Hotel: Paramount Palace – not a palace at all, but has some of the best views over Pushkar, is on a quiet lane 3 minutes walk from the market and is R400 per night
Reminder: $AUD1 = R50
Like last trip, my plan was to not really have much of a plan. The loose idea was Rajasthan for most of the time and a handful of places, each for a while. It might be a bit naive, but I was hoping to embed myself in a community, even if briefly, and get to know some people and be known.
A not too bad bus trip from Jaipur to Ajmer made more enjoyable by being seated next to Francois, a guy from Quebec. Hmmm, as I type this I realise how easy it is to shove the less pleasant parts of an event into the didn’t actually happen corner of my memory.
For a start although the directions to the bus stop were good, on arrival Jai Ambay Travelling Agent wasn’t to be found and nearby businesses seemed to have no idea. Eventually one guy I asked pointed vaguely down to where I had been and said “bus”. Stupid me, how could I have missed that this was the Jai Ambay bus.
There was no one near the bus, which was supposed to leave at 11:30 and at about 11:20 I asked a guy if he was going to Ajmer. This got the attention of a bloke sitting a ways off, he just happened to be the driver 😛 and this wasn’t the Ajmer bus anyway. Oh, Great!
It turns out that Jai Ambay’s office was right there, hiding in plain sight – assuming you regard a hole in the wall set well back from the street as plain sight.
So the bus does leave in 5 minutes, only not from here. I am hastily led about 500m through traffic, over a busy road, and past other buses to the Ajmer bus which is about to leave. This is where I meet Francois.
Nobody mentioned to either of us that the bus didn’t actually go in to Ajmer, it went past. Luckily the conductor was on the ball and let us know to get off. Since I had done the Ajmer to Pushkar bus last time and knew it was only about R20, the R1,000 asked by an auto driver was not even considered. R200 to the bus station between me and Francois seemed over priced but was about our only option. In fact it was a pretty long way and the 200 ended up seeming quite reasonable, though likely still double what a local would pay.
The Pushkar bus, which only cost R15 turned out to be a hoot. It is only about 45 minutes or so over a hill on a very winding road. We were right down the back amongst a group of about 20 young guys who spoke enough English that we could communicate. I pulled out balloon animals and had them laughing at the guy who couldn’t blow one up, then impressed them when I did.
What does one make for a bunch of 20 something blokes having fun? A dick hat of course. The people down the front must have been wondering what the hell was going on down the back.
Jumping back to Jaipur, my main mission on this trip apart from having fun was to buy some carpets. I had looked at quite a few and wanted to be able to say mission accomplished and get it out of the way.
Sam from Afghanistan took me to a factory where he was honest about receiving 2% commission. I don’t begrudge that for anyone earning about R600 a day.
I spent about 2 hours looking, choosing, haggling, working out details and settled on 6 rugs I likely paid way too much for, but they are going to look great in the house.
Needless to say, the photos don’t do the colours justice at all. the one on the right in the middle is actually a lovely green that changes depending on which end you look at it. The biggest carpet (top right) wasn’t quite the right size so they are going to make one specially. It will take 3 months so if you were planning to visit especially to run your toes through them, hold off.
Someone introduced me to these things, the best I can find out is they are called water plants – I just was told the Hindu name, but couldn’t get it spelled, sounded like tingara.. They grow under water and are in season right now, R10 for a bag. To eat them you peel the thin skin and inside is a nut sort of thing that is not unlike a water chestnut. Hmmm…maybe that’s what they are, not convinced though.
They are really good and I buy a bag every day eating them as I wander around. Yesterday I threw the skin of one in a gutter in the market thinking a cow would eat it and someone shouted at me to not throw it in the street.
This deserves some background: there is no such thing as a public rubbish bin in India. Closest is that there will always be a bin at a food stall. Add to that, people openly and freely toss their rubbish from cars and buses or where they are standing, no matter what they are getting rid of. While I would never throw plastic on the ground, I don’t have a major problem with organic matter like fruit skin.
