Getting spiritual in the holy city of Pushkar!
November 16th. Off we set today (after breakfast, with the skinniest omelettes I've ever consumed!) on our jeeps through the gorgeous countryside to the city of Ajmer, known as the jumping off point for the holy town of Pushkar, where we were headed for a few days!
According to history, Pushkar came into being when Lord Brahma dropped his lotus flower (pushpa) to earth from his hand to kill a demon. At the three spots where the petals landed, water magically appeared in the midst of the desert to form three small blue lakes, and it was on the banks of the largest that Brahma convened a gathering of 900,000 celestial beings. That lake today is revered as one of India's most sacred sites. (thanks for the info, Rough Guide!). Now with all that holy schmoly info, you'd definitely be forgiven for having certain expectations regarding this special place, right!
Hmmmn.... well, the reality was just a tad different. We checked into our hotel, The Purple Garden; quite the hippy hang out; then headed off for our obligatory walk around town to get oriented, as they say! Bit of a strange vibe here; very touristy, full of teenage school children on what could only be described as religious retreats (although they don't behave in the slightest bit holy, pushing you out of the way as about a hundred of them march past you, through the teeny tiny streets here)! There is also a very definite Israeli presence here too. You could literally hear Hebrew being spoken every where you went. Now, as such a place of holy veneration, there are undoubtedly some rules attached to what you can and more importantly, cannot, do here. Pushkar is not only a vegetarian town but also drug and alcohol free. Not that i'm saying teenage school kids and Israeli travelers are huge meat eating, alcohol swilling, drug taking crazy folks! But, I do have quite a few fabby Israeli friends, who i think would probably admit that many of their country-folks do enjoy the odd smoke of wacky-backy every now and then, a real no-no here apparantly! I think I might have mentioned before that many of the younger Israelis who have just left their army service behind, say that they feel the need to rebel against the order and organized structure of that previous life, so you do meet lots of boys who have grown their hair long and now have beards, and girls and boys with piercings and tattoos. Hey, if i had to do military service of any kind, (which i couldn't obviously, 'cos im a complete scaredy cat!) then i too might want to become the complete antithesis of that life. I don't know, just a theory I've been told in the past ...
Anyway, back to the town itself. There were so many clothes and jewellery shops; but I honestly wasn't getting the slightest spiritual vibe whatsoever (just a commercial, canny business person vibe!). But hey, early days yet so we walked around a few of the ghats in time to sit and watch the sunset over the lake, which was quite lovely. There were jugglers, saddhus (holy men), fire eaters, thousands of young kids, and of course the obligatory holy cow,helping himself to leftover chai on the steps of the lake!
Pushkar lake is surrounded by five hundred beautiful white washed temples, connected to the water by 52 ghats. We had been warned that of all places, here in this holy place where people come for spiritual enlightenment and growth, there were so many fake holy men and women, all vying to force pretty flowers on you, then after the fact, explaining to you you have to pay them for the privilige. After all, they are holy men!!!
As we pottered around the many funky, bohemian shops, we noticed there were alot of very floppily dressed folks hanging out, quite a few without shoes on, not even a flip flop, and let me tell you, there was quite a lot of cow poop on the streets, this being a holy place! How chilled out (or just downright gross!)is that!
November 17th. Up before sunrise today (5:30am....why do i decide to do things like this!) to make the early morning walk up the hill to Savitri Mandir,a one hour climb with the pay off of seeing a beautiful sunrise over Pushkar and its surrounding countryside. Well, that was the idea, if one of us actually knew the way! What a pathetic bunch; we got completely and utterly lost, walking down one dark alley way after another. Finally after asking yet another local who looked at us with the disdain correctly attributed to silly tourists,we found the entrance to the hill and started climbing. Colin, Helen and I were determined to make it up that damn hill before the sun came up; hence alot of huffing and puffing ensued. Yes, Helen at around 6ft, you do have fabulous long legs; I on the other hand was taking about 17 steps for Helens one....not fair i say! As it was, our bounding paid off, just as we hit the top, next to the monastery, the sun climbed up from behind the opposite mountain and flooded the valley with gorgeous yellow rays. Well worth it! Well, almost. It was a tad cloudy and to be honest, the sun was pretty, but the view was slightly anti-climactic, but hey, we got some fab fresh air, explored more of the town, had a great chat!!! What more could we ask for! (oh yes, the view, right!)We were promised the wee cafe at the top would be open so we could have our breakfast chai sitting on top of the world. Nah - it wasn't! Oh well, we managed to hang out with a family of monkeys for quite a while instead. Didn't quite take away our chai thirst, but it was funny, watching those wee guys drink from the hanging pots, or look as if they were going to pounce on us as we scrambled past them on our way down the hill (I admitit, some of us scrambled a bit more gingerly than others,but those monkeys were big)!
Visited our fave place, Moondance for breakfast (cutie wee waiter who was from Nepal- I knew it!).Love guessing where people are from - you meet so many different people, but your travel ear and eye becomes attune to accents and certain looks, the more countries you visit (hahahh just kidding, it was a lucky guess!). Lotsa shopping as Pushkar is famous not only for its spirituality but also for its silver, and let me tell you, there are stores galore selling the most gorgeous trinkets - bracelets, earrings, toerings - yup, i bought them all!
Dont quite know why, but none of us really raved about this place. Was it the overt traveler trend, seeing people trying way too hard to be "chill, man, just chill". Was it speaking with local cafe owners who told us that since it became such a hip/hippy place for people to visit, it had grown in size but with that growth came a seismic shift away from the local, community feel, where everyone knew their neighbours, to the current situation where there are almost too many businesses offering their wares to tourists. We talked about this alot when we were traveling. We are all looking for these special, secret places; local people do all they can to provide for the tourists who find these special locations. The more tourists make the new place "the" place to visit, the more local people try to give us what they think we tourists/travelers want. The end result is that these places become less and less the "special, one of a kind location" you want to visit unfortunately. Does this make any sense?
Anyway,time to move on from Pushkar and its amazing silver stores, say goodbye to the fake saddhus and their flower games, and we especially won't miss the plethora of cow poop and extraordinary number of flies here..we are off to sunny Jaipur for our next exciting adventure!