Pushkar – Another Holy City
We left Jaipur to start a whistle stop tour to three different Rajasthan towns over the next three days. The first was to be Pushkar one of India’s most holy cities.
If I had to describe Pushkar in comparison to other Indian places we have visited I would say it has the relaxed feel of Kochi with the religious spirituality of Varanasi. The story goes that Brahma dropped a lotus flower on the great earth and Pushkar floated up from the ground.
The drive there was only three hours from Jaipur and most of it on express highways The journey therefore was not full of many sights, but was not without some drama.
Half way along the express-way the driver was tootling along at the usual 80 kmph when a police cordon waved us down. Inexplicably they had decided that this stretch of express way, on national highway 11, had a speed limit of 60kmph and pointed the driver to the sign on the opposite side of the highway for traffic travelling in a different direction. There was no reason for this reduced speed limit, there were no schools or hospitals close nor an intersection.
The driver was offered a fine and a ‘punching of his licence’ for speeding. Given driving is his livelihood he cannot afford to have his licence marked in this way. The policeman took 1000 rupees to avoid the fine and mark on his record. This is one of the things that really annoys you about India and something we don’t have to put up with a home. Here they can screw you without fear of being reported, much like the monkey above.
While we were there for ten minutes they pulled over three other drivers, all tourist drivers and we presume went through the same extortion racket. We paid the drivers fine for him and will be making a formal complaint about the incident on behalf of the driver. This stuff stinks.
Given our merry dance finding a hotel in Jaipur we had asked the driver for his recommendations the night before and researched them thoroughly, discarding all but one and saying that the published prices were still a little beyond our budget. It seems the message is getting through and we arrived at a Pushkar hotel and were offered a room for 900 Rp. We thought with breakfast included, but when we arrived the breakfast dropped out of the deal. We couldn’t be bothered with the final negotiation on this, so accepted the room at the Pushkar Heritage. This little last minute change would be the focus of another John outrage the following morning.
We really enjoyed our afternoon wander around Pushkar despite the fact that I discovered I had lost my bank debit card and had to spend half an hour sorting its cancellation. The streets and lake area are amazingly clean by Indian standards and apart from the occasional tout who will try and thrust flowers in your hands, and then no doubt charge you for the privilege, it is tout free.
It’s a small town easily to walk around and navigate, there are virtually no cars or autos in the main streets. Walking is almost hazard free if you don’t count the moody cows that roam freely. The lake dominates the centre of the town and all other streets lead from a ring road that encircles it. There are a multitude of lake view restaurants to choose from if you want to sip a lassi or two, with or without the special relaxing ingredients. Alcohol and meat are banned in the town as the whole place is considered a holy site, but some restaurants will serve you beer at an inflated price as long as you are discreet drinking it, and the bottle will probably be wrapped in napkins as a weak attempt at disguise.
We spent a very peaceful hour meandering around the lake sitting and watching the locals bathe and pray at the ghats, there are signs around asking you not to take photographs, but this refers to photographing of women bathers. Just follow the locals picture taking protocol and you will be fine and ignore any ‘helpful’ suggestions from some of the men who are trying to engage you in blessing from fake priests. Also remember to take off your shoe before getting to the steps on the ghats , take a bag to carry them around with you as it’s unlikely you will emerge from the same ghat as you descend.
If shopping is your thing you will not be disappointed here, there hundreds of stalls around the main ring road selling gems, silver, clothes and the thing that caught my eye, a whole array of camel leather bags, purses and shoes. I was really tempted, but I know I don’t really need another bag to carry round for the rest of the trip. Prices are reasonable here and there seems to be quite a few long-term traveller types around the place, giving it quite a relaxed vibe.
I mentioned the special (or Bang) lassies as they are known here. John decided that in the pursuit of journalistic research he should try one and report on its effects. We read some stories of people being a little too cavalier in their approach to these local specialities, so he trod very carefully and asked for a lassi light. The drink tasted great with a mix bananas, local fruit and nuts with the bottom of the glass lined with thick dark chocolate. If you want to try one we can recommend the Moon cafe garden restaurant. The effects were calming without being dramatic.
If you are here longer than our overnight stay there are abundant camel and jeep desert treks on offer, or sessions in yoga and mediation as well as a traditional Indian music school to supercharge your sitar skills. Clearly by the looks of some of the westerners here these pursuits keep some here for a very long time, maybe even decades. We enjoyed the cool night and sat round an open pit fire watching the stars, before heading back to the hotel to search for my chill out sounds on iTunes.
From Deep Relaxation to Rage
In the end we could have stayed here a couple of days to slip further into the mellow relaxing pace this town has, but we had an agenda to follow and next morning we were up early to grab breakfast and hit the road toward Mandawa.
This should have been a simple process of ordering what we wanted from the menu – coffee and toast – paying and leaving. In the end it turned into another episode of Indian Fawlty Towers. Our order was refused as they serve a buffet breakfast (as everyone else had it included in their higher rates) and wanted us to pay the rate for that. John refused saying we only wanted coffee and toast, which was clearly displayed on the menu.
The waiter then tried to claim there was tax to be added to anything from the a la carte breakfast menu, there wasn’t, it was just one of those Indian lies. In the end, the waiter said to John, what’s your problem you have loads of money. John flipped with a capital ‘F’. The waiter then hurriedly tried to backtrack and offer what we wanted, but it was too late as John was off to Reception. John was to be found screaming at the manager who offered us free breakfast, which we refused, and called the waiter a liar and a thief. John blamed the manager telling him he created the entire problem and it was his responsibility.
We ended up going to the hotel next door for breakfast, so John could calm down, while the manager pretended to shout at the waiter involved, we could here the shouts from there. You may think this is a little petty and not worth mentioning for the 100 Rp. difference. If you come to India this thing goes on all the time and it really does begin to wear you down, so we are making a stand (remember our last blog) and not putting up with it. In the futile hope that it may actually change a little tiny bit of this annoying attitude to tourists. P.S. we are not letting the incidents spoil our fun, we now see it as a crusade and will begin to enjoy this more challenging side to life here. Stamp Out Swindling …