There is no railway station in Pushkar, getting there involves a 1 hour, Rs14 (30¢ – no kidding) bus trip from Ajmer. Being very mindful of dates, needing to meet Sheila in Delhi on the 13th, I decided I could spend the night in Ajmer and check out Ajmer Sharif Dargah, the shrine (Dargah) of sufi saint, Moinuddin Chishti.
My trip seems to have unintentionally evolved into visiting the holiest places of most of the religions. But it is easy to do because they are spectacular and usually the major “attraction” in a city.
If not for the Dargah, I wouldn’t recommend Ajmer, crowded with pilgrims, way more beggars than I have seen anywhere, a bit grotty and because Hinduism doesn’t seem to dominate, not many veg restaurants.
The Dargah was 5 minute walk from my hotel, so it was really crazy in the streets, pilgrims heading to the shrine. At the entrance I balked, it was quite intimidating, there are jostling people, security – it wasn’t at all welcoming. But I was there so I approached a guard and asked if it was OK to go in. He indicated another bloke and I was put into the hands of the beautiful Ajmed.
Ajmed speaks excellent English and showed me around the complex, including into the inner sanctum, where I would never have ventured by myself. We had a long discussion as we walked and he seems a bit jaded with some aspect of his job or the people or the place and is quite open about it – I suggested his views were quite provocative, he agreed.
It was the end of school time and he likes to be home for his daughters, so I was invited to join him for tea, another serendipitous moment. You know those movies where people head down a maze of narrow alleys in a foreign city? The walk to his house was like that, no way would I be able to find my way back unaided.
I forget the daughter’s names I only know they beat me easily playing ludo on a phone. Both gorgeous, good English speakers, getting an education and with a vision for their future. I had only known him for an hour, but Ajmed’s influence was obvious. Oh, also he is an artist and his house walls are covered in his work.
Next morning to Pushkar, famous for a camel fair that is not until the end of November unfortunately. This was the first tricky “find the bus” mission I have had. By asking numerous people I work out where the bus goes from…sort of. I ask the conductor (every bus has one) “Pushkar?” and he kind of signs to let me know to catch his bus to the bus station for the real bus.
The real bus* is essentially a local bus with no English destination board or anything luxurious like that. But it is the right bus and in another reenactment of a movie scene, we are speeding along a winding road through (admittedly not very high) mountains with cars overtaking on the wrong side of the road approaching blind corners.
Pushkar is a tourist trap, but in a nice sense. It is the Byron Bay of Rajasthan. The town surrounds another holy place, a lake believed to have formed at the beginning of the world. The lake is surrounded by ghats where there is a non stop stream of people praying and bathing. This is all facilitated by many donation boxes and booths. Reminder, while it is a tourist attraction for us westerners, for most people it is a serious pilgrimage.
At dusk prayer time this incredible machine was going.
I wonder if there are Indian musicians bemoaning the fact that they have been replaced by a machine.
Like Byron, there are loads of Western tourists in Pushkar, for some reason many from Israel, but last night on the hotel rooftop Australia, UK, Norway, Argentina, Germany and Israel were all represented.
It is worth mentioning that as I got off the bus there was the usual “Please, my hotel” mob and the offer of a free two wheeler ride to a place near the lake with WiFi and Rs400 ($9) rooms got me. Another great hotel, good food, close to everywhere.
Nearby is yet another holy place, a rare Brahmin temple where I had a whistle blown at me for taking a photo. Hey, I had seen someone else so assumed it was OK.
Now in Jaipur, into Delhi tomorrow. I keep hearing stories about how crowded Delhi is, but they all come from people who flew into there. Hopefully after having been here for 4 weeks it will just seem like India.
Some random photos to finish and (shock horror) be more or less up to date.