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Posts Tagged ‘Pushkar’

I am certain that some bus drivers in India seek the position in order to exercise an uncontrollable urge to make as much noise as possible while menacing fellow motorists. It only takes a few kilometres to establish that our driver today counts among those with a most severe and chronic condition.
The road to Ajmer is straight and runs alongside dry fields filled with flowers. Our driver is locked in a battle of gear changes, blasts from the musical horn and self-mutterings. He swats a fly while shifting to third in one impatient movement. Even when the road is clear he still insists on warning phantom cars of his presence. In any other country this condition would arouse concern but our fellow passengers seem completely unaware that the driver is now talking to himself and sounding the horn on an empty road.
Ajmer itself is not a place for tourists to linger but rather serves as a connection to Pushkar which is only 20km away. The depot is heaving with people today. I had been expecting an easy transition but apparently there is a local election which explains the high volume of people that are coming and going. It takes us a little time to locate where the busses for Pushkar depart. Indians are not very exact when giving directions or rather we are very poor at interpreting their instructions. As time goes by I am inclined to believe the former. Pointing is simply not in their repertoire of gestures. They are willing to help but not able to be precise. They simply flick their writs in a vague movement. Left, right and straight ahead all blend into one non-descript motion. I find myself questioning the gesture and offering up a more accurate option, but this is always responded to with a warm smile, and the same puzzling action.

Ajmer to Pushkar bus

Travelling from Ajmer to Pushkar with Jack

Waiting at the stand is a young man wearing dark glasses whom I at first take to be Indian. He seems a little impatient with the locals so I switch my assessment to possibly being a Brit with Indian heritage. He looks tired and distressed but is still polite enough to smile and say hello. As it turns out he is French and has no Indian heritage at all. He is also suffering with stomach problems and a headache. He introduces himself as Jack and we shake hands. A taxi driver on the prowl offers to take us all to Pushkar for 800 rupees which is about $15.00 USD…we decline the offer for now.
One of the ticket sellers flicks his wrist at a bus that has just arrived. It is already packed and a small army of people are trying desperately to get on. We make no attempt and the taxi man circles around for another pass. Fifteen minutes later a second bus arrives but this time we are better prepared with packs already mounted on our back. There is a small scuffle at the door but nothing as bad as we experienced getting on the train in Delhi. We even manage to get a seat and the cost is only 10 rupees each.

Pushkar in Rajasthan

Pushkar in Rajasthan

Pushkar is small enough to see in a day but charming enough to remain for longer. An enjoyable blend of authentic Rajasthan culture and touristic comforts. The small town consists of pastel painted buildings and temples wrapped around a lake devoted to the creator god Brahma. We pick our way past white cows and hungry dogs to the unsuitably named Everest Hotel. Despite having a wonderful roof top terrace there is absolutely no chance of spotting the world’s highest mountain, which I guess to be more than 3000km away to the north east. It does however afford wonderful views of the town and the surrounding desert and mountains. In the sky and clinging to the breeze is a swarm of colourful kites attached by string to children who play on the surrounding roofs.

Brahma temples in Pushkar

Brahma temples in Pushkar

The rooms at the Everest are spacious and clean and great value at 500 INR for a double. The foyer is guarded by Lion, a playful Labrador which I am beginning to believe is India’s preferred choice of pet. I find it odd that they would spend so much money on a pure breed dog when outside are any number of loveable rogues searching for a home. I suppose we are no better and just keep our unwanted dogs behind wire fences facing death row. At least here they are entitled to a life of some sort.

Pushkar Dogs

Pushkar Dogs

Each morning we stroll through a narrow alley where men boil and scrape curd; dip dough into vast black pans filled with boiling oil. Gathered around their feet is a small pack of dogs who are patiently waiting to be fed. They torment their targets with carefully coordinated and unyielding stares. I am pleased to see their patience is rewarded and eventually a tasty morsel is thrown their way.

Begging for scraps

Begging for scraps

Jack’s time in India is drawing to a close but before leaving he is keen to try out one of the infamous bhang lassis. I am a little confused as to what bhang actually is. I had assumed it was cannabis (which is illegal) but here in Pushkar it’s openly sold in most restaurants. The locals insist it is not cannabis but I think it’s just been renamed in Rajasthan to avoid illegalities. We meet up at the Out of the Blue restaurant with Jack and Myrthe a Dutch girl who plays rugby and is now wearing a neck brace courtesy of an unfortunate night’s sleep on India railways.
Given her injuries and the possible side effects Myrthe opts out. I have no such excuse and am simply not interested but Emma is feeling adventurous and offers to go halves with Jack. Our waiter enquires as to what strength should be prepared. Jack requests a strong one based on the rational they are sharing. The waiter smirks a little which I ominously note. He returns five minutes later with a tall glass that looks to be filled with yoghurt and grass cuttings. The appearance of the brew is not terribly appealing but this doesn’t prevent Emma and Jack from downing half the contents each without any visible concern. Twenty minutes later and I rather randomly enquire as to whether there are any effects? Jack has nothing to report but Emma is not so convinced.

Out of the blue Pushkar

Out of the blue Pushkar

She delivers a slightly hesitant evaluation, as though standing on the edge of a precipice much larger and vast than expected. Ten minutes later and Jack erupts into laughter. Clearly things have changed. Emma is also now in hysterics and so an interesting evening begins. Over the next hour laughter subsides and a state of paralysis takes over. First effecting the legs and eventually working its way up the body until finally reaching the mouth. Emma and Jack are now deep in the clutches of the Bang Lassi. We decide or rather suggest it may be time to adjourn to the guesthouse but both bang recipients require a practice walk on the terrace before setting off. Coming down the stairs is a major expedition with much coaching and reassurances given.

