Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From Mandawa to Pushkar and Pushkar to Jodhpur and roads where human and animal life coexist. The Hindu religion and learning to make chapatis

Colourful India, women in their beautiful sarees.
Hi again,

Here I am in Jodhpur writing a post on days 3 and 4 of our trip to India. I meant to write everyday but last night in Pushkar I was sick and so had to put off the travelogue until today.

Yesterday morning, 29th December we left dusty and sleepy Mandawa for our second long drive in Rajasthan, this time to Pushkar, a holy city, famous for its Brahma temple to which Hindus and hippies come from all over the world.

It is important to know when you come here that in the Hindu religion there is a trinity of Gods, Brahma, Visnu and Shiva. Brahma is the most important as the creator of the world, Vishnu conserves that world and Shiva destroys it. We are also learning that the famous Indian castes come from Brahma; the Brahman (the most important) who come from his mouth, Kshatria, who come from his arms, Vaisia who come from his legs and Sudra who come from his feet. The famous Parias, more commonly known as untouchables, are the lowest caste and it is not known where they come from. Also women, apparently, do not belong to any castes. Here maybe my Hindu friends can clarify how true this is.

Pushkar is also famous for its lake and ghats where religious people bathe. According to legend the lake was formed when Brahma killed a demon by throwing a lotus petal at it. The lake is a beautiful sight at sun set, but from afar only as it is literally filthy and there is filth all around.

To go inside the temple, you not only have to take off your shoes but you also have to leave any other belongings outside. Thus Eladio and I had to go in one by one. I stayed outside and began chatting to some young boys who ran the “shop” where people paid to leave their shoes and bought flowers and sweets as offerings to the Gods in the temple. We became firm friends and took many photos; the boys gave me some “free” flowers and a tacky souvenir key ring which I shall actually cherish for a long time. I then got told off by our driver who had previously warned us not to accept flowers offered to take to the lake because they were a dupe to get money from tourists. And I apparently, had fallen for it. But not so, because when we got to the lakes, there was no one asking me for money for the flowers.
Me and the 2 boy shoe keepers outside the temple in Pushkar
It is so difficult to know who is genuine and who is there just to take your money. Eladio and I are far more interested in the people than in the monuments and on our way to Pushkar yesterday asked Rajendra to let us get out at one of the towns and walk in the streets. He was a little surprised but let us. We have now done this several times and think the feeling must be similar to being famous and being chased by the paparazzi. You feel everyone looking at you. They are very friendly though and it is only really the children who harass you and then it is mainly the gypsies, except that we cannot tell the difference. You feel like taking the children home and washing them but know that is not possible.
Eladio surrounded by children in a town somewhere on the road between Mandawa and Pushkar.

All the places you see along the roadside are similar, linear villages of different sizes with tiny shops along the streets and endless street vendors. There are mobile phone shops everywhere but absolutely no supermarkets. They don’t seem to exist.

Animal life and human life seem to interact. So far we have seen camels – mostly carrying cartloads, many many cows generally in the middle of the road with vehicles driving around them to continue and buffalos – we saw more than one dead in the road, you see buffalos are not sacred. There are also goats all over the place, and pigs – Eladio even saw a sow which had just given birth and yesterday in Pushkar we even saw monkeys. I have yet to see that majestic symbol of India, the elephant.

Last night in Pushkar I had my strongest Indian experience in that I got sick, very sick and vomited over and over again from a completely empty stomach. I also had a migraine so spent a terrible night. I have a feeling the sickness came from something I ate at lunch in the hotel; possibly the ice cream. We stayed at the Jagat Palace which, as most of the hotels so far, looked better on internet than in reality. They are all a bit decayed and tired looking. Usually the outside, as with most hotels in the world, is much better than the rooms themselves. Knowing which are the good rooms in a hotel is the privilege of those working at the reception desks and this information is never available unless you have been to the hotel before. But it was good enough.

Luckily we had a late start this morning and I had recovered at least enough to get through another journey, for today we were heading for Jodhpur, the second most important city in Rajasthan.

It was to be another long, dusty and bumpy drive with similar experiences from the day before. The highlight of the day was when we stopped off to take a walk in one of the towns on the way and it turned out to have a wonderful temple which we visited and it coincided with prayer (or chant) time. We were crushed into a silver lined room with a frightening looking God at the altar. We were surrounded by colourful looking and smiling ladies praying and chanting. It made us feel so good and perhaps has been our best experience so far. The town was called Meera.
The Meera temple
We decided to skip lunch on the road after last night’s experience but we could not skip a loo stop. Yesterday’s was priceless but today’s was even funnier. We stopped at a decent sized road side café with the usual sights at hand, goats and cows and dogs, men lying on sort of beds outside, unrecognisable food cooking, etc. We then went through the back to the outside loo which I was dreading and found a man sitting down and making flat Indian bread (chapatis). He was very friendly and offered to show me how to make it which I immediately accepted. To do so I had to sit on my heels and roll the pastry into round shapes and put them on the fire; quite simple actually.
Learning to make chapatis on the road to Jodhpur
We arrived in Jodhpur mid afternoon and needed to draw out some cash at an ATM before checking into our hotel. That was another experience. It turned out you could only withdraw 4000 rupees at a time (about 80 euros) so we had to use both our cards and then go to another ATM.

We checked into our hotel, the Ajit Bhawan and got given a nice old room (a bit tired looking again) overlooking the swimming pool.
The delightful Ajit Bhawan oasis hotel in Jodhpur
And that’s the story so far. So am I liking India? My daughter Susana asked me that as did a friend, Blanca. Do I? It’s early days. Certainly my most positive adjectives would be: incredible, colourful, different, surprising and yes warm, both the country and its people are warm, hospitable and welcoming.

Cheers until my next post


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