Saturday 05 November 2016 – Pushkar, India.
The big mission today was to get from Jaipur to Pushkar. By Indian standards they are virtually neighbours and the journey will only take three hours. However, for a middle aged westerner who has not travelled for a while and is out of the ‘zone’ this still seemed like enough of a challenge for one day. Though, in the end it was all too easy. Thankfully.
As I only have a short time in India and no room for faffing I have fully planned ahead. Train tickets and accommodation has been booked in all the towns I am staying in. This allows for no flexibility, but it does mean when I get up in the morning on a travelling day I know what I am doing, where I am staying and mostly, how I am going to get there. This does remove all of the stress of travelling when it has not been done for a while.
Not having to worry about the logistics of the morning, and having been awake for 30+ hours I surprised myself by sleeping for well over 8 hours last night. I was groggy when I woke, but felt damn fine for all that sleep. My first Indian breakfast of lassi and paratha was really nice and set me up well for my travels. The hotel had a roof top eating area and I found an old fort (maybe?) out the back, cool!
I took a tuk tuk to the station which was about 1.5 kms from the hotel, the traffic around the station was pretty intense, but I was left alone as I made my way into the main hall. The sign providing information about the train was helpful.
There was a version in English too I realised after watching for a while. English is spoken to some degree everywhere here, all the people I have met so far have had some English which does make travelling less complicated. The train was late, but not by a huge amount, I was a little nervous standing on the platform, I had no idea what to expect and had visions of very crowded trains.
Even though I had booked the more expensive air conditioned carriage; it was still very cheap by UK standards. I expected there to be more westerners waiting for the train, I am going to Pushkar for the annual camel fair, which attracts a lot of tourists, so I was surprised to find there were only four other westerners on the platform, a group from Germany and they were heading somewhere else. This did ramp up my nerves a bit.
Which was all unfounded of course… I found a birth just fine, I was facing backwards which is not my preference, but it was entirely comfortable, quiet and ultimately enjoyable. I even had lunch on the train, a vege biryani that was very nice too. I took a few photos out of the window over the course of the 2 ½ hour journey. There was not a lot to see, flat, semi-arid farmland, all the way to Ajmer where I disembarked.
I had heard stories of tourists being ‘pounced’ on by touts when they get off trains and was expecting this as I walked through the crowded ticket hall. Nothing. Outside only one bloke came up to me to ask if I wanted a taxi to Pushkar, which I did, he offered me a price less than I expected, so I said ‘yes’ to that and jumped into the back of his very small Suzuki mini-van. The ride took about 40 minutes, there was a lot of traffic on the road, so it was nice and slow, I didn’t need to hang on once, even as we snaked up and down through the small hills.
Pushkar is a small town, with about 14,000 residents normally. During the festival this swells to over 300,000. It was very busy when I arrived. I am staying in the Everest Hotel, up the hill from the main drag and with a great view over the town. If it were not for the numerous signs pointing in its general direction it would be impossible to find through the myriad of alleys and pathways in the upper town. It is a real warren, with the hidden dangers of speeding motorbikes to add to the fun, plus the dogs and cows and their little land mines…
Pushkar is a small Hindu town wrapped around a very small lake on the edge of the large Thar desert. The lake was supposedly formed when the god Brahma dropped a lotus flower onto the earth. It is a very important Hindu pilgrimage town and all Hindus aim to make at least one pilgrimage here in their lifetime. The main pilgrimage time is now, in the month of Kartika, the eight month of the Hindu calendar. The desert tribesman come to the town for the pilgrimage and for the annual camel fair, up to 50,000 camels are caravaned across the desert to be traded. This is what attracts the tourists. The main camel fair takes place in the first week of the festival, with the main religious day being on the full moon later in the two week celebration period. I will not be here for that long sadly, but I do have three nights, so will see plenty of camel fair action I hope.
I met an English guy, Trev, as I checked in, he has been here before and promised to give me some camel fair tips, which was cool. Once I checked in and dumped my gear in my room, I grabbed my camera bag and headed out the door. I like my room, it is large and airy and reasonably comfy, and blessing of all blessings the shower is hot, something I will appreciate once the layers of dust start to make my hair feel like a nest.
Unlike Jaipur I was not given a map of the streets, I doubt one exists, I was led down the hill a short way to a main intersection and left to it. I expected to get immediately lost. Which is fine by me, I am sure there is a lot to see.
Deciding to check out the camel fair first I sauntered off in the direction I was pointed in, once out on the main road it was pretty easy to spot. I am assuming these two ferris wheels are not here all year round.
It is still early days in the fair, and there are not many camels around. I did see some though, but these are dressed up to give rides to tourists. I am sure I will find plenty more during my stay.
Horse trading is also part of the fair and there are a number of horses here, all tied into position which I thought was harsh on the horses, however I am not in England anymore and what is unacceptable there is not the case here. The horses from Rajasthan are unique in that their ears stick straight up from the top of their heads.
It was about here that I discovered the recently repaired 24-105mm lens does not work. It worked when I last went to Epping Forest, but now it does not focus at all. I have been forced to use the heavier and longer 70-200. It is a lovely lens, but hopeless for close up work.
I found this snake charmer who I paid about £1.20 to take some photos while he charmed the obviously stupored cobra, which I also got to touch. When in India. A bunch of Chinese tourists also took photos and when they did not pay they were followed down the road while he yelled at them. I wanted to go and tell them to not be so bloody rude!
Knowing I would be back tomorrow I left the fair and walked down to the lake in the middle of the town. The lake is surrounded by 52 bathing gnats. These are not temples as such, but places to go and relax, meditate, pray and bathe in the holy lake.
A couple of these are commercial operations aimed pretty much (being blunt) at scamming tourists. I got scammed. Not by much, but still more than I would have ‘donated’ to their charity. It did leave a sour taste, and sadly I did not read about it being a scam until later in the day. Fore-warned is for armed as they say. I also discovered that you should not take photos on the lake, as a number of the women bathe bare breasted, that was after I had taken photos…
I was a bit disgruntled from being ripped off so went back up to the hotel, where I took a few photos over the town from the really nice roof top restaurant/relaxing area. It is a bit hazy today, but that has kept the temperature down to a decent level, which I appreciated.
And of course the neighbourhood rhesus macaques!
I spent the evening in the hotel, I am not yet confident enough to walk the streets at night on my own, getting lost in the dark would possibly not be a good idea, though I am sure it is a very safe place. It was a Saturday night and I ended up reading till midnight when the music finally stopped. And the dogs started…
This post has taken two hours to assemble from the already uploaded text and pictures, the internet it diabolically slow here.