So we decided to stop hiding out in the Himalayas with Tibetans and see the "real" India--Now with Photos!
(I use the quotes above not in a misguided attempt to draw attention to the word real but rather because we decided we needed to reenter the fray of the heat and the masses and be among Indians as part of our trip to India. Of course, northern India is the "real India" as well.)
After much time staring at the Lonely Planet map, we decided to still try and see parts of Rajasthan, as was part of our travel agent's plan, and chose a loop from Delhi to Pushkar to Udaipur (where Octopussy was filmed) to Agra then back to Delhi for our next flight to Johannesburg.
How we've spent much time in India: drinking Indian milk tea and consulting the guidebook
After a grueling 26 hours of travel (see Tyler's entry below), we were in Pushkar. In the dark. Once again, not knowing what part of town we were in or which direction to go to find a decent guesthouse. And Tyler and I have developed a somewhat self-defeating approach to long bus rides--we generally don't eat much until we reach our destination. The advantage being that we don't get sick from food while travelling. The disadvantage being that we usually arrive places famished and cranky. Since dinner around 5PM the day before, we'd eaten a bag of Magic Masala flavored potato chips and a small package of orange-creme cookies. You can imagine the state of our moods. I wanted, in this order: a place to dump our bags, food, a shower, and a chance to go to sleep and start all over again the next day.
First order of the day: a guesthouse. As we got off the bus, a nice man who'd been on the bus with us since Delhi said he knew of a nice, inexpensive guesthouse he could recommend to us, a 5-minute walk away called "Dr. Cafe." "It's right past the Brahma Temple. You can't miss it!" he said, as he zoomed away on a motorbike. In our ragged state, though, we did miss it, and after wandering for about 10 minutes, gave up and went back to the first place we'd seen. Tyler wasn't much impressed, but, to be fair, it's only right to expect so much of a room that you pay $2.50 a night for. The guesthouse seemed to be under construction, but we got a small room, with a fan and private bath that was pretty clean. Not bad under the circumstances.
Next, food. Our guesthouse owner nicely gave us the card of the hotel so we could find our way back and pointed us toward the market. We wandered the maze-like streets, past many children saying "hello!" to us as we passed by. Again, in our dazed state, we never found the market, but we followed the better lit streets until we happened upon part of a wedding celebration. A long parade made up of an enthusiastic band, fancily-dressed women, and a flower-bedecked groom on horseback, followed by lots of children holding glowing lanterns. The lanterns were actually all connected and electric, so they in turn were followed by a truck towing a humming generator. Sadly, the novelty was lost on us after about a minute as our stomachs growled ravenously. After passing the parade, we saw--and practically pounced upon--two other tourists, asking if they knew anywhere to eat. They nicely ignored the fact that we both looked like we'd been run over by trucks and how badly we smelled and pointed us across the street, saying they didn't have a wide array of food, but when they'd eaten there, it'd been good. Finally, we were sitting down to some fresh chapati (fresh bread, like a tortilla), dal (lentils), and some kind of potato dish.
As we wandered back, sated but more aware of how dirty we felt, we got a little turned around. As we stood under a streetlight, looking at our three possible options, a man asked if he could help us. Expecting some sort of con, we were reluctant, but said we were looking for the Priya Guesthouse. In a pleasant surprise, he just told us how to get there and wished us goodnight. Between that and the children saying "hello" and not something like "hello, money!", I was getting a good feeling about Pushkar.
We woke up this morning, already sweating. In short order, we checked out, found a new guesthouse (actually, the same guesthouse as the tourists who directed us to the restaurant last night), sat out a morning rainstorm, then took off to see some sites.
Tyler reading and taking a break from the punishing heat in our cute and colorful guesthouse, run by a slightly eccentric French woman and her teenage daughter. The colors are fantastic--tangerine orange, scarlett red, sky blues, and sunny yellows. Too bad they would seem out of place in the gray Northwest.....
We're here in a bit of the off-season for Rajasthan. It's southwest of Delhi, edging a desert, and it's hot this time of year. Of course, on the pluse side, low-season means there aren't lots of tourists, and we haven't really been harassed much as we've walked around. Pushkar is famous as a pilgrimage site for Hindus. It's on a small lake said to be created when the god Brahma dropped a lotus flower on the ground. There are many Hindu temples, including the Brahma temple (the only of its kind), a Jain temple (a pre-Hindu faith in India), a Haruman temple, and many Shiva temples. Pushkar is also famous for being the site of a giant camel trading festival each year, but that won't be happening until later I believe.
This morning, we walked down to the ghats, or temples on the edge of the lake. Shortly after getting down near the water, both Tyler and I were found out by priests, who offered to take us through a blessing ceremony. When we tried to tell them we wouldn't give them any money, we weren't interested, they waved off our concerns and said it was something that people came here for and we shouldn't miss it. After a few minutes of holding flowers, coconuts, rice, sugar, repeating phrases after them and sprinkling water about, my "priest" started talking about how if we gave money for charity ("divided by the 52 ghats and 200 brahmin," I think hinting that I shouldn't be chintzy) it would be good for our family and friends. When I kept repeating that we would just give money to the donation box, he curtly told me to throw the offering in my hands into the water and stomped off. (Tyler gave his priest 5 rupees (~10 cents).) We then decided to walk all around the lake on the 52 ghats. Unfortunately, this ended up not being the easiest feat since the ghats didn't all connect and we were barefoot, but the views were good.
Cow sitting under a Ganesha statue on our way down to the Ghat.
View across the lake at another ghat with lots of pigeons.
Pushkar and the lake from a hilltop temple we climbed to slowly, with many stops in the shade for our rapidly melting bottle of ice water.
We also checked out the Brahma temple, where we were befriended by a nice 11-year-old Indian girl and happened to stop by just at the time when they open a curtain and have the Brahma statue available for viewing. Mostly, the change in heat and humidity drove me to the dark and somewhat cool internet cafe to get a chance to cool down--the difference from the north to here is not inconsequential.
But mostly I'm feeling excited and optimistic about being here and our remaning 12 days. Pushkar manages to feel like I wanted my Indian experience to feel like--a little rustic, intricate but somewhat disintegrating architecture, bright colors, monkeys, cows, camels, people in colorful saris, heat.....
Monkeys in Pushkar
Camel with cart. They are surprisingly docile and tall.
The Main Bazaar street in Pushkar. The first blue building on the right is called a havela because of the carved sandstone facade.