When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go…sure its answering nature’s call, the call to hit the road, to travel, face the elements. No amount of prior planning will make a trip happen. You just have to do it. Yes I know it sounds like a Nike ad, but that’s how it was that beautiful morning. Pack up, zipped up waiting for Manmeet to come whisk me off on his stead, well blazing red Swift at least. Of course he didn’t think it necessary to warn me about the red velvet seats that matched the exterior. At 7 in the am? Goggles mandatory. After the cursory muttered greetings to Ritu who I was meeting for the first time, it was off to pick up the fourth man…to complete the quartet of buffoons.
After that the tarmac was just a matter of time. It was familiar territory with the exception of having our rear ends comfortably ensconced in red velvet as opposed to:
Flashback: March, 2005 Excuse the French, rear numbing five-hour ride on bike Rexene. It is not a figment of my fertile imagination but corns may have started making their presence felt on my derriere.
Back to the present: Maharaja Hotel, fly infested table and leftover food from previous holiday makers, that looked like it was been passed up by elephants in camel country. Assault on sensibilities of unsuspecting family units by imagery of Saurabh and Ritu, Manmeet and me on the see saw, at different times. Disturbia in suburbia, we managed to dodge filthy looks from onlookers.
En route while singing in full throated lusty voices to Punjabi songs, all the while looking like a terrorist complete with regalia (read ray ban aviators and checked keffiyeh). Interjected by horrified looks from American pensioners in Innovas.
Pit stop at the theka, “angreji sharab ka” and Manmeet was duly dispatched to get cold beer and condiments for Ritu and me where we proceed to get on the “highway”, while good boys Saurabh and Manmeet continue to entertain us with their baritones (don’t take my word for it though, the baritone that is).
Microcosm Vs Macrocosm
Having reached Pushkar around noon, we find to our collective irritation that we can’t get the car into the hotel. Information given to us by clusters of rotund and indifferent policemen at intervals of 10 minutes along the way. By which time the vein in my right temple starts throbbing. After flashing the ubiquitous press card which gives some temporary relief, we manage to get the car into the entrance of the lane leading to the hotel that is flanked by a Gurdwara. Only to be stopped by another cop. Manmeet then flashes another more important card, the Surdy card. Et voila! The gates of the Gurudwara open as if by magic. We park the car inside the premises.
Morning Buffoonery/ Déjà vu
Further arguments with the cops ensue. Turns out we need a pass from the District Magistrate’s office to take the car into the hotel and the rest of Pushkar. So it’s off to the mela grounds for Manmeet and me into the blistering heat and dust. Endless reels of red tape and 2 hours and much rummaging through an old trunk by a fidgety bureaucratic type later, we were handed the yellow slip. By which time it wouldn’t have been an exaggeration to say that both Manmeet and I would have happily consumed one of the prized bulls being auctioned in the cattle fair.
To the first timer, Pushkar hits you full in the solar plexus. The stark mounds of dust and asafetida, rock and shrubbery, the press of the two and four legged, fluorescent green, yellow, blue and pink. Textures colliding, each wanting its rightful place under the sun, sundried faces and then the white wash of the houses surrounding the tranquil lake. The placidity broken by loud speakers blaring bhajans. Come one come all. Labyrinths of gullies cutting through humanity. Topsy turvy shops.
Sunset Café & Co.
Location location location, the three rules of business. Sunset café on the waterfront is the best place to chill. The food is a bit dodgy, the simple marguerite is your best bet. You may even get the stoic company of some ganja infused sadhu. Every westerner’s idea of India. Saffron, banyan tree. ‘Recomanded by Lonely Planet’. Plenty to choose from, Pushkar Hotel, Moon Dance Hotel, Hotel Paramount Palace, Hotel Hare Rama, take your pick. Go with the flow, take it slow and do as you’re told.
ATTENTION FOR TOURIST
PUSHKAR IS HOLY PILGRIMAGE
PLZ KEEP SHOES 30 FEETS AWAY
WOMAN SHOULD DRESS UPWELL IN PUBLIC
DRUGS/NON VEG STRICTYPROHIBITED IN TOWN
RESPECT THE HINDU CULTURE
TAKECARE OF YOUR VALUABLE GOODS
KEEP PUSHKAR CLEAN
HAVE A PLEASENT STAY IN PUSHKAR
Falafel, hummus, carrot and chocolate cakes sold in steel bins on thelas. All washed down with a dip in the holy lake. Disappointingly, no place that sells dal bati choorma, the Rajasthani staple. Make do with kachori served with piping kadhi from the corner shop halwai.
After wandering through half of Pushkar the first day and taking in the famous Brahma temple (the only one of its kind). Getting free medical attention and eye drops from the medical camp soothed burning, brimming eyes helped immensely. After some dilly dallying in the bazaar followed by more vegetating at Sunset Café, we wound our way back to our hotel. There after, it was a night cap one too many (on my part), dancing to many a raunchy number with Saurabh and Manmeet looking suspiciously like truckers for a night on the town. More meaningless banter in the balcony and much later at 4 am Saurabh decides to amuse himself with bawdy numbers filled with expletives the kind that shall not be named here.
Paglawt and Neenee arrive. Exuent Saurabh, Manmeet & Ritu.
Paglawt and Neenee (names changed to protect identity) make their presence felt while on their way to Pushkar. They get lost. After numerous exchanges of convoluted directing of the way, they finally drove into town. Neenee looks like she’s on the verge of bursting an artery. They have been forewarned about the yellow slip situation. We decide its easier flouting rules and get the hotel manager to argue with the cops to get the car inside. Paglawt’s first trip to these parts from distant Mumbai. Crowd control comes naturally to her. Both of us are rampant shoppers and nothing gives us more joy than to scour the bazaar for the best deals. Clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery, nothing is off limits. Where else would you buy vintage saris? Totally sinful silk wrap arounds in jewel tones. Mad combinations for the boho chic. All you need is a bagful of imagination and a pocketful of cash!
