Keep Calm and Carry Ohm

24/11/08 Day 11 - Pushkar

After another most enjoyable breakfast (New food experience for the day was Choley, a chick pea curry but runnier than Channa Massala) we checked out and sat in the foyer to wait for our driver, Sanjey. We also watched our suitcases get commandeered by the porters which annoyed me. It was the same guy who extorted money from me when we arrived from Agra on Sunday.

Sanjey turned up promptly at 9am and in a rapid tactical movement we liberated our suitcases from the porters and headed for the door before he knew what had happened.

Our quick escape was in jeopardy as the sole exit was guarded by a giant of a doorman. He towered above us and could quite easily have picked us both up by the scruff of our necks and thrown us back into the foyer but he politely opened the door and smiled gently. We didn't even have to grace his palm with silver.

He also had one of the noblest moustaches I had ever seen! I just had to ask him if I could take his photograph. For which I willingly tipped him.

We headed out of Jaipur and joined the Delhi to Mumbai "expressway" (route 8). Other than the fascinating people we saw along the way the journey was quite uneventful. Just the usual traffic mayhem of avoiding on-coming lorries and stray donkeys that we had become accustomed.

That was until Julie said "Did you see that?!" I looked quickly out of her window but saw nothing. "There was a cow embedded in that car!" she said in a state of amazement.

It was a grizzly reminder that whilst the chaos on the roads was entertaining and often hilarious, the hazards were real dangers.

The landscape had become quite arid as we drove through the dusty outskirts of Kishangarh.

Huge slabs of white marble from the nearby mining town of Makrana filled the roadside.

This was the source for the marble used in constructing the Taj Mahal and centuries later it's still a major centre for this most beautiful of stone.

Lorries, oversized and dusty, were parked up laden with tons and tons of the marble ready to be transported to the golden triangle of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi.

As we turned off the main road towards Pushkar we drove past a road sign that warned ominously "You are now entering an Accident Prone Zone".

I reached for my lap seatbelt which rather worryingly didn't work properly. Before too long the ill-fated reputation of the road claimed another victim. I was just relieved that it wasn't us.

There was an overturned coach on its side in the grass verge with its distraught driver sitting on top.

He must have been thinking "I am so going to lose my job over this."

We couldn't work out how the hell it had happened. It was a straight road albeit a little narrow.

We didn't have much time to investigate the possibilities as we drove past without stopping.

Only later did I think "I hope nobody got hurt." and then when I realised there was an empty coach parked by the side I thought "Shit, I hope they're not still stuck inside"

By the time I had got around to processing that thought we were already entering Pushkar city limits.

Welcome to Pushkar, Pushkar

The Welcome sign was full of useful information, it said ;

"Welcome to the Holy city of Pushkar. Please help us protect the environment.

SAY NO TO PLASTIC BAGS.

Plastic garbage ends up in nature. Please help use reduced wild landfills. Burning plastic pollutes the air and damages water tables. & Please dress respectfully, do not offend the villagers, do not drugs or alcohol and observe a pure vegetarian diet. THANK YOU!"

The Indian sign on the other side must have said far less!

Welcome to Pushkar, Pushkar

Pushkar is considered a very holy place and is an important sight of pilgrimage for Hindus but outside of India Pushkar is famous for one thing only, the spectacle of its annual Camel Fair.

A permanent fixture on the calendar, ten days after Diwali, (a nationwide festival of lights) tens of thousands of camel traders mingle with tourists who jostle for prime space with the pilgrims.

A large tented city rises in the desert to accommodate the visitors. The festival begins with camel racing after which the serious business of buying and selling takes place then in the evening people gather to enjoy music around the campfires.

marketplace, Pushkar

We had just missed this year's camel fair by only a week. A part of me was disappointed that we weren't here experiencing the atmosphere of Asia's largest livestock fair.

The other part of me was glad we weren't. At least today we had a bit more space and time to appreciate the town without the hordes.

