March 23, 2012
Clark and I were up early to attend a yoga class at the hotel – outside as the sun rose over the Aravali hills. The class was great and invigorating, with pranayam (breathing exercises) included.The landscape here reminds me a little of the Palm Desert, scrubby hillsides flanking a greener valley, lots of cactus, hot sun. Checked out of our hotel and were picked up by Jagdish and our guide Prakash, a young Brahmin who was well equipped to explain what Pushkar is all about. It’s a small city of only 22,000, but a major pilgrimage site for Hindus as it has the world’s only Brahmin temple. We visited the temple, leaving our shoes and bags at a coffee shop , and gingerly crossed the street in our bare feet, and up the temple stairs. Though full of history and mythology, the temple itself was visually unremarkable and relatively quiet, explained by the fact that today is Hindu new year and thus begins 9 days of worshipping the major goddesses (Go Dhurga and Kali!), so this week, devotees are forgetting about Brahma. Prakash was an encyclopedia of knowledge about all the Hindu gods and Vedic texts, along with being Rajasthan’s champion chess master. (“People in this state are not well educated,” he said. “so it’s not that hard to be the champion.”)
We walked from the temple to the historically holy Pushkar lake, where people worship and have sacred baths (as they do in the Ganges). Prakash insisted he could drink from the lake, as most apparently do, while explaining to us about the hundred or so bathing and laundry ghats that surround it – not to mention the disposal of ashes of the dead in one section. The lake is also very small. In return for a donation to the city's charity that feeds people, a young Brahmin priest tied sacred string around all our wrists and performed a puja ceremony for the health of our family (all named!) by the water, complete with rose petals, saffron, salt, sugar, and coconuts.
From there we went for a walk through the blistering heat and narrow streets of Pushkar, encountering thousands along with dozens of weary, dreadlocked tourists who have seemingly been hanging out here for a while- all somewhat reminiscent of Kathmandu. Between the cows and the people and the loud chanting of a large roving band of pilgrims, we wilted early and declined a visit to the Sikh temple, choosing instead to thank Prakash and be on our way to Jaipur, 3 hours away. En route we stopped at a restaurant that looked less than promising but which proved to have the best paneer dish we have had since coming to India. Got to Jaipur at rush hour and it took Jagdish ages to navigate the traffic and get us to our very neat and peculiar hotel which, as Blair noted, looks a bit like a warehouse for old furniture. Our room is huge (not being busy, they gave us a choice) and looks out on to a pool which is “usable”(?) according to Raj from reception. Does this mean it’s really a fountain that one might, maybe use for swimming? Sounds dodgy. Had a good dinner and look forward to tomorrow’s full day in Jaipur before flying to Goa on Sunday.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Well, there had to be one AWFUL, never-to-be-repeated tourist event on this trip and we’ve done it. After seeing the Palace of the Winds today (a 4-story, old, old pink façade on a Jaipur street from which (Hindu) women in purdah used to watch the street activities), we drove to the Amber fort outside of the city. We had to get there early to be able to beat the rush for riding an elephant up to the fort. It all sounded manageable until we saw dozens of the poor beasts and their mahouts and the crowds of tourists with the heat was building at 8:30 a.m. They told us that because there was a special Kali festival at the fort today, the elephants would simply walk us around the lower levels. Proceeding reluctantly,we joined the line and finally got on our poor, sad looking elephants with their tattered blankets and faded face paint. Clark on one and Blair and I on another, wishing we had never agreed to this futile exercise, plodding along, trunk to tail, swaying and knowing that this has got to be a pretty sad destiny for those big, gente animals(and their caretakers too, for that matter).
Twenty minutes later we were up at the fort itself, another impressive example of Mughal and Persian architecture, with beautiful mirrored halls being actively restored by local artists and geometric gardens once enjoyed by the king’s twelve wives, each of whom had their own enormous apartment. The old fort sits higher on the hill, connected to the “new” one by underground tunnels used to transfer women and children up to the safer recesses during battle. Blair (and us too, to some extent) is getting forted and palaced out. The heat also forced us back to town where we visited an old outdoor observatory built by a maharaja with an interest in astronomy and astrology. Enormous sundials showed the exact time within seconds as we sagged(Canadian wimps!) and retreated to lunch before the inevitable market experience, where merchants plied their wares. By 2 we were done and have enjoyed a beautifully relaxing afternoon at the Naila Bagh, reflecting on our week in the desert and knowing that we are indeed ready for something a little different. We say goodbye to our dear Jagdish tomorrow morning at the airport, and will have fond memories of his careful driving and charming personality.