At the hub of it all is the fairground, spread over a relentless dust bowl. Everyone converges here, the cattle traders, jolly villagers, the jingle jangle of bells and rings, all in mounting psychedelic profusion. Jarring speakers advertising Calcutta porn. A supposedly more lurid version I suppose. On closer inspection Paglawt found out it was a man dressed in what can only be called skimpy drag. So much for the real thing. Film posters screaming out to the crowds, Sunny Deol menacingly shackled in ‘Zanjirey’ and Mithun da the self appointed protector of the masses in ‘Watan ke Rakhwaley’. Sons of the soil both.
Huge Ferris wheels lined up, churning, revolving: sitting in one three times consecutively can be both exhilarating and torturous. To those harboring a death wish try the giant swinging boat. Screaming ourselves hoarse when faced with a perpendicular view of the ground below. No seat belts. In between the clatter of all this, rows of bodies huddled in the dirt, inviting sleep. Ambition or just desperation?
The daytime tableau couldn’t be more different than the nighttime disco. Jay walking leads to us being whisked off in a camel taxi to the farthest ends, where gypsies smell the scent of cold hard cash and descend like flies around us. Plying their sticky sweet banter and henna. We can’t help but give in. To have cool henna put in random fashion on hot dry palms- 200 bucks And then to be serenaded with hauntingly beautiful sarangi accompanied by smoke roughened voices rising like the dust – priceless.
Dusk the next day. After arranging for a night safari for 2000 rupees, Neenee couldn’t seem to shake off a growing cynicism about our choice. We decide to stick to our plans and meet X. Climb aboard two waiting camels, mine’s called Rocky. Up down up down the dunes we go. Past the exclusive billowing white designer tents where the rich have marked their territory. To a ditch where we disembark and are told this is the hot spot for the evening’s entertainment. After building a weak fire, the guide tells us the gypsies will arrive shortly. 15 minutes later and a troop of snake charmers arrive. Half an hour of forced conversation and dance, they leave. Next comes cold dal batti. We can’t help but fight the sense of anti climax. I suggest you read between the lines if you are ever offered a night safari in Pushkar.
Back inside our room at the Sarovar, we empty our shoes of the sand and our minds for sleep. Very different from previous nights where aided by alcohol, stories were spun in the company of bougainvilleas.
This ATM is Dead!
Time to pay up and leave. Slight problem, we’re out of cash, on person at least. Ok so what do we do now? Walk across town to one of two ATMs. Punjab National Bank happens to be closer which becomes the obvious choice considering Paglawt has a flight to catch from Jaipur at 5 pm. Slight problem, the ATM does not accept Visa cards! So its off to the next and only remaining ATM for us, the State Bank of Jaipur or some such. We are greeted with a serpentine queue of twitchy people. You know when you feel something is going to go horribly wrong? Well. Don’t give in to it, because it will bite you in the ass. Current or savings, Withdrawal or blah blah blah? But what do you punch in when faced with a dead screen? Punch yourself in the face maybe? For not being smart enough to have kept cash ready. So here we are, no money to pay our hotel bills, one of us has a flight to catch, and two of us have to drive all the way to Delhi. You had better pray for some divine intervention and take a walk. Back after half an hour and hallelujah! The ATM has been restored to its former glory.
Long Way Back
All lofty plans of taking in Forts Amer, Nahargarh and Jaigarh outside the pink city were abandoned. We headed out of Pushkar through ridges hugging the hillsides, negotiating bends. Phlegm filled coughing from the car, farting thick black smoke followed by silence. Neenee’s attention is brought to the indicator pointing at E. E for empty tank, E for the explosion inside each of us we are trying to thinly disguise. Good Samaritans in tight jeans come our way. We are told to make it to the nearest petrol pump that’s just down the road. We find it and tank up. A long loop, the result of a missed turn and we say goodbye to Paglawt who makes it just in time for her flight to Mumbai. I take over the wheel and chase the remaining daylight to Delhi. Barely an hour of driving and its already getting dark. Driving on the Delhi Jaipur highway at night is like playing a video game according to Neenee. Couldn’t agree with her more. It’s bumper-to-bumper trucks all the way. We cross Neemrana and look for some food. I pull over by a dhaba, the deciding factor is the sight of a family. We quickly order food, by the time the food makes its appearance, the family has left. Growing paranoia makes us shovel food down. Suspicious looking characters prowl around us. Curious to smell the slightest hint of fear on our faces. It’s nine in the night. Two women, one Scorpio. We get the hell out of there. Neenee takes the wheel. Home. I spill out of the car, its past 11. Too tired to even speak. The full impact of Pushkar hits you when you’re behind your desk at work the next day.
The nearest airport from Pushkar is Jaipur. Jaipur is well connected to all the major cities which includes Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Jodhpur, Udaipur. Recently, flights to Dubai has also started from Pushkar by Indian Airlines.
Pushkar is 11 km from main Ajmer bus stand. Rajasthan Roadways run very comfortable deluxe buses from Jaipur. There are buses from Jaipur to Ajmer every 15 minutes, some nonstop. The roads are very good, and it takes around 3 hrs from Jaipur. You can also come by hire private cars.
The nearest railway station for Pushkar is Ajmer, which is on the Broad Gauge and hence connected to all the metro cities of India. There are daily trains from Delhi in morning (Shatabdhi Exp).
Pushkar is a relatively small town and easy enough to get around on foot There are no auto-rickshaws in the town center. A bicycle is best to get around
(By Nina Sangma, Travel Editor, Hillele.org)