I awake fresh and in bloody great mood. Then again, I’ve got no job, no bills, no worries, I’m highly attractive and I love myself, with Pushkar as my next destination who wouldn’t be in a good mood? Good bloody morning Bundi.
Pumped and full of it, I run around the lake taking in Bundi’s beauty for the last time and take a tuk tuk to the bus station. Whilst waiting, a tuk tuk drives past spraying a mixture of sewage water and cow shit all over my legs. Lovely. I deal with it, not surprised or disgusted, this is India, it happens. I’m with a stunning Spanish girl and her mum. We get on a Government bus to Ajmer. Luckily for me, I steal the last empty seat, obviously making sure the ladies got a seat before me. Remember I am a European, we invented how to be polite and we abide by the ‘women first’ rule, a rule which hasn’t quite made it into India yet. Indians pile on the bus regardless of whether the passengers who need to come off done so first. Then the scramble and fight begins. Arguments rage while the desperate race for seats takes place. Survival of the fittest. The bus packs in an obscene amount of customers. It’s hectic, bodies pressing against me. I catch up on my blog, slipping into my writing zone for hours. We stop at a bus station with lots of tasty food stalls, I embrace the usual shouting and singing from the food sellers and get some rice and some masala chi for pennies. Thought I would share with you that the toilets were surprisingly clean…ish. Travelling in India doesn’t faze me now. The trades people even seem to give me Indian prices on the food now, they don’t add on white man tax. Maybe they can smell it on me, that I know their game.
Arriving at Ajmer bus station there is a distinct lack of knowledge as to which bus goes to Pushkar. However there is a lot of tuk tuks who want to charge me extortionate amounts to take me. It’s busy, sunset due very soon, I make friends with an older Ozzie lady. She looks a little uneasy about being at this busy Government bus station. Lost. Its the first time she has taken a bus in India. I take her under my wing. She is a vet, volunteering at an animal sanctuary. She teaches me about how India deal with the problem of rabies in dogs. I learn that a bus goes out everyday and rounds up the rabid dogs. Bringing them back to the vet surgery they are dealt with. In general they do not attack humans unless provoked. Their throats so sore they cannot eat or drink properly. Poor little guys. I’m suddenly more relaxed about the dodgy dogs India that roam the streets.
After a false start we find the right bus and cram on board. There is a street lady with her three children on board. She decides to sit on the floor to the disgust of a large well to do man. An argument breaks out in front of me. Several Indians get involved. I watch. In the craziness of people getting off the bus, one of her children gets dragged off the bus by mistake. She panics and grabs my legs to stand up, pulling my shorts down in the process. Her child was returned safely as was my shorts. Thanks love. Lucky I was wearing my boxers today.
The journey takes us over the mountain and down towards Pushkar. The road is winding and treacherous, the driver swinging around the corners, taking up both lanes, he drives like every other lunatic bus driver in India. Even after a month of seeing the Indian driving traditions, it still makes me nervous. The bus journey cost me 12R, a cheap price to pay to witness real people, beautiful scenery, to have my pants pulled down and a near death experience. Bargain.
Arriving to a full-on tout experience a young man called Manu calls my name and passes me a note wrote by Joe. It reads …
To Mike, from Maidstone, go to the Shree Palace, love Joe x
I smile. The tuk tuk leads me to my English friends. Destiny, again, perhaps, leading my way. Arriving at the Shree Palace I meet some cool new people chilling on the rooftop. Kim from the USA, who I learn is my new roomie, and Mat and Scarlet, a couple from Jersey. We drink lassi and giggle the night away. The family is growing. Glad for some good company. We’re on a level init.
The next day we eat breakfast on the roof top of the hotel. It’s a great view. We are positioned away from the main Pushkar lake next to the mountain with the Gayitri temple at the top. Gayitri being the wife of the god Brahma.
History slash RE lesson: Pushkar is particularly important to Hindu religion. Creator Lord Brahma flitted a lotus flower to earth to kill a demon. One of the three petals landed in Pushkar and water magically appeared in the midst of the desert. At Pushkar lake Brahma gathered 900,000 celestial beings, the entire Hindu population. Fast forward a few hundred years and ting and Pushkar is now one of the most sacred sites being named Pushkaraj Maharaj, ‘Pushkar King of Kings’. During the full moon period Pushkar is famous for its camel festival which due to location and poor time management, I’m unfortunately missing out on. Sulky face.
History slash RE slash how to get ripped off lesson: Wandering down to the lake is the most obvious tourist move. There are 52 ghats at the lake, one for each Marharaja of Rajhasthan. At the Gau Ghat, the tourist trap, we saw what all the fuss was about. Picked up by one of the so called priests, I removed my sandals and was lead to the lake side where there were many Hindu pilgrims cleaning themselves in the holy water. I repeated his chant, throwing in rice, petals and a red and yellow powder. This is meant to give luck to my family, even to my non existent brother. I’m not sure if this guy was for real but when he put on a Pushkar passport, a red and yellow wrist band, and demanded a donation I knew I’d been done. I gave him 60R after he’d started at 2000R. Just when you think you’re having a spiritual moment with someone who wants to show you their religion at one of holiest places in India, they then put a price tag on it, sadly devaluing the experience and the entire Hindu religion. It’s a shame. The Hindu religion and most of it’s people are lovely, peaceful and of good nature. But my wrist band looks cool right?! So maybe my 60R donation is justified.
