#7 A Dawn walk in Pushkar

Sent: Friday, September 28, 2001 9:08 AM

Rooftops and water, monkeys and temples, peace and quiet. Our time in Pushkar has splendidly filled the prescription we wrote ourselves in Jaipur.

The second floor terrace of our hotel in Pushkar looks out across the rooftops of the town. White and off-white walls reach up to support flat roofs, a jumble of cubes only broken up by the slender, jutting, multi-coloured spires of the town's temples. In the heat of the day the roofs are empty, hot as baking trays. As the heat dissipates around four in the afternoon they start to come to life. Kids emerge to play games of hide and seek, ducking behind balustrades and walls their heads bobbing up and down in that way that delivers maximum adrenaline.

The kids defend their territory from invasion by the town's monkey population who gambol, run, jump and climb over the buildings with impunity, scattering only when the kids arm themselves with pebbles, none of which seem to find their mark. The monkeys will steal anything they find that isn't nailed down, but this is not the first thought in my mind when a large adult monkey appears out of our shady tree and calmly walks along the top of the balustrade at the edge of our roof terrace, no more than 18 inches from where we are sitting with our worldly goods laid out before us on the table. At first I tell Sausage in hushed, David Attenborough, look at the local wildlife tones and she looks up as the polished pink behind of the monkey passes close by her head. But as the monkey turns I realise why he is here, not for a photo-opportunity but to pillage whatever he can. He senses my change of mood and bares his teeth, contemplating making a grab for something on the table, but thinks better of it and leaps, growling, back into the tree as I start to make the first monkey scaring noise that comes into my head. It may not be as brave, or as confrontational, as my mate Mick who goes around the Sussex Downs tiger-stopping (the place is over-run, he's a busy man), but at least our goods remain intact.

The talisman of the 'real' traveller here in Pushkar is the Enfield motorcycle. They cruise up and down the Main Bazaar, the engine making the lovely slow deep thump thump thump engine note characteristic of single cylinder bikes. All the riders observe the rules being unfeasibly brown, scrawny, hairy (only the men so far!) and disdainful. I consider following up the advert declaiming 'Enfield for Sale' posted on the wall in one of the local restaurants but Atto, the vendor, will have to find another buyer, or change his location, because if he thinks I came all the way to India to haggle over a motorbike in a didgeredoo shop then he is badly mistaken.

Last night I had an idea. What it was doesn't matter, but it was so exciting that my night's sleep was demolished as I kept waking up, brain whizzing, testing my idea from lots of angles and it kept working. Often such nighttime reveries amount to nothing in the light of day, but they are exciting events in themselves. As the first flecks of dawn light creep around the curtains I realise that I am not going to get any more sleep so I leave Sausage floppily dozing and go for a walk around the lake.

At 6.15am the town is already starting to wake up. The early risers on the Main Bazaar are scraping the previous days rubbish out of the kerbside gullies, deconstricting the dirty water, which rushes to resume its' journey, and piling the rubbish on the road side from where it is being collected by a roadsweeper on my return an hour later.

As I walk I am reminded that there is a noticeably greater variety amongst the people in Pushkar. In addition to the thin, wiry, medium-height, high cheek boned people we have seen everywhere previously we also see a number of short men whose pot-bellies are clearly modeled on a little fat Buddha and striking dark skinned people from Jaisalmer, taller, darker and thinner than anyone else we have seen with striking faces so thin that they look like they may have been through a pasta machine twice in opposite directions, the first pass sweeping their cheek bones up and backwards, the second drawing their noses out to such length-without-breadth that I am certain that in moderate winds the tips must quiver.

There are 52 ghats around the lake's edge, one for each Maharaja of Rajasthan. Each one consists of a smallish temple and a long, broad, sweeping staircase leading down to the waters edge from the road some 20 metres above.

The lake has solid banks around 300 degrees of its' circumference and a stone pedestrian bridge over the broad stream which supplies it. With its' pavilion-like temples and sweeping concrete terraces the lake looks like no more and no less than a completely flooded cricket ground.

Because of its' holiness Pushkar is a completely pure-veg, dry town and the sacred cows here are the plumpest we have seen. All the (not very wild at all, in fact decidedly somnambulant) wildlife has a lazy air which seems born of their certainty that they need not fear their biggest predator. In the lake huge fish slowly patrol, occasionally, languidly, surfacing to swallow a mouthful of the many waterboatmen who skim the surface. With a huge splash one of the fish leaps the brick wall which obstructs its' progress from stream into lake by jutting two inches above the waterline below the bridge on which I am sitting. Further along the same wall a dark brown turtle struggles to pull itself up so that it can bask in the sunlight which is still straining to break free from behind the hills.

To the east of Pushkar lies the line of hills through which we had to pass on our way from Ajmer. The sun rises behind a long high ridge and the ridge, in turn, is surmounted on this morning by distant low cloud. These two factors combine to dilute the intensity of the sunrise but cause the sun, whitening as it climbs, to throw stark sunbeams from behind the cloud that look for all the world like the fanned copper crown of the Statue of Liberty.

I sit on the bridge listening to an ever-changing devotional soundtrack. From one temple comes the sound of a woman and man singing accompanied by a harmonium and tabla, as this stops so the rhythmic chanting of a group of white clad pilgrims stood at the waters edge on the far side of the lake skims across the surface. As they finish their devotions comes a pulsating collision of rat-a-tat-tat thick-skinned slack snare drums with cymbals and bells which produces a fantastic high-speed techno gamelan. I'm sufficiently intrigued that I set off to find the source but, of course, I've waited too long and make no more than four steps before it stops and peace returns to the lake.

