Friday, 7 November 2014

Incredible India: Part 11: Pushkar I

world-map delhi

Moving on from a Muslim holy city to a Hindu one, Pushkar is somewhere that I had no high hopes about before arriving and yet thoroughly enjoyed. Ok, so it’s got a lot of tie-dye and falafels but now and again even an old cynic like me can cope with that.

Not that you have to go all the way to India to get spiritual mind. Yesterday I headed out on a short pilgrimage encompassing three counties and five saints. I ogled millennia old carvings and meditated in a cave where an anchorite once lived before checking out a spooky crypt where I saint once had his shrine before finally crossing over to a holy island. All that before tea time. Anyway, the V-log will be up on here soon. Promise.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt
Flickr album of this journey

Links to other parts of the the travelogue:

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pushkar map


The next stop on my itinerary after Ajmer lay just over the hills to the west of the city. Just 13km away from one of Islam's holiest shrines in India is Pushkar, one of Hinduism's holiest cities. And seeing that this trip was fast becoming some sort of spiritual odyssey and that I had explored virtually nothing of India's main faith, then this seemed like the natural place to head.

I hired a tuk-tuk from the station and, my baggage loaded in the back, off we went, past Ana Sagar, the large artificial lake to the north of Ajmer and then up the hill that separates the two holy cities. On the steep rocky slopes as my carriage wheezed its way upwards there was a tribe of monkeys playing, jumping from boulder to boulder, and it seemed that once we'd conquered the summit, we were in a wholly different India entirely, a land of craggy peaks, the sprawling urbanity but a dream, instead a small town of temples clustered around a holy pool. This was the India that I had imagined but so far not experienced.

Tuk-tuks are not allowed into the maze of streets that surround the holy pool of Pushkar, so I was dropped off on the edge of town and wandered on in until I found a hostel, one of dozens of similar backpacker establishments, this one named the 'Rainbow Hostel' charging a princely 300 rupees per night making it my cheapest sleep in India. Then, my bag deposited, I went off to explore.
People who've known me for some time will be aware that, despite having done more than my fair share of backpacking, I am no fan of mass backpacking and rampant commercialism associated with independent travellers. That's one of the reasons why I so love Eastern Europe: it is affordable and interesting but has none of the fake counter-culture hassle that plagues so much of South East Asia.

And Pushkar.

Pushkar was, without doubt, one of the biggest backpacker hotspots that I have ever set foot in; an Indian Pham Ngu Lao, all tie-dye and tantric tack. Vegetarian cafés, CD shops, yoga hawkers and hostel after hostel after hostel. Yet despite all this, despite the fact that I longed to despise it all, for some inexplicable reason, whilst I didn't exactly like it, it didn't bother me either. Pushkar could cope with it and, what's more, despite it, Pushkar was still incredible.

Pushkar is small, less than 15,000 souls according to my guidebook, which may explain its appeal: unlike anywhere else that I'd been in India it was manageable and one could get to know it intimately. Even so, that is not the reason why I liked it so much. My guidebook said that the town has “a magnetism all of its own, and is quite unlike anywhere else in Rajasthan” and from the little that I've seen, I would agree. Clustered around its pool which itself is only 300 metres across, are to be found a plethora of temples with bathing ghats at the water's edge. That's because the pool is said to have appeared when Brahmā – the Hindu god of creation and the first in the Hindu Trinity along with Vishnu and Shiva – dropped a lotus flower. Such an outwardly fanciful tale demonstrates why I, with a Western mindset, struggle so much to comprehend Hinduism, but at Pushkar such theological difficulties do not get in the way. The place is holy even if you don't really get why. I wandered through the bustling backpacker-brimming streets before heading down an alleyway to the pool itself and then strolled barefoot over the ghats before sitting on the stone steps of the Varan Ghat and watching the sun set over the temples and mountains. How can I describe that scene? The dying sunlight twinkling on the ripples in the water caused by bathing devotees, drums sounding out a rhythm as the temple priests marked the close of the day, a flock of birds taking off and circling the waters whilst the sky-blue buildings lining the waterside passed into shadow as the sky above them turned to orange. It was spiritual, it was beautiful, it was incredible, the Incredible India of the tourist brochures and yet, unlike the palm-fronded beaches of white sand or Alpine peaks topped with snow or ornate stone cities frozen in the pre-modern world, this paradise image not only lived up to the dream, it surpassed it as faith saturated every stone and that is something that even the best photographer cannot capture.

And I drank it all in with joy and thanks.

Sunset over the sacred pool

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