Holy City

February 15, 2008 - Pushkar, India

Dave:
The group met at 7:45 to get a bus at 8:30 from Agra to Jaipur- 'The Pink City'. The highways were mainly good but the whole trip took 6 hours. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, a desert area of India. After checking in the group met to go see the Hawa Mahal (honeycomb palace).We were then given time to stroll around the city palace area. From there we walked to a temple where evening prayers were taking place. It was quite fascinating seeing the rituals and hearing the music and chanting.

Most of the group headed to dinner but five of us had a late lunch and were getting a little tired of the places our guide was taking us to eat. They were very touristy and were relatively expensive. Our mini group walked the streets of Jaipur, past all the shops with the amazingly bright fabrics and One of sidewalks we walked was elevated, about four or five steps up from the street. At one point I quickly turned around and came within an inch of running into a cow that was strutting by. How on earth the cow got up the steps was beyond me but it was funny site. We stumbled across a bakery type place that served ice cream. The girls wanted to stop. On our way out Joanne noticed the somasas so she went back in and bought five. They were really good but I little too spicy for some. From there we searched for a place to have a drink but the only bar we came across was really dark so we skipped it. We ended up going to a roof top restaurant. It didn't serve drinks so we had a few snacks before calling it a night.

Our second day in Jaipur started early, meeting the group at 6:45. It was a very cold rickshaw ride to the base of the Amber Fort. We got there early to see the sunrise and get in queue for the elephant ride up to the palace. I had a t-shirt and zip up sweat shirt on while I anxiously waited for the sun to get high enough so the rays reached us. I really wished I had worn my jacket. We could actually see our breath! I thought India was hot. In fact, by afternoon, it was sweltering in the heat of the sun but if you stepped into the shade it was cool.

The fort and palace were pretty cool. The (old) city wall was 18 km in length and looked kind of like the Great Wall of China - at least how I picture the Great Wall. It weaved up and down the mountain with the intent to contain and protect the occupants. Our tour guide was good. He had been doing it for over 40 years. The most famous part of the palace was the hall of mirrors. It was used for entertaining and private meetings. In the winter months it was used as the residence. With heavy drapes protecting from the outside, the mirrors would reflect the light and heat from oil lamps.

From there we took photos of the floating palace and went for breakfast (it was 11am). I mentioned to the people sitting near me that I was going to have a Dosa. They wondered what it was, so I explained it and a few of them followed my lead. However, they (in particular, Krista) threatened me saying that it better be good. Everyone loved the Dosas. After that I became an expert in Indian food and people were asking me questions which I had no idea what the answers were. Really, all I knew is what Namita and her family introduced to me a week earlier in Mumbai.

After brunch we went to a government run store (supposedly fair prices and no haggling but it was still fairly high pressure). We spent a long time there before heading to the City Palace area. Most of us took a tour of the observatory which highlighted 'instruments' that were built in 1728 used for astrology and astronomy. The grounds actually contain the worlds largest sundial that is acurate within 2 seconds. The group then bailed on the City Palace tour and headed back to the hotel as it had already been a long day. The entire group went out for an Italian dinner that night.

Pushkar
Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage town. There are 50 Ghats (sacred stairs) and 2000 temples.  It is the only place in the world that has a Brahma temple. Brahma is the God who created earth but, as Hindu mythology goes, after getting married a second time his first wife but a curse on him so he could not have any more temples but the first.

The town is only 14,000 people which was a welcome change from the chaos of the large cities that we had visited . The narrow streets are lined with vendors. Being very Religious, the town does not allow booze, meat, eggs or public displays of affection. However, there is a large hippie population so drugs are apparent.

The journey from Jaipur to Pushkar consisted of a 3 hour bus ride on a nice, toll highway. Once we got to Ajmer we transferred to a local bus for a 30 minute ride on a over snake mountain and into Pushkar. Our luggage was transferred to the hotel by carts pushed by local men. The hotel we stayed at was really nice. Our rooms were beside a pool. The pool looked great and appeared to be a terrific way to cool off from the desert heat but the water was freezing. The next day a couple people braved the water but I wasn't one of them.

The group walked through the small village and met a 'priest' at the sacred ghat surrounding the lake where worshippers bathe. The 'priest' led us in prayer which included him placing a combination of red colouring and rice in the middle of our forehead. He also tied string to our wrists which was considered a 'Pushkar Passport'. It was a cool experience. Each group memmber paid the priest 100 Rupees (not sure if some of this was a donation or whether it was all his fee). We then toured the Brahma temple.

It was free time after that which was spent drinking chai and wondering the bazaar. Four of us went to a rooftop patio for a late dinner. Back at the hotel we met up with a few others and played some cards hotel before going to bed.

The next day we went on a 2 hour camel ride through the town and into the desert. After that we wondered the market. I left the people I was with to take some photos. Searching for a few moments of peace, I decided to go to one of the ghats to just sit and overlook the small lake. After a few minutes I was approached by someone who placed some flowers in my hand motioning me to go to the water. I went to throw the flowers into the lake when he told me to grab my things and sit with him by the waters edge. He started leading me in prayer which is interactive and involves the water of the lake as well as red colouring and rice, the same as the day before. As part of the prayer you are suppose to say how much donation you are going to give for each family member. He suggested 500 Rupees ($12) per family member but some people give thousands or even millions (the previous day we had given a total of 100 Rupees for the whole experience). I didn't want to be disrespectful or interupt the process (it was rather elaborate) but I told him I would give 500 total as long as I was assured it was going to go to charity. Him and another guy convinced me, not that I had too much of a choice at that point without feeling rude. The Lonely Planet actually warns against this but the way this happened I actually thought, or wanted to think, this guy was just sharing with me his culture, yes I know, how naive of me.  He then continued with the prayer asking how many family members of mine have passed away. He wanted to know how much food I wanted to give to them by donating more money. At that point I stopped him and said that I wasn't giving anymore (I thought I had made this very clear already but he was clearly ignoring that) and that this was now over. The second guy told me I needed to give the first person something. Feeling like I had been taken advanatage of I reluctanly gave him 100 Rupees. I wasn't the only one from our tour that had this experience. A small group were actually in the market when a few of these guys separated them and led them to the ghats where they started the whole process with them. They only gave 10 Rupees! I felt like a bit of a fool. I'm sorry that I had this second experience at the Ghats because it took away from the original one and left a bad taste in my mouth. That night we went for dinner and then went to a rooftop bar - Pink Floyd.

Overall, I really liked my time in Pushkar.


Pictures

My Camel Resting
Wore out my Camel
The Desert
Me and my Camel
 
 

3 Comments

Mike C:
March 11, 2008
Hey Dave. Great blog! Pushkar was *special*, wasn't it?
Cliff Kearns:
March 11, 2008
Good shots Dave. Should soon have enough for a Funny Animal Exhibit among other series.Cliff
Bob and Midge:
March 12, 2008
Your Dad forwarded your pictures to us - looks like a great trip.

We look forward to seeing more and hearing about it on your return.
Travel safely.
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