#6 Jaipur to Pushkar and other waffle
Sent: Saturday, September
22, 2001 12:10 PM
Despite being a country more
adept at inventing purposes then any other I have ever encountered India remains
a place where the balance between the twin numbers of people and things for
them to do constantly shifts. Everyone seems conscious of the huge importance
of staying on the right side of the equation. What other explanation can there
be for the metaphorical demarcation barriers so high, wide, handsome and longstanding
that those on either side seem completely unaware of their existence, knowing
only that their responsibilities occupy a space that measures X by Y and that
beyond that lies chaos, waiting to pounce should they dare to think outside
As a crude example take the
case of Hotel Receptionist in a medium sized hotel. In the UK the Reception
Desk (admittedly, possibly staffed by more than one person) will probably deal
with every aspect of incoming and outgoing guests, including switchboard. In
the YMCA in Delhi this amounts to 4 separate booths, boxes, call them what you
will, plus a separate switchboard, each having their own staff. And, if you
pick the right combination of requests you will bounce around like a gleaming
silver ball in a pinball machine called 'INDIAN BUREAUCRACY!'> 'Hit 3 booths
for an extra night - FREE!'> The role of demarcation is easy to see and understand.
What raises the blood pressure at times is the narrow mindedness of the service
so that, if the shortest route to your goal should be A to B to D to A none
of those involved will make this clear, each looking at you like you are stuck
on the sole of their shoe and, you feel, smiling quietly behind your back as
you progress B to A to B to C to B to D to A. I overstate drastically to make
the point, but the underlying, more simplified scenario is an all to real recurring
event. I don't know how much worse these things are for us as tourists. Certainly
we are only now acquiring a small degree of the understanding which enables
better navigation of these complex waterways.
It is a profound pleasure
when you come across the many exceptions which prove the rule, people who go
that bit further to help you, and with a smile on their face. Fortunately it
happens often enough to offer some counter-balance against the massed ranks
of apparently dissociated bureaucrats.
The way of life here is superficially
hectic. But a closer examination reveals that we are all, in fact, the subjects
of a documentary being watched by the many deities above, who are having such
a groovy time in their cloud-based accommodation that none of them has noticed
that the video of earthly reality below, playing on a large screen tele in the
corner of the room (satellite of course!) has actually been playing in slow
motion for all eternity.
In the immortal words of
Loyd Grossman, 'Let's look at the evidence!'
Don't get me wrong, there
are millions upon millions of people facing a daily struggle to bring in enough
money to keep their lives together. But the idea of a constant melee? No, it's
a melee in slow motion with a speeded up soundtrack. The climate controls the
speed and the economic imperative controls the soundtrack.
Yesterday afternoon my nose
started to fill. Last night came the sore throat and headache. Nurse Sausage,
still poorly herself, won't upgrade my status from 'Nearly Ill' to 'Proper Poorly,'
fearful of the hugely increased amounts of moping I will immediately commence
and the extra care I will expect, as of right. So as we set off from Jaipur,
to Pushkar with a change of bus at Ajmer, we are both now sucking on strepsils
('MY strepsils' says Sausage) and feeling a bit hotter than we ought and generally
the worse for wear.
The trunk road we follow
is busy, the make-up of the traffic striking:> 70% trucks 15% buses 15% everything
else> The lorries all seem to have been made from the same mould, by TATA, which
is tattoed across their bows, they are large blunt instruments, generally orange,
with gaudy ornamentation and paintwork above and around the cabin. Many bear
the legend 'National Permit' followed by their registration number on a plaque
above the cabin. They are flat-bedded, low-sided and loaded to the gunwales
and beyond with payloads concealed beneath tightly secured tarpaulins. Every
age of tanker and lorry is represented from the shiny and new to the old and
decrepit. It's not uncommon to pass knackered old lorries still limping along
with no windscreen.
In the face of such numbers
the more successful truck stops take on the character of medium sized villages
with maybe 40 dusty shop fronts all dedicated to maintaining the lorries or
their drivers, everything from tyre repairs to truck washes, gleaming new hub-caps
hanging next to posters boasting of the latest development in engine oil.