Even at this early hour there are lots of people at and around the waters edge. I watch an elderly Sadhu remove his filthy robe and plunge into the lake wearing only his vivid red, wound and bound, underwear. He ritualistically washes and emerges to towel down and reapply to his face and ears the thick white slap demanded by his beliefs. The vast majority of the many people who are circumnavigating the lake carry small stainless steel vases or billy-cans which they fill up from the lake and use to make offerings to a selection of the many temples and shrines, small and large which cluster around the water. The simplest offering I witness is a woman tipping water from a goldfish-less transparent plastic bag onto a shrine which is nothing more than a pile of rocks.

Asd I make my way back to the hotel I notice the red and orange threads we tied at Fatehpur Sikri repeated here at a number of different temples as people make offerings and requests to their gods. In the course of my early morning stroll I am offered and exchange a greater number of heartfelt 'Good mornings' than in the rest of the previous two weeks combined. But just to confirm that commerce never sleeps, while I sit on the bridge, my sandals in my hand, it being disrespectful to wear shoes close to the sacred lake, an Indian, the first have seen not to have removed his shoes, approaches me whispering his secular offerings of hash and grass.

My eventual decision to set off back to the hotel is prompted by the sun shaking off the low-slung cloud and letting lose its' full power. In less than a minute the cool, slightly moist early morning haze is burned off and for the next three minutes the electric blue sky assaults my eyes. But as quickly as it appears so it vanishes subdued by the arid dusty daytime haze.

In the face of approaching 'Fuzzy Monkey' status, Sausage's name for me when my hair gets that little bit too long, and with Sausage's determination to remove blondeness from the list of reasons for people to stare at her, we select 'Sri-Ram - Hairdresser' as the supplier of our first haircuts. We approach Sri Ram from opposite directions, Sausage is used to getting a cut she knows and likes from Maria at Estelle's House of Hair and Beauty in Finchley (THE place for catching up with the latest gossip form Finchley's Greek-Cypriot ladies-who-lunch, if that's what lights your candle), while I have scarcely set foot in a hairdressers for at least 5 years, fed up with crap haircuts from bored teenagers or elderly blokes who want to tell me what'll win the 2.15 at Newmarket I have been seeing to myself, with a little help from Sausage for quite some time. I go first and Sri Ram does me proud, a thorough going over with the No. 1. Attachment and some nice work around the lugs, slightly spoiled by a viscious points of the clippers dragged down the nape of the neck manoeuvre at the end. To Sri Ram's surprise I ask for a shave. He is not surprised that someone should ask for a shave rather that I should, possessing only 127 hairs on my entire chinigan, but, with a strange rattling noise from somewhere in his throat that seems to say 'OK - I'll shave you, but it hardly seems worth it,' he lathers me up and attacks me with a cut-throat. The whole business, involving the application of god knows how many different unguents and balms is strangely relaxing. As I leave the chair there are only 6 tufts on my head he hasn't trimmed, my ever broadening eyebrows and the hairs in my ears and nose, vastly premature signs of aging from which generations of my family have suffered (that's my story and I'm sticking to it), if only he had trimmed these interlopers into my orifices I could have left with an entirely tidy head. But I needed to make way for Sausage. Sri Ram looks surprised as Sausage rises to take my place, but roars with laughter when she answers his 'Haircut?' with 'And a shave too please!' > Sausage is now the proud possessor of a No.2. all over, and, though you may accuse me of bias, it looks fantastic. The blonde is gone and the look is actually no shorter than when Jay used to cut it when we lived in Clerkenwell. As we walk down the street people continue to stare, maybe this is why we see all these Westerners with long-haired bird's nests on their heads, it avoids the staring because if it's good enough for Sadhu's, it's good enough for them.

We don't want to leave Pushkar having relaxed into a gentle routine involving nice shopkeepers, good food, little strolls, books and idle talk. But time ticks away and we make our plans to depart.

We have tickets for an 11am departure from Pushkar to Jodhpur and arrive at the Travel Agency, in true Robert's family style, early. Over the hours to come we learn the questions we should have asked at the time we purchased the tickets when we were told that our journey would be by deluxe 2x2 coach and would take 5 hours. This is what happened: > 10:50am Arrive at Travel Agency > 11.15am Spectate on minor RTA outside Travel Agency involving a bike and a barrow being pushed by an elderly man. Sausage watches as the old man's left thumbnail is ripped off and left hanging by a thread.

11:25am A man appears and gruffly summons us to follow him. We do so pausing by each car we pass expecting to get in it for the taxi ride from Pushkar to Ajmer from where the coach departs. He walks 50m round the corner from Travel Agency No.1 to Travel Agency No. 2. where we sit and wait some more.

11.45am Taxi to Ajmer Bus Stand where the taxi driver finds our bus and our seats for us and departs.

12 noon Bus driver appears and, across a language barrier, he tells us that the bus departs at 1pm.

1.05pm - Driver issues us with a ticket on which it has a departure time of 1.30pm.

The actual journey takes 5 hours on the bumpiest road so far, way too bumpy to allow reading. At one stop we are plagued by hawkers who come on to the bus as soon as it stops and are really persistent. Sausage makes clear that she doesn't want anything and one of the kids, having got off the bus, grabs her twice, painfully and deliberately, through the open window.

I'm too tall for this bus, it's impossible to find a position that's comfortable, and Sausage, pinned into a limited space by my lankiness suffers a similar fate. 5 or 6 hours feels like the upper limits of what we would wish to volunteer for, but far longer journeys are likely to prove necessary in the months to come.

On arrival in Jodhpur we easily find the Raman Guest House which proves to be run by a lovely family, and we shower away the stench of the journey (if only I was as rich financially as I can be in a olfactory sense) and stretch out our aching limbs to try and recover for the exploration of Jodhpur tomorrow,

Lots of Love
The Travelling Sausages