Another very valid point was the stink of a hundred thousand farting camels. The nearer we got to the cattle marketplace the stronger became the distinctive organic smell of livestock.

It was certainly lingering a week after it was all over.

How potent must it have reeked at the height of the camel fair and the 38C temperatures. It doesn't bare thinking about!

Before we came to the centre of town we picked up a local guide, Dev, a young lad wearing blue jeans, which were the first pair I'd seen in India. His mission was to show us why Pushkar was one of the five pillars of the Hindu pilgrimage.

Legend has it that the lake around which Pushkar is situated was created by divine petals that fell from the hand of Brahma the Creator, the god of all gods. The name Pushkar derives itself from pushpa for flower and kar for hand.

Whilst there are over 400 temples in Pushkar one above all was the star attraction, the Brahma temple. The reason for its importance is its uniqueness as the only temple dedicated to Lord Brahma.

"Do you know why ?" asked Dev. We replied with our silence. "I will tell you later" he said keeping us in suspense.

We followed him down to the temple steps and were surprised to see a small unassuming entrance to this holiest of temples.

someone else's photo of inside the Brahma temple, Pushkar

We weren't allowed to take a camera inside which was a real shame as the inner sanctum was beautifully painted in vivid blue and deep red. (There were loads of photos on the internet so they mustn't police their no photographs rule very well.)

We walked up to the altar where pilgrims had brought offerings. I wish I had ignored Dev and collected an "offering" of flowers outside the temple. It felt rude not to give something.

Inside a silver arch there was this quite unnerving dark faced four headed deity that stared out in all directions. The god of all gods held quite a powerful aura.

We followed Dev up some stairs that overlooked the inner sanctum and also overlooked the whole of Pushkar. I was now really annoyed I didn't have my camera. Then to put me in an even grumpier mood I got bit on my leg. This huge fly was sucking away quite merrily. It shocked me and I lashed out at it. I was relieved that it flew off, a little dizzy perhaps but it flew away. I didn't want to kill something inside one of the holiest temples in India!

"So do you know why this the only temple dedicated to Brahma?" asked Dev again before revealing the legend.

The story goes that whilst Brahma's wife Savitri was away (on business I expect) he invited a local tribal girl to take her place in an important ritual. When she returned and heard of his betrayal the scorned Savitri cursed him with all her might.

Falling over himself for forgiveness Brahma agreed to her demands, of which one was that he was only permitted to have one temple and one temple only dedicated to him.

bangles, Sadar Bazaar, Pushkar
puppets, Sadar Bazaar, Pushkar

After collecting our cameras from the mini-bus we returned down Sadar Bazaar, Pushkar's high street.

The most vivid memory of walking down this street were not the colourful jewellery stalls with their beads and golden bangles nor the traditional Rajasthani puppets hanging like condemned lovers but it was the amount of flies that carpeted the floor.

"That'll be the camel shit" I said, stating the obvious.

Despite the smell of manure and the biblical swarm of flies I was by now working up quite an appetite. When we passed a busy little cafe making a roaring trade in deep fried snacks I had a desperate urge for some samosa.

Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop and "do lunch" as Dev's brief was to take us down to the ghats. We followed him at some speed down the hill, turning right and then down steps that led to the Brahma ghat.

Pushkar has in total 52 ghats surrounding the lake created by the petals from the hands of Brahma. Similarly to Varanasi pilgrims come here to bathe in its holy waters and wash away their sins.

The first thing Dev said "Don't put any money into the donations box, they don't give it to charity."

The second thing he said was "Don't step on the ghat with your shoes"

With all the small print out of the way we were free to be inspired by the beautiful serenity of this place.

There was certainly something special in the air.

 

Dev was busy giving us the history lesson but I wasn't listening.

I was lost amongst the whitewashed buildings that tumbled down to the holy waters of the Pushkar Lake.

I watched the cows come home for a drink at Karey ghat, a lady busy washing her hair at Palika ghat, and a large group gathering for a family ceremony.

