#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 the box.

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 plain.

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 Rajasthan.

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.

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:

  1. We're older than most of them, frighentingly so in some cases.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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 and relax.

All news from home most welcome!!!!!

Lots of Love The Travelling Sausages