According to legend, Pushkar, 15km northwest of Ajmer, came into existence when Lord Brahma, the Creator, dropped a lotus flower (pushpa) to earth from his hand (kar). At the three spots where the petals landed, water magically appeared in the midst of the desert to form three small blue lakes, and it was on the banks of the largest of these that Brahma subsequently convened a gathering of some 900,000 celestial beings – the entire Hindu pantheon. Surrounded by whitewashed temples and bathing ghats, the lake is today revered as one of India’s most sacred sites: Pushkaraj Maharaj, literally “Pushkar King of Kings”. During the auspicious full-moon phase of October/November (the anniversary of the gods’ mass meeting, or yagya), its waters are believed to cleanse the soul of all impurities, drawing pilgrims from all over the country. Alongside this annual religious festival, Rajasthani villagers also buy and sell livestock at what has become the largest camel market (unt mela) in the world, when more than 150,000 dealers, tourists and traders fill the dunes west of the lake.

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