It was so peaceful and idyllic.

 

 

 

 

The tranquil day dream was interrupted when Dev shouted over to me "Your shoes, your shoes are on the ghat steps!"

"Shit" I thought. That was a serious tourist faux pas. "Sorry!" I called out.

Ghats, Pushkar

Varah temple, Pushkar

Falling over myself for forgiveness I gave Dev my undivided attention after that as he continued to describe the area.

"The temple high on a hill overlooking Pushkar is dedicated to Savartri." he informed us.

"Over there is Varah temple. Varah is a god who is half man half pig."

I'm sure he looked at me when he said it.

"There are over 400 temples in Pushkar" he continued "which makes Pushkar one of the holiest places on earth.

As we were about to leave he lead us to a small stall where someone was collecting money for a school project.

"If you would like to donate something to charity then please do it here. These people are real."

He then stepped onto a little soapbox to make us realise how poor everyone was here and how wealthy we tourists actually are, even if we don't realise it.

"Give what you are happy to give" he said.

After his plea I was about to donate 450 rupees.

Varah temple, Pushkar

Instead of just dropping it into a collection tin and walking away I had to fill in a form which including supplying my address, which of course I filled in with vagueness of somewhere in North Wales. In return for my donation and my personal details I received an official receipt.

"Are you happy?" asked Dev. "Are you happy ?" I returned.

"I'm happy if your happy" he parried. "I'm happy you're happy" I volleyed back.

What a bizarre conversation we were having. I half expected him to return with "I'm happy you're happy that I happy with you being happy"

The truth was I wasn't especially happy. I had this nagging suspicion that there was something underhand going on. It all felt a little odd and in the back of my head I wondered what had I signed for? At least my "Donald Duck" signature won't give them access to any of my bank accounts!

Sadar Bazaar, Pushkar

We returned to Sadar Bazzaar and followed it around the lake.

It was busy with guesthouses, restaurants and market stalls drawing in the crowds and the cows.

I knew there were cows before actually seeing one because whilst striding along trying to keep up with Dev, whose mission now was to march us all the way down this street to meet our minibus in as shorter time possible, I felt my right foot slip outwards causing me to stumble.

When I looked down I saw a cow pat freshly smeared across the floor.

I put a positive spin on it and took it as a sign of good fortune. It was holy shit after all.

It's not the first time such a superstition has been attributed to an unfortunate incident with excrement of one sort or another. Some say that it's good luck to be shat on by a seagull. Now where did that come from?

To declare that you are touched by God and are in line for some good fortune is a little bit outside of the box.

It's obviously just to deflect the embarrassment of having a white streak of bird shit splashed across your chest.

Sadar Bazaar, Pushkar

steps leading down to the ghats, Pushkar

Anyway, other than cow pats there were plenty of gift shops here selling all the traditional Rajasthani nick-nacks that we tourists love to buy.

We didn't have much time to shop, in fact we didn't have any time at all because Dev was walking at quite a pace.

I'm sure I was annoying him slightly because I kept on stopping to take a photograph.

We were essentially walking behind the ghats and every now and again we would catch a glimpse of the water.

Each and every portal that lead down to the ghats was as remarkable as the other. Each one had a different character or something of interest.

Down one entrance a humpback cow was struggling up the steep steps after returning from the lake.

steps down to the ghats, Pushkar

A little further along the steps that lead down to Ranshi ghat was guarded by a troop of monkeys.

The spirit of Hanuman, the monkey god, was certainly present down these steps as they observed everyone who passed with and an intimidating look.

The most memorable scene however was one that could easily have been centuries old.

Almost hidden in a corner of a hall that opened out onto the ghat steps a group of women were having their palms read. One held a baby in her arms as they huddled closer, listening intently to what the soothsayer was predicting for their futures.

I caught myself standing there just watching them. I had been there for over a minute. I felt I was witnessing something quite special.

