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India: Pushkar

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After the night we'd had in Tordi, I for one was glad our next stop was Pushkar; the spiritual home of India, a Hindu pilgrimage, a place where no meat, eggs or alcohol can be found or consumed. A veritable detox spot... I hoped.

We waved goodbye to Tordi Palace in the afternoon and hopped onto our 4x4 to Pushkar; a 2 1/2 hour journey. We did one of our usual toilet stops, where once again, we partook in some chai drinking and went to the loo. Beside the squats was a large cage full of budgerigars and canaries who seemed happy enough. We sat for a while, the ever-increasing heat activating our sweat glands.

Not long after, we arrived at Hotel New Park Inn, a lovely looking place, again with high ceilings and big old-fashioned wooden doors. The hotel has lovely well-manicured gardens as well as a swimming pool (that we weren't brave/energised enough to try out). At the front of the hotel was a notice reminding patrons to cover up their shoulders, knees and chests, to not be publicly intimate and to not drink alcohol or eat meat. The lairy Brit in me wanted to be photographed next to said sign with my boobs out, drinking a Kingfisher, eating a burger and groping someone, but luckily Lauren encouraged me to get a grip (figuratively at least).

We had lunch in the hotel and chuckled at the menu that offered 'fried aborigine' and 'diet cock' and then set off on our orientation walk. As expected the vibe of Pushkar was very 'chill', but as we progressed further into the town this tranquillity evolved into a familiar Westernised commercialism; catering particularly to middle-class European 'hippies' (or as my Dad would call them, Plasti-farians) and Israeli tourists.
There were rows and rows of health-food shops selling bee pollen and spirulina, sometimes with an ayurvedic twist, as well as tattoo parlours and salons offering Hindu symbolism and dreadlocks.

One bonus for us was the proliferation of makeshift pharmacies, where Lauren could pick up some pretty strong cold and flu medicine (that we're pretty sure would be illegal in the UK) for next to nothing. She bought some Sno-Kuff that promises to 'curb the coughing beast' (that's honestly what's printed on the packet) and contains; Loratadine, Paracetamol, Dextromethorphan, Pseudoephedrine, Caffeine and Sunset Yellow - yummy! All for under 50p for 20 tablets - bargain!

Enough about drugs, we then walked to Pushkar lake; a sacred site where many Hindu celebrations and rituals take place. We sat in front of the lake, barefoot and took all of it in, difficult for us to fully appreciate the significance this body of water holds for so many Indians. Our short attention spans were quickly distracted by the roaming street children and stray dogs. There seemed to be more young, unsupervised street children in Pushkar than anywhere else we'd visited. There was one girl, probably around 3 years old, who was full of mischief and charm and was running around the lake playing a game with herself by climbing the stairs with her hands. She had hair I'd not yet seen on an Indian child; a mass of matted black frizz that formed a large mane around her dirty face. She wasn't as enterprising as the other children who were begging or selling, she was in her own little innocent world.

At one point we turned around and saw Mona, our statuesque Norwegian, with all the features of a typical Scandinavian, holding an Indian baby only a few months old. We later realised that said baby was being parented and passed around by what looked like its 5 year old sibling. To be fair to the sister, if there's one way to get money out of me it's by handing me a baby.

We watched the sunset at the lake and refrained from photographs as requested (although many of the hippies ignored the signs) and popped a few metres behind to where our restaurant was for the evening. Lauren, who initially said she wasn't hungry ended up getting two courses; MASSIVE bread pakoras to start followed by a paneer curry. I got a crepe (standard) and everyone else in the crew (including Raj) got pizza.

I must raise an observation here about the service in India that we've experienced. I am by no means generalising all Indian servers or hospitality establishments here, but generally we've found service to be scatty and slow, but ALWAYS with a smile. At every meal, at least one of us was waiting for 20 minutes or more after everyone else had been served and generally meals just took longer than we're accustomed to - which didn't cause issue at all. The other peculiar thing (for us) was that 99% of the servers completely forgot what we'd ordered. So as they were bringing out the drinks or dishes, they would give them to someone else on the table, meaning we'd all have to do a swap and shuffle around. None of this was a hindrance, if anything I see it as an eccentricity of dining in India. Lauren thinks my scatterbrain would fit perfectly and that I should apply for a waitressing job in India.

Anyway, back to the day in hand. It was Michael's birthday and to our surprise at the end of our Indian-Italian meal a big birthday cake came out with his name emblazoned across it. A large (even for 9 people) chocolate ice cream cake. We performed the customary Happy Birthday song and all tucked in. It was a lovely little slice of celebration that our CEO Raj had organised secretly.

One other thing to mention about the evening was the restaurant's toilet facilities. Like many have been, the washrooms were situated outside and round the back of the restaurant. I went at the beginning of our meal and they were pretty standard; one squat and one sit-down toilet, no toilet roll and a communal sink outside (no soap). However we later learned from Helen that when she ventured in at the end of the meal, she was faced with one loo covered in vomit and one covered in shit. Oh and the sink outside was also decorated with puke. If the same person was responsible for all messes I sincerely hope they're ok. Unfortunately we didn't get to experience this sight, otherwise I would have definitely gotten photo evidence for you all.

We retired to bed as we had an early start and I managed to smash a glass across our entire bathroom floor. We sent for assistance and an old gentleman came in with one of the familiar Indian stick-brooms (I'm sure they have a proper name) and put all of the shards of glass in our open plastic bin. Here's hoping the cleaners and bin-collectors are used to getting glassed.