But I had been rebuked and I was interested. The guy, who is the owner of a shop, explained that some merchants are trying to keep the market clean and he is working hard to do that around his shop. I apologised, promised to not do it again and we had a long chat about rubbish and all sorts of things.
Now we are friends. I walked past a few times later in the day and always said hello and had a brief chat. This morning he spotted me before I realised I was at his shop – they all look very similar – and called out to me. We sat for an hour talking, drinking chai and just hanging out. This is exactly what I was hoping for.
It isn’t really that hard to create these relationships. As I walk with my water plants I freely offer one to someone who engages in some way. I had met eyes with a holy man seated by the road as I walked past him. I turned back and offered the bag of fruit? nuts? and there he was eating his own. We both laughed and I am sure next time I see him we will say namaste again.
There are a couple of falafel stalls next to each other (they are both really good) and I was talking to the guy behind the cooker in one. He pointed to my water plants and said one for me? but of course. Quick as a flash and without really even thinking about it I pointed to a falafel ball and said one for me? he looked surprised but could hardly say no and his friends roared with laughter, I think at him not expecting it.
They have a sign Oh my god. WOW! about the falafels so we shouted that a few times as I ate it, me maybe going a bit over the top :o), but it must have been OK because they offered me another falafel later in the day. Another group of “friends”.
In some ways I am a typical bloke…not many I don’t think…but I am not big on shopping, especially for clothes. So I was quite intrigued by the fact that I was interested in some shoes that are on sale in a number of stalls.
These are no ordinary shoes, check out the ones on the bottom row to the left of the…umm…delightful orange sandals. Ajeet was wearing something like these and I thought at the time they are quirky enough that I wanted a pair.
I did a lot of research on this. Went to pretty much every shoe stall in the market, trying to keep track of which was my favourite shoes and how much they were. Sometimes the stars align and it happened that my favourite pair also turned out to be the cheapest and about the best made. It is possible they are camel leather.
I could describe them, but I think it best I let my specially selected male super model show them off – he looks after the roof top restaurant at the hotel – I couldn’t do any better.
The focus of Pushkar – beyond the markets – is an important temple and the lake surrounded by ghats. Read about it last year. Every evening there are ceremonies in several spots on the ghats. Prior to that last night was a rooftop drumming session. I was invited to join in and would have loved to, but I am uncomfortable sitting on the ground.
Hinduism is quite fascinating. While we Westerners regard it as a religion, it is clearly more than that. I’ve had a few conversations with people and to them Hinduism isn’t something they believe in, it just is. It is completely pervasive of Indian culture and society in a way that is hard to understand. I have mentioned the number of shrines, on every corner, in fields, by the road, in shops, on mountains, everywhere. It is not unusual to see people make some sort of devotional hand motion as they drive past a specific temple.
And then there is the cows. There’s a lot of them in Pushkar. To the Hindu, the cow represents all other creatures. Hindus believe that all living creatures are sacred—mammals, fishes, birds. The cow is more, a symbol of the Earth.
I was sitting on a Ghat after the drumming, watching the evening ceremony when I get a sloppy nudge from behind. This beautiful thing was standing over me and unlike most cows (Gai, in Hindi) it seemed to like having is ears scratched. Yes I know it is a bull, but it is still a cow to me.
But it is a sacred/hate relationship between humans and bovines. Cows somehow know they are special and don’t mind taking advantage of it. They stop traffic, lay where they want, shit everywhere, try to get away with eating from vendors if no one is paying attention. So they are slapped, yelled at, hit with sticks, have their tails twisted, all to move them away or along. I should add that the hitting etc isn’t hard, just to get them going. I’ve done it a few times myself.
Tonight as I was eating another great meal, quite late, a man came and moved about half a dozen cows (does that count as a herd?) that were lying in a corner. They looked out of the way to me, but he got them up and moved them down the street.
Five minutes later the same cows were being driven back the way they had come by another man. I am not sure if this goes on all night, back and forth, or the cows get the idea and go up a side street.
I can get a bit lazy shaving and after a week it starts to get annoying. Barber must have read my mind – or seen my face – and for R100 I was shaved three times and had my eyebrows massaged.
I look so good, I might put on my new shoes.