Thankfully they were oblivious to my rude voyeurism.

I was shaken from my open-mouthed trance when I heard a lot of shouting in the distance.

I had fallen behind so I briskly caught up with Julie just in case things kicked off.

I needn't have been so alarmed as all the commotion was coming from a group of demonstrating elder statesmen marching up Sadar Bazaar in a political rally.

Dev didn't stop to explain what it was all about.

We were on a march of our own.

Ranji temple, Pushkar

At the end of the road we came across a stunning temple that was unique in Pushkar due to its South Indian design.

Rangji temple had a very ornate portico and inside we sneaked a view of the multi-tiered gopuram that's most common in the south.

Dedicated to Vishnu, the preserver of the Hindu trinity, this temple is considered one of Pushkar's "must see" temples and I so wanted to walk inside but Dev was striding onwards.

I couldn't help but stop and quickly take some photographs of the beautiful entrance.

Then a photograph of the old man in the alcove eating his lunch from a tiffin tin and one of a young woman carrying her body weight in a basket above her head.

Dev was probably half way to Bombay by now so I couldn't stay any longer.

It actually wasn't that bad. Within a minute I had rejoined the group.

We had arrived a little too early for Sanjey and the mini bus (surprise surprise!) so we browsed a few of the stalls near our pick-up point.
cadbury's chocolate, Pushkar

Rob wanted a new watch and was drawn to this unique display of water-proof watches presented in a large bowl of water. The creative gimmick worked and he bought one.

On the stall next to the subterranean watches I noticed they were selling AA batteries. I was quite relieved to have found some as my camera wasn't far from running out and I had no batteries left in the suitcase for back-up.

Behind the stalls I noticed a faded Cadbury's chocolate sign with the "glass and a half of milk goes into every bar" icon.

It looked so out of place.

Before we went mad and bought ourselves a colourful Rajasthani turban Sanjey arrived with the minibus.

We headed out of Pushkar meandering over the hills and down the other side into neighbouring Ajmer.

As if to rival Pushkar, Ajmer boasts India's holiest Muslim site, the Dargah Sharif, tomb of a sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin.

Anasagar Lake, Ajmer, Rajasthan

I was hoping we were going to stop here for lunch but we kept on rolling. The only glimpse of Ajmer we got was across the large Anasagar lake.

We trundled on down the road, taking short cuts down dirt tracks and over railway tracks to eventually emerge back onto route 8, the Delhi to Mumbai expressway.

An hour an a half after leaving Pushkar we finally pulled over for lunch at a roadside cafe called Laxmi Vilas Palace, near Beawar.

I was almost weak with hunger having not eaten for almost seven hours!

Unfortunately when we walked up to the open kitchen we really didn't like what we saw. It was as if they weren't expecting any guests. They hurried to put the lights on and fire up the deep fat fryers as we were walking towards them.

"It doesn't look very clean does it?" said Carol. She and Julie decided to skip lunch.

I remember reading somewhere that a veg samosa was one of the safest foods you could eat from a dodgy looking place. As long as the oil is hot enough to kill any germs.

True or not it made sense so Rob and I went for the veg samosa.

They were astonishingly tasty given our low expectations but they weren't exactly piping hot. I must admit I was worried that I had just swallowed a gastric time-bomb.
 

"I'm going to be pebble dashing the toilet later!" I joked. Julie just rolled her eyes, more in disappointment of my crudeness I think.

To compensate for not spending on their food we browsed their shop and bought a couple of homemade paper notebooks and a calendar with a print of Ganesh in different poses for every month of the year.

I particularly liked the August Ganesh.

We took another two and a half hours of driving to get to our final destination for the day, a small town called Deogarh.

It stood a small distance away from the N8 expressway.

I had already read about the hotel tonight and was looking forward to staying here.

local near Deogarh, Rajasthan, India

It was a 17th century Rajput palace now converted into a Heritage hotel. We could see the commanding hilltop fort from the expressway and began to feel a great deal of excitement.

