Sunday, 19 March 2017

#8 Pushkar part 1: Pilgrims and perplexities

That evening I discovered my train to Ajmer was actually at 10 am the next morning. Not at night as I originally thought. I quickly packed up and organised another rickshaw driver to pick me up and take me to the station.

With my confidence still a bit shaken I vowed to keep my head down and ooze fuck off vibes to the extreme.

I plugged in my iPod and didn't speak with anyone. There was a family travelling complete with a young baby, a baby carry pack, an enormous backpack and a pram. Here I was finding it difficult to look after myself in this crazy country whilst they were looking after each other and a small helpless human being as well. It gave me the perspective I needed to shake off the self pitying mood that had crept in and get back to almost normal.

When I arrived in Ajmer, the city closest to my destination of Pushkar, an Australian backpacker asked if I would like to share a taxi which I gladly accepted. I had felt him following me from the train station but was still in a not making eye contact zone.

It turned out he had lived in New Zealand and had spent time in Nelson and Whangarei, even going to Parua Bay Primary for a bit! What are the chances.

After I checked into my hotel I met him outside and wandered around the lake trying to find his accomodation. I knew very little about Pushkar and wished I had read up about it before I left. Unfortunately I discovered I'd left my guide book in Jaipur. That guidebook was obviously trying to escape as it's the second time I've left it behind somewhere. This time it was successful in its quest for freedom. So I began my stay in Pushkar very much in the dark about where I was and why Mr Travel Agent had sent me here.

We wandered down to the lake which I now know, post Google search, was meant to have been created when a Hindu god dropped a lotus flower on this very spot. Now pilgrims come from all over India to bathe in the holy water.

As we stepped on to the ghats a woman selling some kind of seed gestured for us to remove our shoes. So we headed off in the direction of where the Australian guy thought his hostel was, our toes curling amongst the cow poo, pidgeon poo and human spit.

We were almost there when a man took my hand and told me to come with him for some kind of blessing. Not wanting to make any more cultural faux pas as we had done with the shoes, I went with him naively under the impression it was a simple Hindu ritual. I soon realised I was expected to give a donation for a blessing I didn't actually want.

I was so done being nice by this stage I'm ashamed to say I lost my temper. He told me I needed to donate enough to help feed a family the same size as my own and that if I did this I would get good karma.

At first I made the rather cowardly decision that the best way to get out of the situation was to simply get up and walk away. Which is exactly what I did. I could see the Australian guy also getting the same treatment and I wanted to warn him but my holy man, who also happened to be wearing a nice pair of jeans, got very angry at me.

I felt a bit bad so I gave him about 7 rupees. It turned out this was more of an insult than anything and he continued to chase me across the ghats asking me why I was running like a crazy person. The events of the past day and constantly being charged too much caught up with me and I snapped at him that I was getting very tired of being treated like a walking ATM machine.

A few more angry exchanges and he finally left me alone. I could see Australian guy had parted with some cash. He had been given a blessing and marked with red on his forehead and given a bracelet.

Maybe the money did go to help feed hungry families and maybe I was incredibly rude. I hope for the Australian guys sake his family is well looked after by the Hindu gods.

We found the hostel shortly after and chilled in the roof top cafe for a bit whilst I recovered from my bout of angriness. Thankfully the rest of the time spent in Pushkar would prove a completely different experience and one I will never forget.

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