What is Urs: Every May, thousands of pilgrims, Sufis and tourists head to the sleepy town of Ajmer in Northern Rajasthan to celebrate the festival of Urs, to commemorate the death anniversary of Moinuddin Chisti. The streets leading up to the dargah (shrine) of the venerated Sufi saint and founder of the Chishtiya sect are packed with devotees.
What to Expect: The festival starts with the hoisting of a white flag by the descendants of Moinuddin Chisti. Music in the form is quawwalis is constantly performed both in the dargah compound as well as outside its gates. During Urs, the doors of the white marble dargah (shrine) are opened for all six days of celebrations. Devotees go around the gate seven times; it is said that this makes them secure a spot in heaven. Through the days, chadar (silk cloth) is offered to the shrine. Another important part of Urs is the kheer cooked in two large cauldrons and served as tabarruk (sacred food). Festivities reach a crescendo at nights, when passionate quawwals (quawwali singers) and poets perform devotional songs. A fair like ambiance descends on the streets close by and shopkeepers do brisk trade in flowers, prayer rugs, knick-knacks and other souvenirs.
When: 11th May 2013 (Usually anytime between May and June)
How to Get There: Ajmer has reasonably good connectivity from Delhi (391 km). Overnight and day buses/ trains, including a Shatabdi, are available. Special trains are also added for this festival. If you are in Jaipur, multiple buses run to Ajmer and take less than 2 hrs to reach.
Getting Around: Ajmer is a very small town and can be easily explored on cycle rickshaws and auto rickshaws.
Where to Stay:
1. Badnor House: Experience a heritage ambience at the Badnor House homestay. The host, Sanjay, is a widely published photographer and will be happy to help you with some tips on capturing the Urs.
Contact: (0145) 2627579; www.badnorhouse.com
2. Hotel Chitvan: A departure from the typical Rajasthani havelis, Chitvan is a lovely boutique hotel sporting clean rooms and loos, an in-house restaurant and a swimming pool.
Contact: (0145) 2300300; www.hotelchitvan.com
- You need to cover your head inside the shrine, so carry a scarf/skull cap.
- Though there is no entry fee, carry some change for the shoekeeper who expects a wee tip for holding your shoes when you enter the shrine.
- Beggars can be persistent here and pickpocketing is not uncommon in the crowd. Be careful with your belongings.
- The lake town of Pushkar lies less than 15km from Ajmer. You can detour to visit the only Brahma temple in India here. Pushkar is also famous for the annual camel fair held in November.
- Ask for the famous market, Mahila Mandi (closed on Tuesday) to pick up traditional veils, dyed fabrics for turbans and a slice of old-world charm.
- There is a fascinating monument trail in Ajmer, which will take you a day to cover; Shah Jahan’s mosque, a museum, man-made lakes, a Jain temple are the highlights of the town.
With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com
For more information on Ajmer and Pushkar, please refer to our Short Escapes from Delhi travel guide.