Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pushing on to Pushkar

From Jaipur we took a relatively short government bus journey to Pushkar, having heard good things about it from a British couple we had met in Jaipur and subsequently discovering that it neatly split up the journey to Jodhur.

Pushkar is one of the oldest living cities in India. It is another pilgrimage site, this time for Hindus planning to take a blessing (puja) in the lake said to have been formed as a result of Shiva crying so much following the death of his wife, Sati.

After Delhi, Amritsar and Jaipur we were relieved to find that Pushkar is a really relaxed place. The majority of the town consists of a road running around the lake which is occupied by shops, guesthouses and roof-top restaurants offering views of the lake, and a maze of small alleyways off that road.  The city is surrounded by mountains which can be seen in the distance all around the lake.

For the budget-friendly sum of ₤2.50 per night we got a room in a guesthouse with fantastic views of the lake and the various ghats where people take 'holy dips' and receive blessings. In fact our guesthouse directly overlooked the ghat where Ghandi's ashes were spread – a pretty grand site if you can overlook having to walk right next to a public urinal to enter/exit the building.

We initially planned to spend only one night in Pushkar, however we were quite taken with the relaxed and happy vibe and decided to stay for 2 nights. While we were there we wandered around the shops, which were refreshingly (relatively) hassle-free, and visited some of the various temples. One temple of particular note is the 2000 year old Brahma temple; curiously although Brahma is the Hindu deity of creation, and perhaps comparative with the Christian god, he is not a popular deity with Hindus, who seem to prefer Ganesh, Shiva and Krishna, and has very few temples dedicated to him so this one is pretty prominent.

The food served at the various restaurants we tried left a lot to be desired, however the lake views and the relaxed atmosphere made up for it. We did have one good meal, however; an excellent veggie thali at a restaurant where we spent the evening with 3 Americans – 2 student actresses and one aspiring film-maker.

The atmosphere around the lake where people were taking their dip in the various ghats and receiving puja was really pleasant. People seemed really happy to be there, and the feeling was infectious.

One downside of Pushkar, however, was the presence of numerous con-merchants. I have deliberately refrained from using the phrase 'con-man' because a number of said con-merchants were children. Around the lake area children would force you to take some flowers from them to take to the lake for a blessing. On arrival at the lake men purporting to be holy-men would then offer to perform puja at the cost of a 'donation' at your discretion, only to subsequently insist on a minimum payment. Luckily we were warned about this and didn't fall for it.

We were, however, much closer to falling for a different con whereby particularly grubby and sad looking children would ask you to buy chapatis to feed them and their family. We were initially drawn in by the believable children who seemed genuinely hungry, however we don't generally give money to beggars for fear of encouraging reliance on the practice (or in this case encouraging the parents of the children to allow or endorse it) and something didn't feel right about the children being insistent as to where the chapatis should be bought from. We offered the children pens for school, which they declined. Feeling bad about that we then purchased some packs of biscuits; however when we offered them to the children who approached us they were also declined, and we were informed that they were “bad for [their] teeth”. Clearly this wasn't right – starving children turning down sweet food. We later learned that the children persuade people (including Indian tourists) to buy a pack of chapati mix for them, and they then subsequently return it to the salesman in return for their share of the money.

It isn't the slightest bit surprising to encounter con-merchants in Pushkar as they are everywhere we have been in India. It has got to the point where we feel that we can't trust anything we are told because we have been mislead and lied to so many times. However, it was particularly disheartening to experience this sort of behaviour in such a holy, and pleasant, place and for it to involve such young children who should be learning the right way to conduct themselves.

The only other real negative from Pushkar, apart from having to leave so soon, was my discovery upon preparing to leave that a friendly lizard whom we had found in our room, and in retrospect was a bit pale and slow-moving, had expired on my bag. I just hope he was Hindu.

Negatives aside if we weren't pushed for time to fit in everything we wanted to see in India then we would happily have spent another day or so relaxing in Pushkar and soaking up the happy vibe. Still, with batteries recharged a little our next destination was Jodhpur.

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