel comfortable on the main streets, stay there.

If you feel okay photographing some guys in an alleyway because the lighting is amazing...do that - but be careful! By the end of my time taking portraits of the younger man above, a crowd of men had formed. They were harmlessly watching, but I kindly and quickly said thank you before heading on my way. 

PHOTO TIP:

  • In Pushkar you'll have a harder time taking portraits of the Holy Men or decorated elderly women without them expecting payment.
  • There are signs everywhere asking you to not take pictures of people bathing in the Ghats. 

PUSHKAR BY CAMEL

It was finally time to explore OUTSIDE of Pushkar and the best way to do that...by camel! 

Pushkar hosts one of the largest Camel Fairs in the world, with 400,000 people per year and over 11,000 camels, horses and cattle. It is held during the full moon in November, a holy time in the Hindu calendar and pilgrims come to also bathe in the Pushkar Lake. 

The rest of the year the camels are used locally for transportation and for tourists. I still had a few hours before sunset so I decided to end my day in Pushkar with a camel ride into the Thar desert. First I had to use the "bathroom" which was a bed sheet hanging by a rope. So you have an idea what the camel "booking" area is like and then we headed on our way. 

As we started our way out of the city we stopped to let our camel get a drink, which for some reason I found to be a fun experience before we crossed the main highway and headed to the hills! On the way out of town you see locals headed home in carts being pulled by camels and the locals smile and wave. 

I also had my first experience of trying to balance my photo equipment on a bumpy camel and loved having my CapturePro Peak Design camera clip. 

We walked for almost two hours and finally stopped to enjoy the sunset in the Thar Desert. 

I couldn't believe I was here..sitting by my camel, listening to a man playing a Ravanahatha instrument while the sunset fell over the desert horizon and gypsies danced in the distance. 

-Tara 


QUESTIONS: I'm going to start asking you guys what things you'd like to know about certain trips or traveling and answer them below each post - so here are the ones from Instagram. 

  • How I pack for multiple climates:

I make sure to pack layers that could work for cold nights and hot days. I usually have my compressible down jacket, a long sleeve shirt, hiking pants that can roll into capri's, a wool pair of socks and scarf in case I switch to a chillier place.
**In India, I brought a lot of conservative shirts and clothes even though it was hot - so long quarter sleeve shirts and leggings or pants.  

  • How long have I been on the road:

I'm not constantly on the road, but I will be gone for up to a month at a time. As of right now, my husband and I like having a home base and don't see that changing anytime soon! 

 

Why I Travel - A Night Under The Northern Lights

I am always asking myself the question, “why do I travel?”

Why do I have this unexplainable yearning to explore and experience new places?

Of course as a photographer a huge part is simply about capturing the beautiful landscapes and foreign stories - but what else?

For me there has always been something more. This chase of the unknown and the willingness to say "YES!” That moment from the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” when he runs and jumps in the helicopter! The music explodes and you imagine yourself in Ben Stiller's shoes choosing to take that leap of faith into the unknown! 

So here I was asking myself that “why” question while traveling through Iceland with my friend Kelsey. We had discussed every aspect of each other’s lives, but on this day we asked each other…"why do we travel?”

The day that defined that very question for me was when a series of events had lead us to a certain area in the Golden Circle in Iceland.

After a lot of last minute changes, we decided to go to a different area then originally planned and visit the famous Geysir. The sun was setting as we finished at the Geysir and were debating if we wanted to keep exploring in the freezing temps, when we thought we saw a hidden hot spring off in a field. We’d read about some secret lagoon near this area and were determined that had to be it!

Bundled up, we started our way across the field towards a green Defender parked in front of a small shack. Several times Kelsey and I stopped to see if we should turn around, not sure if people were camping there, (or enjoying the lagoon) so we kept walking.

As we got closer I could hear laughing and didn’t know if we were getting ready to see some people skinny dipping when we got closer, but instead when we peeked in the entrance to the shack there were four Dutch men sitting around a fire! We all instantly started laughing at our surprised faces and they offered us beers and we joined around the fire.

