We have our favourite places in India which we will go back to again and again. Among them are the beautiful mountainous states of Himachel Pradesh and Sikkim, the colour and chaos of Gujurat, the diversity and natural beauty of the north-east states, and the incomparable city of Varanasi. But it’s Rajasthan that really stirs our senses and captures our hearts, and as our train left Madhya Pradesh behind and entered Rajasthan and gradual changes appeared, we became excited and so happy to be coming back! The colours got brighter on the women’s clothes, their silver jewellery heavier and more prominent, men’s turbans grew in size and their leather shoes became pointier.
|Waiting for the train....|
|Train station watching|
Our first stop was just over the border, in the fort town of Chittorgarh. We actually visited this town 15 years ago, but due to a tight budget (and stupidity on our part) we never entered the actual fort. It’s one of the greatest in a state FULL of wonderful forts, but probably more because of its huge size, and violent history.
|Sign on Jain temple, fort|
|Morning light, fort|
|Carvings in fort|
|Temple inside fort|
|Rich and view of Chittor town|
The Rajput caste (warrior caste), ruled Rajasthan for more than 1000 years. They had, and still have, a reputation for being extremely strong, proud and brave people, and Chittorgarh fort’s history is a good example of these characteristics. Over the centuries, three times it was overpowered by stronger enemy forces, and three times the soldiers chose to ride out to meet their rivals, and die an inevitable death courageously, while the women and children chose sati (throwing themselves on a fire) to avoid being taken into the capturer’s hands.
Being so big, the best way to see the fort area is by auto rickshaw. However, we found this method quite restrictive, so after a tour of the main sights, we continued by ourselves on foot. The fort is filled with temples, carvings, palaces, towers, massive gates- not to mention the sweeping views of the new town and surrounding area. When we left the rickshaw, we were also able to wander some of the quiet little lane ways of the residential area where about 4000 people live. Unusually for us, we decided one day was enough, rising very early to look around before the heat, and leave the next day. Fortunately, we had a room with TV, and spent the evening watching India beat Australia in the One Day International cricket.
|Tower in fort|
|Temple inside fort|
|Strange temple in fort|
|Pool with a view|
|Carvings in fort|
|Dressed up for a Muslim festival|
Our first challenge on arriving in Pushkar was choosing a guesthouse. Pushkar is small and easily walked around, but there are so many guesthouses and hotels, it’s hard to know where to start. We dived in, and discovered, that, even though we had arrived 3 weeks before the biggest festival in Rajasthan, the internet had beaten us and many rooms had already been on-line booked for that period. Times have changed since we were here 15 years ago! We ended up being found on the street by a friendly man, one of two brothers, who run a great guesthouse, close to all the action, but quietly tucked down a side street, and scored ourselves a huge room, with big, bright windows, rooftop restaurant for escaping if need be, WIFI (another surprise- it actually worked now and again!), and a bathroom with hot water and TWO TOILETS!!! We spent a long time negotiating the price, and as we wanted to stay one month, including the festival period, so many calculations needed to be made! In the end (“because you are a nice couple”), we settled on 200 rupees per night (AU$3.50), before the festival and 600 rupees per night (about AU$10) during the festival- an absolute bargain, considering most places put their rooms up at least five times as much for the event.
Pushkar is yet another holy place for Hindus, but it has a totally different feeling from the sacred river towns we had come from. The main focus here is the Brahma Temple- supposedly the only or one of the few (depending who you listen to) in the world. Brahma is one of the three main deities in Hindu religion, along with Vishnu, and the hugely loved Shiva. Brahma is not at all popular now days, and the myth about his angry wife putting a curse on him here in Pushkar is supposedly the reason for this.