Deogarh is mostly confined within its city walls.

We drove through the ancient gates and up the crowded narrow streets.

It was incredibly dramatic, the medieval atmosphere gave us a real sense of adventure.

We had entered a different world.

I felt like we were visiting ambassadors on our way to visit the maharaji as we slowly edged our way past the inquisitive people towards the Deogarh Mahal palace.

We were certainly given the red carpet treatment on our arrival with a shower of marigold petals and a tikki placed between our eyes.

"Namaste" they warmly welcomed us.

"Namaste" we replied now familiar with the greeting.

Rob handed over the accommodation and meal vouchers and we were shown to our rooms.

We followed a member of staff who took us through the wonderfully painted gateway and into the inner courtyard.

"Deogarh Mahal was converted into a hotel by the present owner Rawat Nahar Singh and a part of the Mahal is still occupied by his kin." he said, straight out of the brochure.

The palace looked stunning. It had been renovated to such a high standard, we even got an elevator to the 3rd floor.

We followed him into one room which he proudly invited us to look at the beautiful stained glass features of room 201. He stood there like a magician revealing something he'd pulled out of a hat. I'm sure he was waiting for the "Wow" from us but all he got was Julie saying "No, no, this is a twin bed room, we wanted a large bed"

He was taken aback a little but fortunately we didn't have to resort to our famous line "but it's our wedding anniversary, we need a big bed".  

Once he got over the initial confusion he quickly made an executive decision and sent for another set of keys.

We followed him up and across a warren of staircases and hallways to room 204. It even had a name, Nahar Nivas.

Rob & Carol graciously allowed us to have the first choice.

We stayed to unpack as they moved on to the next room.

Our room was beautifully under-stated. The uneven white washed walls with small alcoves outlined in blue added great character to the room.

A part of the room was raised and separated from the rest by three arches similarly decorated as the alcoves.

There was a day bed on either side and a door that lead out onto a balcony that over looked an "inner" inner courtyard.

The door through to the shower room was so low even Julie had to duck to walk through, and she's only 5ft 2in, but once inside steps lead down to a huge open wet room. It had a certain public convenience charm to it but at least it was functional.

We didn't know at the time but Rob & Carol's room was even more charming than ours.

In fact it was one of the rooms chosen by the hotel to have displayed in their brochure. (Room No.- 235 Kanwar Ji Ro Ghoomato)

It was almost sunset so after booking a "head & shoulder" massage we went exploring.

We were already on the top floor so the flight of steps that lead up from our level brought us onto the roof.

We strolled amongst the palatial onion domes, making our way to the eastern edge where the view over the rooftops of Deogarh and outwards to a hill top fort was simply breathtaking in the glow of the setting sun.

We met another couple wandering the rooftops who were doing a similar journey to ours but in reverse. They had began in Mumbai and had stayed at the Lake Palace in Udaipur last night. They enthused about the sheer opulence of the hotel in the lake which raised our anticipation as we were due to stay there tomorrow.

It would have to go a long way to beat the whole ambience of Deogarh Mahal; it was pretty special.

We continued our stroll around and from this vantage point we looked down at the open air restaurant where we were due to eat later.

Beyond the palace walls we could see a brightly lit house.

It looked like they were preparing for a wedding party tonight.

We continued our way across the palace rooftops, moving westwards towards the dying embers of the day.

It was a tremendously thrilling experience.

As the sky darkened the palace looked even more impressive lit up. We fell through a warren of staircases and corridors in a self-guided mystery tour aiming for the hotel's spa.

We had twenty minutes to find it before our head massage appointment.

I don't know how we did it but we stumbled across the spa just in time.

This was a far cry from the clinical surgery-style spa at Khajuraho. Here the reception room was pleasantly decorated, the air was filled with a lovely fragrance and ambient music set the mood for relaxation.

Our masseurs arrived to collect us. Julie went one way with her female masseur and I went another with a male masseur.

