Sunday, 19 March 2017

#10 Pushkar part 3: An Ashram, an argument and Holi!

There's a saying that goes something along the lines of 'it's not where you travel but who you travel with.'

As a solo traveller I previously had trouble accepting that saying but this trip I've met and shared experiences with so many interesting people I think it definitely holds some truth even for those travelling alone.

I met the Mumbai friends at their hotel the next morning and after waiting until midday to reach consensus on what they were doing for the day we drove to an ashram of a mysterious Aloo Baba.

The Mumbai friends reminded me of my friends back home in that they argued and bickered as only old friends can. But at the same time I could tell they were all really glad to be together again.

AIoo Baba was a fascinating man who ate only potatoes. The energy of the ashram was so calming. I sat under a tree with SCMG and his friends for a while listening to Aloo Baba even though I couldn't understand a word  - pondering about what wisdom he was sharing.

The ashram seemed to be carved out of stone and covered in a layer of whitewash. The building was an unconventional shape and included a quiet, cave-like space which I assumed was for meditation. I sat with some of the Mumbai friends for a while in silence and concentrated on the soft, steady 'plink' of water drops falling from the mouth of a cow idol.

Now this was more like it. I was so done with markets and shopping and all things consumerist. As I said before I didn't come to India looking for anything in particular but I was and still am certain it's not souvenirs.

That afternoon we stopped for food at a cafe in the middle of what seemed like a desert which claimed to serve only organic food. How very hipster for a place in the middle of nowhere I thought to myself.

We sat under a straw roof on a woven bench and waited. And waited and waited. We waited in total for three hours for two salads and a small lentil dish but thats irrelevant really. Whilst we were waiting something that I thought was wonderful happened. The Mumbai friends probably didn't think so.

After about two hours they started arguing. And it wasn't just a little disagreement - it was one of those a full on ethical debates that really exposes a persons core values. As an outsider and a someone who didn't know anything about the ethics of the large Indian corporation they were fighting about, I couldn't to do much but observe. It is a strangely inimate experience watching people you have only known for less than 48 hours argue like that.

Later I told SCMG, who admittedly had lost some of his chill during the discussion, that I thought their discussion was brilliant. It was the perfect example of what can happen when people are forced to put down their phones and spend time with one another.

He partially agreed but from his perspective he had been having the same disagreement for many years with his friends and was at the stage where talking about something passionately was becoming frustrating and didn't make any difference to the world at all. I think we can all probably relate to that feeling.

I concluded SCMG was an idealist and his friends were realist. The two will always disagree. But shouldn't we aim for ideal when it comes to ethical decisions? Isn't that how change comes about?

Finally it was Holi, March 13, the day we had all been waiting for and an experience not easily summed up in words.

Deliberately missing my train and staying in Pushkar for Holi was the best decision I've made this entire trip so far. Crowds of people gathered on the streets tossing powders in the air and covering one another in every colour of the rainbow. Young and old. Local and foreigner. At work and partying. Everyone was fair game.

The streets, once lined with stalls, were now lined with a thick carpet of pinkish powder underfoot and the mishmash of telephone and powerlines above were adorned with items of clothing that had been ripped off men in the crowd as per tradition.

It was a brilliant, dusty experience and I was so grateful I had found a group of people to share it with. It wasn't a place I would have wanted to go alone. In the back of my mind I knew that if anyone tripped they wouldn't be getting back up unharmed. Thankfully SCMG was looking out for me even though this was his first Holi in Pushkar as well and he was equally as in awe as I was.

After dancing* for a while and eating at the Sunset Cafe we retired to the Mumbai friends hotel for beer and showers before everyone promptly fell asleep. I'm not sure if it was something in the powders, quite possibly ganja, that made everyone so tired or the fact we hadn't gone to bed until 3.30am that morning.

*everyone at home knows I can't dance so it would be more accurate to write awkwardly bobbing up and down whilst trying to take in the scene around me and not lose sight of the group.

The rest of the day passed in a haze of sleep, cigarette smoke and delicious Rajasthani food.

The colours would soon fade from our skin but the memories would remain as vivid as ever.

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