We stroll through the shops and streets that surround the north of the lake. There’s no pressure or hassle here. It’s relaxing, and relatively cheap. I spot a few hippies and backpackers amongst the Indian tourists. I like it. I’m smiling.
The sunset is meant to be particularly spectacular from the top of the mountain next to our hostel. At 5pm, we venture up to witness the view from the Gayitri temple. We met some fellow travelers at the top, talking about our adventures, soaking up the view of Pushkar and it’s 500 temples as the sun sinks into haze on the horizon.
Pushkar is a holy place so drinking and drugs are not allowed, in fact the police can arrest you for breaking this law (remember, cannabis is legal and considered holy, due to Shiva, the Hindu God using it…something like that). On return, our law abiding and very honest hostel owner, Peter, arranges some whiskey and rum to be delivered to us. Welcome to India. Everything is possible. The usual price of 250R jumps to 520R. Still, £6 for a large bottle of spirits isn’t exactly crippling my bank balance. It’s a good crowd, chilling, drinking, smoking on the rooftop. This crowd keep me in Pushkar for a week, my longest stay anywhere in India so far. How can I go back to merely existing in the UK when I’m living in India?
The next day was dedicated to relaxing. The plan to wake up at 5am and go to see the sunrise from the Savatri temple on the hill failed. The clock hit 2pm before we even contemplated leaving the Shree Palace rooftop. We planned to get some motorbikes the following day. Patrick and Chico, some rather cool musician dudes from Brazil turned up. The family continues to grow. Patrick has the most amazing ears, his large circular earrings taken out leaves him with droopy ears, and he plays a tiny guitar with skill and ease. His smile is warm and infectious. Chico is a flute player, dreadlocks and Korean parents make this guy the coolest looking flute player I’ve ever seen. Their music combined is a fusion of styles, Latin upbeat jazz springs to mind. Chico has a biology degree and our in depth discussions about the creation of the world fascinate me.
In true Indian fashion, only two scooters arrive out of the six that we ordered. Once we all had some ancient clapped out rusty old scooters, we were lead by our new Indian friend along the winding road through the valley to the Aloo Baba’s house. He works for the Enigma Cafe and asked us if we wanted to go out for the day with him. He’s now a guide, leading us into the unknown.
On our way we are stopped by some scruffy looking men. They tell us to stop. are we about to get ambushed? Of course not, remember Indians never directly steal off you. They are merely blowing up the side of the mountain with dynamite. We wait for the explosions and we drive on. Anythings possible.
So, back to the Aloo Baba story. Aloo means potato. The Baba has stayed in the same place for many years and only eats potatoes and drinks chi. Interesting choice. We sit around discussing things that don’t even matter and the guys smoke their little hearts out. We venture further on down the winding road until it is not safe for us to drive. We walk a little further down the hill to a stunning Shiva temple. The weather is lovely, the atmosphere tranquil. Our guide from the local roof top restaurant has been kind to us. What a nice guy, I thought at the time.
That very night we drank illegally on the rooftop, talking, singing and laughing the night away. The ‘blue veined flute’ song bellowing around Pushkar into the early hours.
The next morning I drove aimlessly around the countryside stopping to look closer at gypsy camps and small villages. I head back to Pushkar after being attacked by a midget 4 year old gypsy kid. He tried to jump on my bike as I drove off. Today’s lesson: Gypsy kids are mental, which ever country you are in.
I meet my guide from yesterday and he’s heading out to the mountain baba with a German girl and his pals. I get involved. We climb up the mountain and visit the baba. He’s a pretty crap baba as he’s not in. The gate and house are locked. Our guide then shows me two graves of the previous babas who were both murdered. I feel uneasy. Why would anyone kill an old wise man? Hmm.
On the way to the Aloo Baba’s place, again, our guide starts to mention money. He asks me for a donation as he is poor and his family can’t afford many things. He must have forgotten that I saw his parents nice and tidy house earlier and he must think I’m blind to see the designer clothes he wears. Muppet. Just as you think he’s a genuinely nice guy, it all boils down to ‘give me some money rich white man’. Luckily for me there’s a group of backpackers I know from last night sitting with the Aloo Baba. We talk and drink chi before I ditch my dickhead beggar of a friend and his pals. excuse my language.