The town is set around an extremely picturesque lake, full when we visited at the end of the monsoon. There are dozens of different ghats around the lake- apparently each Rajasthani maharaja had his own, so many have lovely palace-like temples adjoining them. Pilgrims and tourists visit the ghats, get a blessing, then carry on around “the circuit” which winds through the back streets around the lake stopping at various holy places. Including the two temples on hills on opposite sides of the town, it’s quite a hike.
|Temple on Pushkar lake|
|Lake at sunset|
|Tranquil Pushkar lake|
|View of the lake from temple|
It’s an amazing sight to watch these people, usually from various Rajasthani villages ambling past in their fantastic garb- just ordinary, everyday clothes for them, but to us so exotic. Women of all ages are dripping with heavy silver jewellery on their ankles, toes, arms and heads, huge bone bangles up their arms, gorgeous saris of bright colours glittering with gold and silver patterns, and backless cholis (little tops), and men dressed in distinctive white wrap-around shirts, white dotis (sarongs), huge red turbans, enormous curled moustaches, and pointy leather shoes. The funny thing was, as unusual and striking as they seemed to us, they all stared at us with probably the same thoughts!
|Rajasthani-style men's shoes|
|Splendid old lady|
|Traditional outfits- everyday wear|
|Bright and beautiful|
|Gorgeous colors in the crowds|
We had a sudden change in body clock during our time in Pushkar, retiring at night very early and waking around 6 am or earlier, to see the place before the crowds. Our favourite thing to do most mornings was the circuit, stopping at different ghats, temples or cafes and watching the world go by, or wandering off side streets and discovering previously unexplored areas of the town. Other days were more planned- walking up each of the big hills for sunset or sunrise, hiring a motorbike to see some of the charming area surrounding the town or checking out the camel traders’ camps as they drifted into the outskirts of town to set up for the festival.
|Love those doorways!|
|Sunrise over Pushkar|
|Rich at the top|
|Sal at the top|
|Hanging out in Pushkar town|
|Backstreets of Pushkar|
One particularly interesting excursion was into a beautiful nearby area, where the scenery was much greener then the desert like town of Pushkar, and temples had been built into the huge boulder-filled landscape. We were invited to dine at “Aloo Baba’s” temple. Aloo means potato, and this holy man is famous for only ever eating that vegetable. The friendly gathering takes place at the temple once a week, and anyone is welcome to take part in the dinner, which consisted of a delicious vegetarian meal, Rajasthani-style, and included some dishes we hadn’t tasted before.
After our month or so crossing India to Rajasthan, staying in little towns without much food variety, it was a dream come true to arrive in a place where almost every taste is catered for. Although Pushkar is vegetarian due to its holy status, the restaurants serve such delicious and varied combinations, we hardly remembered there was no meat or eggs. Due to the huge number of Israelis that visit Pushkar, many restaurants serve up scrumptious dishes of pita bread, falafel, hummus, and various other Middle-eastern flavoured cuisines, which was a welcome change from eating solely Indian food. Our favourite little friendly restaurant had a limited, but tasty menu of mixed Indian, Israeli and Western foods, so we had everything we wanted in one place.
Pushkar hasn’t changed so much from when we were here previously- a few more hotels and shops, but the atmosphere has mostly remained unchanged. It’s fascinating place- full of tourists, both Western and Indian, tiny laneways brimming with cows, pilgrims, beggars, holy men, shops selling everything from religious beads to rave clothing, six-legged “holy” cows, a few mad motor bikers, scam priests trying to retrieve as much money from new arrivals as possible, food varying from basic Indian food to fancy rooftop restaurants with a lake view, wide eyed Indians from the villages, long-term western travellers and buyers, Israelis wearing skimpy inappropriate clothing....it’s the India show, and everyday there is a different performance. But regardless of the mad spectacle, the town somehow retains a semblance of serenity, and being able to escape to the guesthouse and rooftop restaurants definitely helps preserve one’s inner-calm, making it such a wonderful place to stay a while.
|Watching the monkey show|
|They really wanted their picture taken!|
|Pilgrims in the street|