The following morning we arose at 6am ish for our sunrise hike up Ratnagiri hill to Savitri temple. It took about 40 minutes in total and it was pretty damn steep so we all got our heart rates up. I, being an unfit sloth, lagged behind in the second group of climbers, but poor Lauren really suffered getting up there. A combination of old-age and her unique skill at being able to avoid even micro physical movements wherever possible. *Lauren has asked that I mention she was still full of a cough and cold.* We're both now committed to doing 3 star jumps every night before bed. That'll sort it.

We all did make it to the top and were greeted by a beautiful pile of discarded plastic bottles. The view over Pushkar was pretty spectacular and we also saw plenty of monkeys hanging around and jumping from tree to tree. There was a little corner-shop at the top of the hill where we bought some trusted masala chai. The shop owner has a pet dog called Judy who guarded us from monkeys and any stray dogs that wandered up the hill.
We had a look in the temple itself; a shrine to Savitri the wife of Hindu god Brahma.

Filled with pride, sugar and exhaustion, we descended, and went on to visit the Brahma temple. We went into the temple in two groups (with Raj), as it was very busy and crowded. It was nice to see Raj visiting a place of real spiritual significance to him and getting involved in the traditional offerings and gestures. Brahma (who has four faces) is very important as he is the creator-god in Hinduism (GOD standing for Generator, Operator and Destroyer). In the temple there were TV screens so that when it's really busy, people can still see the statue of Brahma and pray to it. Lauren, Mona and I were in the first group and as the other group went in we waited outside on the street with everyone's bags. As soon as the other group and Raj were out of sight we were pounced on by local people wanted photographs of us; with them or on our own, wanting us to hold their babies and pose with their children and family. Soon there was a crowd surrounding us of about 20 people; all ages, men, women and children. We were very much amused if not a little apprehensive as we were guarding everyone's backpacks. Luckily one of our 'fans' spoke good English and told people to keep back and not harass us in Hindi which helped a little. I actually filmed some of it;

We went for a well-deserved breakfast (no meat or eggs) and watched some people on rooftops practising yoga. We then went for ayurvedic full body massages. Lauren and I were together and as soon as we walked into treatment room, the massage therapists (two Indian ladies one of whom was heavily pregnant) didn't bother with any traditional introductory greetings and simply said 'take off all clothes'. We squirmed slightly in our British prudishness but obliged (it's not like we haven't seen each other naked before). We were pummelled for a good hour and it was pretty damn good. I was a little concerned by the copper pot balancing perfectly above my face containing hot oil but it didn't scold me so all good. At the end we were directed to sit down on small stools, facing each other, naked. We were then (and I have no other way of describing this) smacked around our heads and faces for a few minutes. It was a pretty pleasurable experience until my lady roughly tugged on my ears and almost pulled all of my piercings out.

We thanked the ladies and head off back into Pushkar town for lunch and shopping. Shopping was fairly ordinary and boring; there was a bit of bartering which is a bit fun but we didn't get anything outstanding. We then had the best falafel of our lives for less than 2 quid for both of us including drinks. Good food always makes shopping more bearable.

After freshening up at the hotel (Loz washed her hair with a bar of soap because we're too stingy to buy shampoo), we got a Jeep to the sandy planes of Pushkar. There we met the four from our group who were just finishing their camel rides (we didn't do the rides as we're keen not to be part of any animal related activities that could involve cruelty). We were shown to a little camp where cushions and trays had been laid out for us on the sand. We sat down (Indian style of course) and the G Adventures group that were a day behind us turned up too. Soon we were handed traditional male and female Indian clothes to put on. We all though we looked rather fetching in our little cultural appropriation outfits and of course took plenty of selfies. We were then treated to a whole festival of performances; a group of Indian nomadic people (the Kalbeliya tribe) played us some traditional music (drums, singing and some instruments we didn't recognise) and the women veraciously danced. Their homemade outfits were incomprehensibly vivid and had a hypnotising effect. A man of the same group did fire breathing and the women did showed off their crazy flexibility. At one point they dragged all 20 of us up to join hands and dance around the fire-pit after sunset in our traditional dress. A real highlight for me.

By far, our favourite 'act' of the evening was an enchanting young magician (whose name escapes us) who was as funny as he was convincing (very). He had a broad accent but used this fact to his advantage. He made strange noises when he was performing tricks and often double bluffed us all. He referred to his 'magic cello' a stick of some sort that he grazed across the underside of his forearm. He was, and excuse the pun, magical. His closing trick was obviously a good 'un; he made two live doves appear from absolutely nowhere. See video below of him in action;

Oh and I almost forgot, we got fed too, a load of local young men had come to the camp in the day time and prepared all our food on gas stoves in the sand. We had a thali style plate with a few options, not too dissimilar from the traditional simple dal baati dish from Tordi, but with a few extra options like a very spicy chutney and some poppadoms. We also got our favourite pudding; gulab jamon.

After a truly unique experience we went back to the hotel all feeling pretty lucky. I finished the night off by watching the second half of the film Taken which was on the only English TV channel. Lauren slept and coughed and slept and coughed. Bless her.

Posted by advensha 03:47 Archived in India Tagged birds india backpacking travelling backpackers pushkar ayurvedic g_adventures

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Hello you two :o) Just caught up with your latest three posts.It does sound fantastic, and also exhausting, especially when you were both not 100% well. I hope you're both better now?
Nothing exciting to report from here. Lots of rain. Snowdrops out. Last night we went to a really good play at the Royal Exchange, with Julie Hesmondhaugh (Hayley from Corrie) as a professor of Eng Lit dying from cancer. A cheerful little romp, as you may imagine. She is an astonishing actor, and we were stunned into speechlessness by the end. Good stuff.
Did you notice your beautiful classic typo, a couple of days back? When you went to see the block colouring craft thingy, where you had your clothes adored? :o) Ha ha, love that so much :o)
Keep well, lovelies. Lots of hugs comin' your way from over here xxx

by patty

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