Unfortunately for Pushkar it’s too small to have its own railway station, therefore I have to buy my ticket from a travel agent who can charge anything from 50R to 150R commission extra per ticket. This experience is a tough one if you are a stubborn foreigner who wants to buy a cheap ticket and not the expensive overpriced one with lots of commission for the salesman. I find the tickets I want that takes me from Ajmer to Amritsar through new Delhi station. An easy transaction is required, a quick call and it’s done. It’s only 300R for both tickets. I’ll pay their commission rates, just give me the tickets. It shouldn’t be difficult. However, in true Indian style they continue to try to sell me a ticket that is more expensive and that takes longer. When I demand the ticket that is available they refuse or make it difficult and suddenly upping the agreed commission rate. I stick to my guns because I like people that keep their word. After six failed attempts I find a lovely no bull shit man who gives my tickets. That was tough, no wonder tourists just give in and pay more.
Walking the streets of Pushkar I meet Lucy, a Canadian chick with dreadlocks. She asks me if I fancy driving somewhere or doing something cool. Yes, I think that sounds like a bit of me. We drive down to Ajmer against the warning of the bike rental man who said that the Police will stop us if we don’t have a helmet. Just to clarify, he didn’t have a helmet to give us either.
On arriving to Ajmer we check out our guide book and it says that Ajmers top attraction is the Dargah Sharif, a holy place for Muslims. In fact, if you visit the Dargah seven times it is equivilent to visiting Mecca, the ultimate holy place for the Muslim people. So this place must be quite a big deal, maybe. We go to check it out, unaware of the scale of this place. Driving into the old town, the roads narrow and the crowds thicken. Before we know it there are thousands of Muslims pacing the streets, either leaving or going to the Dargah for their pilgrimage. We somehow wiggle the bike through the streets and find a parking space in an alley. There are hundreds of beggars that line the streets, the old and young, the abled and the disabled, the sights, sounds and stares bewilder us. It is clear that not many Europeans make this pilgramage, let alone a six foot tall blonde hair blue eyed male and a Canadian chick with dreads.
The temple has tight security and we have to put our cameras and bags into security. On entering the temple the beggars pull at our sleeves and children tug at my trousers. I am firm with my words, harsh with my stare, expressionless. If you give them a slight look in the eye, your finished, they’ll follow you for miles. Entering the Dargah, ignorant of its importance and Islams traditions I expect the begging to stop.
There are stalls selling flowers and hats. They attempt to get our business. Isn’t this a holy place? I buy a Sinbad style purple hat. I look the nuts. There are people everywhere, some relaxing, some charging around like the world is about to end. We wash our hands and feet by the taps, observing the people, inducing intense staring and the occasional smile.
A man requests us to sit down, he tells me to fill out a form which i politely decline as I do not wish to make a donation. He firmly tells me I have to fill it out and shoves the pen in my hand, so I oblige but leave the donation box blank. He rips up my details and waves me on in. Shame on him, trying to blag a donation from me. Temples are free, I just want to observe the traditions and rituals they perform. My mind is buzzing, taking in everything.
In the grounds they have two massive black metal pans that pilgrims fill with cash and presents. The pans so large that you have to climb ten steps to reach the top to look in. These donations are then used to feed the poor. The pinicle of the Dargah was a small shrine that had two entracnes and two exits. Pilgrims poured in and out constantly. There was the usual pushing and scrapping to get in. We joined the mass bundle and entered unaware of what was inside. There were men who lined the outside walls and men on the inside part. Their job is to collect the money and give blessings to the pilgrims. It was bewildering. Bodies squashed up against each other, we can’t move anywhere. Several men grab us demanding rupees. Another man hands us a scarf and demands we kiss it. We move through the crowd and are spat out at the other end.
The Dargah fascinated me. The journey was spontaneous, maybe I should have educated myself about it a little more before we ventured into the heaving mass of Muslim pilgrims. Three hours passed, the experience highly intense. We navigate around the back alleys, tasting sweets and taking in the hustle and bustle of the bazarr. We find our bike next to boy of no more than two having a dump in the street.
We return to Pushkar. No Police check. Safe. Happy. Singing.
I have my last yoga session on the roof top with Kim. She’s introduced me to something called Hathi Yoga. I’ve been keeping a little fit in Pushkar, the small home gym and yoga keeping the fried food off my hips. I also trekked to the top of the other hill to the Savitri temple to watch the sun rise. This was something I had attempted to do several times but waking up at 5am is harder than it looks.
The Savitri temple is on the other side of town so I decide to drive over on my bike. In typical Indian fashion I awake at 6am after the alarm had been pestering me for one hour. I run out to the bike which takes 10 minutes to start and head off to the mountain/hill. In true Indian fashion, the bike cuts out and won’t restart. So I take a very brisk walk to the mountain and climb to the top, fast. After all of this, I don’t want to miss the sunrise. Arriving at the top, I order a chi as the sun rises and I catch up with my new friends from Brazil, Australia and Norway. Tip top. I made it. The view is stunning even with the haze of the morning. I’m at one with the world. Wandering down, we top up on chi and play chess. A game I’ve rediscovered. I’m addicted. I must buy a board.
OK, end of the essay. I’m off to Amritsar to stay at the Golden Temple. Next chapter soon to follow. Love you.