We all started introducing ourselves and they started to explain to us the spiritual journey they were on. Like no joke, they paid to go on an adventure where they could get in touch with nature and their emotions. They even got kind of emotional sharing what they had discovered about themselves so far and they were only on day one! 

LETS REWIND: Meet Arie Van Ingen, he’s an ex-Dutch Marine that now owns a business taking people on rugged adventures around the world. (So he was the facilitator.) The best part is that with each adventure Arie is challenging his attendee’s to be fully present - so no phones, to express their emotions, and to face their fears.

So we sat listening to the men talk about their journey while Arie cooked up a pot of lamb and potatoes as he smoked a cigarette. 

Arie then turned the hard life questions on Kelsey and I. Calling us out when he thought we weren’t saying something good enough. My favorite was when Kelsey gave an answer and he said, “you’re talking...but you’re not saying anything!” We then all laughed!

Several hours had gone by of us discussing life and laughing around the fire when Arie casually says…”The Northern Lights are out, who wants to see them?”

Kelsey and I fell out of the shack we were so excited and sure enough when we looked up they were streaking across the sky.

I had given up thinking I would see them on our trip since it’s towards the end of the season and HERE THEY WERE!

Arie then asked if we wanted to see them from the top of what felt like a small mountain and like Walter Mitty, we screamed "YES" running after him up the hill. (He later said...run...you called that running?) At one point I literally face planted I was so excited and when Kelsey was helping me up, I realized...my lungs were burning from the freezing cold! 

When we reached the top we sat there oohing and aahing at the pulses of light across the sky.

It..was...life changing.

I felt like we had our own private tour guide as Arie told us to look in different directions and explained how a certain one was getting stronger as it pulsed brighter. I would point my camera in one direction, but it truly was a 360 view from were we sat on the hilltop. The Northern Lights were in almost every direction and we sat watching until we finally noticed how cold we were and started our way back down.

At the bottom of the hill I started my timelapse and I will never forget Arie’s impressive math skills as he rattled off how long the final video would be judging from my shutter speed and interval time. I had NEVER put that much math into anything I’d photographed! I would argue the timing made sense for my freezing toes and he finally said, “that’s because you are stubborn” and I couldn’t agree more!

After Kelsey and I had said our goodbye's, we started our hike back across the field.

The same field where we had discussed why we travel, not knowing we would soon end up in a shack, sitting around a fire talking with total strangers about life while the Northern Lights danced overhead.  

...and this my friends, is why I travel. 

Share why you love to travel below and subscribe to my newsletter for more stories and goodies!

-Tara 

Ohara Bridal - A Wedding Dress that Gives Back

It’s a pretty amazing feeling when a client approaches you not only for your creative services, but because they know your heart, or should I say "Hart" is also in the right place!

So it felt a little like fate as Owner/Designer Emily Hart and her side-kick Sara talked about their newest collection, Ohara Bride and their dreams of changing not only the wedding industry, but young lives. 

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Their newest Ohara Bridal Collection is not only stunning, but with each dress purchase a portion will be going directly to help a children’s shelter in Chennai, India. The funds will help provide essentials for the kids, many whom were found malnourished and left for dead, or rescued from human trafficking.

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I had visited India recently and having also witnessed these issues first hand in past travels, I was 110% on board! Even when they said we would have to plan the shoot in less than 48 hours!

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We shot nine looks on Emily Hart's farm and it was an all day affair, filled with chickens, goats, pigs and mating ducks! Emily wanted the line to feel like it had movement and some rustic vibes so we had fun with the textures around the farm. 

Each dress is so romantic in the way it flows and I truly believe there is a style to fit any bride. 

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Time for the grand finale - the Chennai Dress! This dress is beyond stunning and I can't wait to see it take over the bridal blogs this next season! 

You can see more of the dress collection here: www.emmalinebridal.com

Or purchase a shirt or make a donation here: www.emmalinebridal.com/shop

-Tara