Who put the push in Pushkar?: Rajasthan, India

5 Apr

Apologies in advance if my words offend anyone but I speak it as I experience it. Hypocricy should always be called out.

There was no ‘Namaskar’ or Namaste’ (common translation: the divinity in me salutes the divinity in you), just a demand that I pay the angry looking sixtyish man for the tatty white flower he had in his hand. Why? Because he is Brahmin and controls these steps to the water’s edge. The flower an offering to the gods who inhabit the murky waters. I believe mafia use the same standover tactics. He explained that for good karma and the privilege of approaching the concrete cow shit and crud encrusted steps leading to the dirty pool of water you must take your shoes off ten metres away from the lake edge. Really? The water is filthy, the steps are filthy and the man is none too clean either. We’d been warned by our Jaipur driver Rakesh not to engage with such characters but the man’s rudeness still surprised me.

After explaining that my karma was independent of him and his lake, in fact it’s pretty damn good at the moment thank you very much, and suggesting he look out for his own karma, I turned away and left him to find another tourist to harrass.

 The signage is actually less prescriptive, but as with all things controlled by humans, if there is a way to make money by duping people someone will do it. So much for the holy Hindu city of Pushkar. It had the same effect on us as our brief visit to Lourdes, that is, as though we’d stepped into a garish carnival sideshow of religious tourism complete with kitsch and shysters.

Sure, if you can get somewhere above the noise and fray of bad drumming and stick twirling by cooler than thou dreadlocked hippies (the rooftop restaurant of the aged Pushkar Palace Hotel is quiet and has views) there is beauty as the sun sets behind the silhouette of temples and buildings. And by twilight you can’t see how polluted the water is.

   Back on the street there’s no chance of serenity as swarms of ragged looking Israeli youth with wild hair ride rented motor scooters or sprawl next to back packs eating pretzels out of paper bags. Restaurant menus offer Chinese, Italian, Israeli. Girls wear cut off denim shorts and boys singlets. A visit to Pushkar by young Israelis is the same rite of passage as Australians going to Bali.

Post card, souvenir, clothing and silver shops line the dirty, dustry streets. Hawkers try to sell us massages. Traffic jams turn ugly as everyone tries to leave at the same time after viewing sunset over the lake. Aaah, the serenity. Cafes sell pancakes, pizza and pasta and within two hours I was offered marijuana. No smoking in Pushkar but obviously ganja doesn’t count. And it’s fine putting it into lassi. Oh, but no drinking alcohol unless your guesthouse offers it (as ours did). The failure of prohibition is a story as old as The ‘fall’ of Adam and Eve. Make something illicit and people will seek it out even more.

 As a vegan I don’t have a problem with the city-wide ban on meat and egg eating. Hey, if I had magic powers no one would eat meat or eggs or dairy products, but I do take issue with animal cruelty. The camels used for overnight excursion ‘camel ride into the desert with gypsy dancing’ lie in dirt with rubbish and discarded plastic bags blowing around them. They look so broken and, like a langur monkey I saw, they have lost most of their hair. Ubiquitous sacred cattle wander the streets and ghats with their hip bones protruding painfully through their hides and stray cats and dogs are everywhere.

   Whilst these camels are pretty bald they weren’t in as bad a state as others we saw.

As for the yoga classes I had been advised to try, well I tried. I waited half an hour after the published class start time but the teacher had not come back from town so I left. I’ll stick to doing my own practice.

Our second attempt to visit the Brahma temple ended in a similar fashion to the night before. This time sandals in hand we were chased off the western ghat by an angry teenager with metal rod in hand.

He said puja/prayers were in progress and we had to leave. In the far distance we could see and hear a ceremony in progress. That was the last straw, we didn’t even bother to try going to the temple again. A place that countenances thugs is no place for us.

  Palace is a loosely used term in India.
    I wonder what is going through the mind of this Indian woman as she passes by the group of meditating westerners with their crystals and cards and chanting.

 With still a day up our sleeves we went to Ajmer, an old city, ten kilometres away. The Sharif Dargah mosque (a pilgrimmage destination mainly because it contains the tomb and shrine of a revered Sufi saint) and large Jain temple are the two ‘must see’ places of worship according to most authorities.

  Archway to the street leading to the mosque.
  This is a rubbish collector!  Pilgrims walking towards the mosque.

  A very young vendor. My experience at the mosque made it a trifecta of horrid experiences. As cameras and all photographic devices are banned and there is no secure storage I left my stuff with Stuart outside (where he got chatted up by a Muslim woman I kid you not!) and went in alone, through a barrage of flower, cloth and thread sellers trying to palm off their goods to pilgrims to have them blessed. The first thing I noticed was all the people taking selfies and videos on their mobile phones. Unbelievable.

Sure there were a lot of young men in the various courtyards praying or singing and even a small section where it seemed women were allowed to sit and pray, but the closer I got to the centre of the mosque the more I was pushed and shoved. Even in what should be the sanctum sanctorum men were still selling $hit. I was glad to get the hell out of there.

   In contrast there was a grand total of five other people at the Jain temple. For a small fee someone looked after our sandals and gave us a ticket to enter the two story rectangular building with its glass encased central feature, a gilded 3D representation of Jain cosmology. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about all that.

   Chew anything but beatles!

The grafitti inside was the final touch of irony.

The best part of the trip was shopping for fruit in Ajmer’s small market. These were real people going about their business as they do almost every day. One old boy at the stand we bought bananas from had been buying from the same stallholder for forty years.

   If it hadn’t been for the exciting T20 cricket matches we watched in the hotel room and the kind staff at our hotel, Prem Villa, Pushkar would have been just an ordeal. We were happy to hit the road again – to Jodhpur.

  Pushkar in the distance on the return from Ajmer.
Freshly cooked dinner by Nar Singh and cricket on the telly!

  Wall paintings at our hotel.
 Prem Villas and staff: great value at AUD40/night bed and breakfast.

Manager Pawan centre with the wonderful Nar Singh next to Stuart.

2 Responses to “Who put the push in Pushkar?: Rajasthan, India”

  1. trevor willis April 6, 2016 at 2:32 am #

    Other than all of that, how did you enjoy the place???

    • Sharon Tickle April 6, 2016 at 9:22 am #

      Aaah, vintage Trev. Don’t know if you’ve been following it but religious extremism is heating up in India. Modi needs to act to defuse it.

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