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Rajasthan Tales – Pushkar and The Brahma Priest Scam

We have been fortunate during the last 10 years or so to travel widely, and whenever we do, we respect the culture and customs of our hosts.  We travel with our eyes open, prepared to experience new things and to not close down opportunities for learning if we can help it. If  our hosts drink tiny cups of black sweet tea we drink tiny cups of black sweet tea. Sometimes, if there is time, I‘ll even learn some basic phrases rather than fall back on shouting louder in English.

We think we can spot a scam. We’re pretty worldly wise by now and being tourists, let’s face it, you line yourself up to be a target. Some scams are funny (the viscose through the ring trick when shopping), some are irritating, some intimidating. If you travel they will happen. You just have to balls-out brave it and roll with the punches.

...spme of the Pushkar locals chewing the cud ...
…some of the Pushkar locals chewing the cud …

The holy town of Pushkar has many temples and one specific 14th century temple to Lord Brahma. We knew about “The Brahma Priest” scam. We’d done our research and knew it could get quite intimidating. The “Lonely Planet” guide warns you but with space restrictions, I guess, no details. So, here is, in detail, how despite the above, we fell for The Brahma Priest scam……………

Arriving in Pushkar we wander along the main street when we shortly come to Badri Ghat. A Ghat is a bathing place by the Holy Lake, around which Pushkar sits, where it is possible to descend a series of steps to the waters edge. The ashes of Ghandi and Nehru were strewn into this lake – the holy waters of Pushkar.

... the Ghats ...
… the Ghats …

Badri Ghat looks quiet in the early morning. There are a few people chatting halfway down and a handrail divides the steps down to the water.

Shortly after setting off descending to the water together we are stopped by two people offering us plates of flowers to throw into the lake to perform puja – the Hindi ritual of prayer.  Our Scam Radar twitched. We shake our heads and say we are not paying any money. But they don’t want money, only to show us the ritual and what to do with the flowers.

Our two “guides” then split us up. Women down one side of the rail and men down the other. This, of course, seems reasonable enough in India, and so barefooted we step to the water’s edge.

... even cows have to  bathe if they have standards ...
… even cows have to bathe if they have standards …

We sit cross-legged by the water, reciting a Hindi prayer and throwing flowers into the lake. By now, my Scam Radar is in the Red Zone and honking in my ears. I know I am caught in the Brahma Priest scam. But I know the routine so I keep my values low. I know what is coming.

“How much to charity?” is mentioned. I tell him I’m not paying any money. “Not to me, “ he waves his hand, “you don’t pay money to me.”

“10 rupees,” I say. “No, no, 10 rupees is nothing.”  We settle on 100. (£1: $1.50)

“How many people in your family?” – this is also what the Lonely Planet guide warns. I settled on 3, not the 2 dozen or so in actuality. I re-iterate that I am not paying any money. He restates that he is not wanting money. Warily we go on and he places a cotton bracelet around my wrist to signal my completion of puja. Shortly this pantomime is over and he asks for 300 rupees donation to charity ( note; my 3 family members x 100 rupees each), and instructs me to place it on the plate of the man who has just appeared by my shoulder, presumably the Brahma Priest.

I decline and argue, pull myself up and start to leave the edge of the lake. Both men begin to raise their voices and call me a cheat and a liar for going back on my “charity” donations. The wording, of course, being buried in the Hindi prayer we have just recited.

This quickly escalates into an argument. If I had ignored my “Scams Radar” my “Threatening Behaviour Radar” was now pinging Red. I paid up and got out. I had fallen for the Brahma Priest Scam. Fi’s Scam Radar went off earlier than mine and consequently bullied back better than me. She got out early but was too far away to get my attention – remember, we were taken down to different parts of the lake.

Falling for scams is always unpleasant and this left a bitter taste for a while. The aggression was a surprise. The value of the “donation” is not the issue, it could have been worse (2400+ rupees) but the deception, the opportunism, is uncalled for in what is meant to be a spiritual place. And it gets Pushkar a bad name.

... curious, but I liked his style ...
… curious, but I liked his style …

Which is sad because the irony is that this experience bears no relationship to the rest of our stay there. The Lonely Planet guide states that scams abound in Pushkar but that was not our experience at all. We had a wonderful time in what is a laid back town marred by some unscrupulous lakeside dupers…. and we can tell you where to get a great massage.

Pushkar was on the hippy trail in the 60’s and some semblance of that atmosphere still abides and reflecting back on our trip it became our favourite stop-over.

When in Rajasthan head for Pushkar, it is fun and a cool place – but if someone offers you flowers by the lakeside, tell them to Push-off…..


11 thoughts on “Rajasthan Tales – Pushkar and The Brahma Priest Scam”

  1. We always thought we were pretty savvy but we did get caught in Morocco. Small beer mind, although to be accurate it was small water. For some reason, and I can’t remember how, we ended up buying a bottle of water for a Moroccan on the train, as I say small beer. Much better that we avoided the invitation to get off the train and go stay with them. We met some Americans later who had done that and were quite freaked about the whole experience. Travel scams are always there, they just move on. And so should we. Next time we travel, we have agreed to sit separately so we don’t end up talking English and don’t stick out like sore thumbs.

    1. When all said and done I don’t really mind them. We are, after all, seemingly very well off to the people who depend upon “wealthy” tourists for a living. In this instance, I’d rather the authorities charged a small fee and made visiting the lake by foreigners an official activity.
      We also try to act confident and not be phased by our surroundings. However, white folk in India have to have been there a while to get a tan. 🙂

  2. Travelling in today’s world leaves one open to many dangers, it seems. At least you’re a savvy traveller with an open mind and enough sense to keep your wits about you at all times.

  3. Yes – we noticed the scam in Pushkar too. So we kept away from the water line and when ever someone tried to hand us a flower to put it on the lake, we just said no. After a while they got tired of us and left us alone. They found other tourists who were much more willing to play the game!

    1. Well done, Bluebalu. I later saw a tall guy remonstrating quite angrily with the same “Brahma Priest” we had been duped by. They might make more money if they just hung out a charity bucket.
      I hope you enjoyed the rest of the town like we did, though.
      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  4. Oh I hate being trapped this way….this post reminded me of so many experiences we’ve had in various places. The bad-taste-in-mouth feeling sticks around long enough to spoil precious hours. We had a strange, strange pitstop at an ayurvedic botanical garden during our road trip in Sri Lanka where we were asked to buy bottles and jars of oils and creams at exorbitant prices… reeked of scamminess, and it was no fun getting out of the situation. So awkward to be a tourist and try to balance a friendly demeanour with utter wariness amongst the ‘hosts’ 😦

    1. It is, indeed, and though when I told this story to friends back home they all said they would have done this, that or the other and dealt with it. But I would rather not close down the opportunities to share and learn with other people from other cultures and run the risk of a scam once in a while. I feel I am enriched for being open, and if I’m taken for a fool sometimes, okay, I’ll get over it.
      I believe that across the world 99% of people are honest and just like you and me. Scams also happen at home too, it’s part of life.
      Sri Lanka was a cool trip though, wasn’t it? !

      1. Yes indeed they’re a part of life. Just today Huz saved himself from being gypped by a plumber. The other day he was burned by the guy we buy or veggies from, and the list goes on. Moral fabric in Karachi has gone to the dogs! Either that, or inflation is just too hard to keep up with.
        SL was cool….which reminds me, I should continue with my photo blog 🙂

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