As we progress West towards
the Thar desert so the landscape becomes progressively more arid. We pass a
premature sand dune in the midst of the scrub, but it proves to be a lone outpost
amidst the scruffy bushes and dry stream beds scattered with occasional small
herds of cattle and sheep. A strange apparition on the horizon slowly emerges
from the haze to reveal itself as a hill! A bump on the balding head of the
landscape offering a variety we have sorely missed as we rolled across the wide
God, and his Sales Manager
(Earth), Jesus, didn't really expand into the euro-religious market in the early
days so I, for one, am not used to to being smack bang in the middle of sites
of huge religious significance. What is more out here the religious sites are
surrounded by fantastical legends.
So instead of ' See that
mountain - well a bloke went up it and came back with some tablets of stone'
here we are in Pushkar, where, according to the Padma Purana, 'Lord Brahma dropped
his lotus flower (pushpa) from his hand (kar)to earth in order to kill a demon.
Where the three lotus petals landed water magically appeared in the desert sand
and at the largest of the three lakes Brahma later convened a meeting of 90,000
celestial beings.' For these reasons Pushkar is the most sacred Hindu site in
To reach it we climb up and
over a shallow pass through the hills separating Pushkar from Ajmer. It is by
far the smallest place we have visited, only 14,000 people. Soon after our arrival
we walk the entire breadth of the town in little more than 10 minutes.
The town sits curled around
180 degrees of the lake which is only some 200 metres in diameter. The Main
Bazaar is only yards from the lake, yet secluded from it, its' commerce respecting
the sanctity of the waterfront. As we walk up the Main Bazaar we come across
successive entrances to temples and ghats, the bathing houses where devotees
and tourists alike are encouraged by the local Brahmin priests to bathe and
worship at the lake.
Sitting incongruously amongst
the 500 temples in this tiny town are the many shops, stalls, restaurants and
guest-houses geared towards people like us. For as well as drawing the pilgrims
we passed on our way here, making their way by bus, on foot, in wheelchairs
and on bikes, all distinguished by the green flags they carry, as well as the
pilgrims we and our kind flock here too, to chill out, kick back and unwind.
- It's too hot to do
- You can disguise this
by shouting a lot
- At any given time
40% of the nation are sat down in the shade
- They are sat next
to the 30% who are lying down
- The traffic moves
so slowly, on the open road as well as in town, that at 45mph you become
eligible to enter the Indian Grand Prix
So a walk along Main Bazaar
is a little like a walk through the marketplace at Glastonbury festival. There
is only one noticeable difference however, the travellers here are universally
morose. We offer up a smile and are met with averted eyes set in glum faces.
So far we've come up with three possible reasons for this:
We are hoping that this aspect
of our adventure will improve.
It is not a busy time of
year here. Anyone travelling during a year out from college is back in the lecture
theatre and the next years crop are still largely working to bankroll the trip
they hope to make. It also also hotter than it will shortly become so those
with greater flexibility than us will delay their arrival until the temperatures
drop. So the town is quiet. Certainly alot quieter than in November when the
Hindu festival of Kartikais followed by the Camel Fair and up to 200,000 camel
traders, devotees and tourists take up residency in a huge tented village erected
on the desert plane to the North of the town.
We have found a very pleasant
room in the Raghav Resort Guest House, way out of the town centre (ok, 150m,
but here that's like our flat in relation to Central London, 10 miles away)
for the princely sum of 150 rupees a night (2.10 pounds). Being on the first
floor means cooler air but we struggle to drop off to sleep on our first night
against the backdrop of singing and chanting in a distant temple that continues
until five in the morning.
This morning finds us sat
on the second floor terrace of the guest house. Apart from the ocassional 'parps'
of passing traffic beyond the boundaries of the guest house's large, if slightly
ragged, market garden we can hear only birdsong and an ever changing litany
of devotional songs and chants from a variety of sources. We are sitting in
the shade provided by a huge old tree whose fat trunk separates into six twisting
thick branches at first floor level. At eye-level, visible through branches
and fronds sits a peacock, preening. It feels like somewhere we can rest, recover
- We're older than most
of them, frighentingly so in some cases.
- We haven't yet dived
headlong into the travellers dressing up box(though Sausage is starting
to covet things...) and consequently look more like 'bread-head toursists'
(is there a worse insult?) than 'real' travellers.
- To return a smile
from a fellow Westerner demonstrates an insecurity about being in India
indicative of a need to herd together like Western Wildebeest and thus must
be avoided at all costs.
All news from home most
Lots of Love The Travelling