Out of the Blue Pushkar

On the roof at Out of the Blue

Out on the street the sights and sounds of Pushkar are amplified and contorted. Wandering cows, temple bells, and the fragrance of incense are apparently dazzling the senses. Jack seems concerned with Emma’s choice of quietness and insists on breaking radio silence with a series of ground control announcements. Emma only responds with laughter and goes back to concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other. Eventually we reach the Everest Guest House where Emma submits and retires to bed. Jack continues his battle against the lassi in good humour for another hour or so before eventually calling it a night.
The next morning their condition is much improved. They both vow never to consume a bhang lassi ever again… well at least not a strong one anyway. Armed with experience and better sense Jack bids us goodbye. He has been a good companion these past few days. An energetic and friendly guy whom we shall miss. In a few days’ time he will be back in France but for us our journey south down the length of the Indian sub-continent continues.

Ajmer Railway Station

Ajmer Railway Station

The train station at Ajmer is delightfully bare when we arrive. Winter is coming to the north of India and this morning an early morning fog persists. The platform is empty when the train to Udaipur arrives. It would seem we did not heed Hussein’s warning regarding general class, but today our gamble has paid off. The carriages are mostly vacant.
Most cities in Rajasthan seem to be associated with a colour but Udaipur is simply devoted to love. The city is bound by Lake Pichola and a chain of picturesque mountains to the west. Adjacent to the city palace and stretching along the eastern edge of the lake is an area known as Lal Ghat where most of the tourist hotels are located. Every inch of space is carefully accounted for. The streets are narrow and cogged with tourists and frustrated rickshaw drivers who regularly take revenge by sounding their ear splitting horns. I spot the hotel we stayed in four years ago. The Jagat Niwas like so many in Lal Ghat promises unrivalled views, and nightly rooftop screenings of Octopussy. It feels so strange to be back after so many years. I walk up the stairs past a picture of Ganesh. No one is in attendance at reception so I continue up another flight. Waiting at the top is a young man whom I instantly recognise. He looks a little heavier and is now sporting a moustache but his smile and eyes have not changed.

Sunset from Lal Ghat in Udaipur

Sunset from Lal Ghat in Udaipur

So many times I have felt that I will never see some of the people we meet on our travels ever again but now four years later here in Udaipur that at least is wrong. I give Gopal a firm handshake, he seems a little surprised by my warm greeting so I explain that I remembered him from a previous visit. His head wobbles a few times and his smile widens. I point to the room where I stayed before but it’s already occupied. The room next door where Karen stayed is free but it’s a bit small for two people. After a longer than normal search we book into the Poonam Haveli for 1260 INR a night. It’s more than we are used to paying but very good value.

The Lake Palace in Udaipur

The Lake Palace in Udaipur

The next morning over breakfast I see Gopal on the roof across the road. He waves excitedly and points to the room I enquired about yesterday indicating that it’s now free. I shake my hand and smile but I feel a little ashamed and guilty. The room is much cheaper at 600 INR and we really should be trying to save money. I can’t explain why I don’t want to go back but I feel like I have betrayed Gopal a little and lower my head.
In the middle of the lake and not too far from Lal Ghat is the aptly named Lake Palace. It is possibly one of the most eye catching scenes in the world. Completely surrounded by water it has now been converted like so many other palaces in India into a luxury hotel. Only guests are permitted to visit the beguiling island. Like a floating antithesis to Alcatraz the exclusivity is driving me crazy. I keep justifying the expense in my mind with comforting clichés such as you only live once and when will you get the chance again. My spoilt and greedy inner voice is eventually victorious and we make a reservation for the following day.

Jetty Taj Lake Palace

Jetty Taj Lake Palace

We arrive at the wrought iron jetty of this extraordinary hotel in a very ordinary rickshaw. The driver insists on a hundred rupees which I surrender without a fight. I am already feeling a little self-conscious about our mode of transport and don’t want to cause a scene in front of the staff. After checking our reservation we are directed down the jetty to a small boat and taken across to the Lake Palace Hotel. Our arrival is heralded with a shower of rose petals and a salute from a man with a very large moustache. I wonder if I am supposed to salute back.
Inside is a lovely courtyard and a lily pond modelled on a Moghul garden. The swimming pool is surrounded by white lotus arches and has wonderful views of the city palace. The front terrace faces to the west. We claim a table before sunset and watch the sun slowly sink over the lake and behind the mountains aided with some very expensive cocktails. I think about all the austere times on our journey. We discuss the night we crossed northern Kenya in that crowded 4WD. All the dirty hotels with hard beds, thread bare sheets and the toilets that smelled of stale urine. I wouldn’t change any of it but it’s certainly nice to recall such precious memories in an opulent hotel with a masala martini in hand.

Pichola Lake Udaipur

Pichola Lake

Tomorrow night we are supposed to be leaving for Bombay on the train but our reservation is still not cleared. It could be the sunset or the cocktails but we are both relaxed and nonchalant. I think it’s because this is India and anything is possible. As Hussein said in Jaipur… we Indians are very accommodating peoples. We take that thought to bed confidant that all will be fine.

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