I have to say that I received the best massage ever. He focused first on the lower back applying deep pressure that instantly relaxed me. The strength he used was perfect. He then concentrated on the head and shoulders with his powerful hands which sent me into a world of my own. The thirty minutes were up far too soon. I felt so chilled that I could hardly walk.

A few minutes later Julie returned to the reception room with a similarly blissful feeling, although her experience was slightly tarnished as her masseur had a bad habit of clearing her throat, which was off putting. Her session was also interrupted when the masseur answered her mobile phone halfway through. And finally, Julie felt a little exposed as she ended up sitting topless for her head massage.

Despite all that she thoroughly enjoyed it and was aglow with floppy loveliness when she walked through. All we needed now was for someone to carry us back to our room.

Somehow we miraculously found our own way back.

A remarkable achievement not only because we were all limp and wasted after our massage but we didn't have a clue how we found the spa in the first place.

Re-tracing our ambling was impossible but we found another way to room Nahar Nivas.

There was an evening of traditional Rajasthani dance in the inner courtyard beginning at 7pm but first we needed to tame down our oiled up hair. We looked more than just windswept we looked like we'd been blown through a hedge by a hurricane.
Hair combed, looking near respectable, we arrived half way through the performance.

The scene was beautifully set with large cauldrons of fire creating an atmosphere of being around a camp fire in the middle of the Rajasthani desert.

It was a perfect setting.

Two musicians played a fabulous tune as three women spun and weaved their way around the courtyard, balancing objects on their heads and giving us hand gestures to decipher.

Many of the routines were familiar after the show we had seen in Delhi but tonight's performance had greater authenticity.

They were also a little more daring.

The "build a huge tower of baskets then go spinning like a dervish" was spiced up.

They set alight the top basket to make it much more exciting to watch.

Once the show was over most guests went to the rooftop terrace for their evening meal but Julie and I retired to our room for a quick shower and a costume change.

Arriving fashionably late, we made an entrance swooning elegantly down a staircase from the highest rooftops.

The view from our table of the peach palace in all its splendour was magnificent. There was magic in the air.

We could hear in the distance, down in Deogarh town, the lively music of a wedding party.

People were dancing in the streets.

Deogarh Mahal, Deogarh

Julie had read the hotel's literature where it said that 80% of the hotel staff are local from Deogarh. It also reminded you to be patient if some had poor English skills.

The waiter who served us had a reasonably good grasp of the Queen's English but he did finish each and every sentence with a "Yes, Please" which was quite funny.

He came to take our order.

"Yes please?" he asked.

"Can we have the Adrakwali Gobhi?"

"Yes please"

"Then the Pudinewali Macchli, the Paneer Makkanwala and the Dal Bati Churma"

"Yes please, Yes please, Yes please" he confirmed each dish. He was quite nervous which was very sweet.

The food was absolutely delicious, especially the Adrakwali Gobhi which was a tandoori cauliflower florets.

Julie had the Pudinewali Macchli which was tandoored fish cubes enhanced with mint. The paneer was in a flavoursome fenugreek and tomato gravy and the dal was black lentils with flour dumplings in a rich tasty sauce.

All mopped up with the perfect paratha bread.

It was the proverbial meal fit for a king, royalty that apparently still lived here somewhere.

Across on the opposite side of the courtyard we could see a section of the palace sparkling in the spotlight. "I bet he's in there." I said "the maharaji of Mewar"

The music continued from downtown Deogarh and the food continued to arrive in the form of a seriously sweet dessert called Churma a flaky bread bound together with ghee and sugar or was it sugar bound together with butter and bread.

Swallowing had never felt so comforting.

The whole setting was just marvellous, we didn't want the evening to end.

We could have sat here all night but as the staff we still at our service so we decided we should call it a night; we were the only couple left.

We retired to our room, lit a few candles, and then fell fast asleep.

Next Day > ęCopyright Colin Owen 2008

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