Pushkar is the ultimate hippy city filled with vagabonds, dreadlocks and tie dyed t-shirts. It’s also been heavily influenced by Israeli travellers. Everything is in a combination of English, Hindi and Hebrew, from shop signs to greetings from locals. Ali and I arrived in Pushkar just after 3 in the morning, extremely exhausted from the bumpy ride in our “sleeper” bus. It let us out on a very dark and quiet road with no signs of human life, just an errie chai stall still open even in the dead of night. After waking up a sleepy tuk tuk driver who was napping in the back of his auto, we cruised down the empty street to the gate of Chacha’s Garden, our chosen guesthouse for the weekend, which was bumping hilarious trance tunes even at the ungodly hour. Ali and I made our way through the gate and continuously banged on the door until someone could hear our high pitched voices yelling “hello!” over the vibrating beats. A slightly chunky Indian man with a black t-shirt and bags under his eyes opened the door and greeted us with a smile. We stepped into the small reception area and out into the courtyard garden which was inhabited by about 15 Israelis sitting comfortably in big cushiony chairs with beers, cigarettes and hash in hand. Painted on the wall just outside the door of the courtyard is a list of rules regarding visiting Pushkar. There are about 10 written but the one that stuck with me the most was “strictly no alcohol or drugs are to be brought into Pushkar as it is a holy city”. Well you won’t find them for public sale in Pushkar but they are available just about 3 kilometres outside the city and can be purchased at almost any restaurant within the main bazaar or from just random people selling them out of their bags. No big deal. We weren’t in the mood for any rule breaking at that hour though so we quickly introduced ourselves to the good looking Israelis then dove into our beds to sleep off the long week.
We awoke to trance music still playing and walked down into the courtyard to fin
d the same guys we had chatted with before bed, still awake and jamming out. Apparently Israelis really know how to party and they sure proved it in just a few hours of us being there. As we sat to have breakfast, sipping coffee and reviewing our Lonely Planet guide, the same all-nighters packed their bags and left for Varanasi. No sleep and ready to go. Super troopers.
During our breakfast of coffee and cornflakes, we met Chacha, the owner of the guesthouse. A funky man in his thirties who smokes at least two cigarettes a minute and really enjoys using ‘psychedelic’ as an adjective for just about everything. He explained to us that Pushkar is a great city to cruise around via motorbike, therefore you can rent them from just about anywhere and they are super cheap too. From Chacha’s you can rent one for 220 rs. per day (under $5 CDN). The idea peeked our interest but neither of us know (ahem, knew) how to drive one. This didn’t seem to be a concern for Chacha, his mission that morning was to teach us how. So there I was, in the middle of the main road outside of Pushkar dodging cows and potholes while Chacha showed me how to change gears and balance myself on the bike. I was silently screaming the whole time. I do NOT trust my motorcycle skills so do not EVER let me convince you to ride with me.
The ‘inside’ of Pushkar reminds me a lot of Udaipur. The bazaar is filled with narrow streets and rows and rows of shops, tea stalls and small cafes. We followed a young gentleman down to the holy lake where we were given beautiful red flowers to place in the water. Two men sat us down separately and engaged us in a blessing ritual that many come from all over India to take part in. Although it was a really lovely prayer they did for us, which included placing holy water on our heads, shoulders and hands as well as reciting a blessing for our families, the follow-up of asking for money really ruined the experience. Almost every spiritual encounter I’ve had in India has been followed by someone asking for my money. It’s especially annoying when they start talking about how karma is much more important than money but then won’t let me walk away without emptying my pockets. After putting a couple of rupees each in the donation box, while cursing under our breath, we took to a walk around the lake, passing monkeys, cows and lovers sitting on the steps of the ghats. We couldn’t help but notice all the beautiful Israeli men…we will definitely be paying a visit to the country in the near future.
Pushkar is home to one of the only Brahma temples in the world. In a nutshell, Lord Brahma is a Hindu god that was cursed by his first wife because she found him with another woman, who he also wed. The curse was that he would never be worshipped outside the city of Pushkar. The temple is quite beautiful and houses a really interesting tree where you make a wish and place a flower within its branches in hopes that it will come true. Before leaving I caught myself staring at one of the women praying intensely to Lord Brahma. I’ve never seen so much passion in a single prayer. Her face was calm and her eyes were closed but there was so much energy extruding out of our hands that were set at her chest in prayer. The world around her didn’t exist, it was just her and Brahma. Religion is such a powerful thing in India and it so unknown to me. I could imitate Hinduism and try my hardest to believe the way they do but the type of love and worship they show their gods is something that cannot be taught, it’s truly embedded in their heart and soul. It makes sense that you can never truly be a Hindu unless you are born into the religion.
Lunch that day, and basically every meal all weekend, was spent at Shiva Juice Bar and Café. A seriously cheap and delicious spot with menu items such as coconut lassis, Nutella naan, aloo tikke (a freaking tasty, fried potato cake) and fresh falafel sandwiches. Ali and I ate like kings for just 80 rs. We became quite friendly with the adorable little boy who works there too. He’s probably about 10 and such a funny little person. Ali and I would always sit outside to eat, since the café is busy at all hours of the day, so he’d come and swat away the cows and angry beggars so we could enjoy our meals in peace.
Before sunset, Chacha took the two of us via motorbike about 10 km outside the city to catch the sun lower behind the mountains. Although the view wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be, we did get to climb up a small mountain alongside a herd of hungry goats and visit a beautiful temple set at the mountain's base. We made our way down steep marble steps into a small underground space to pray to Lord Shiva. Chacha starting chanting, handing us flowers to place on miniature Shiva and Ganesh sculptures while lighting beautiful smelling incense he brought along with him. We all sat crossed legged with our hands in prayer. After his deep, calm voice came to the end of his chant, he turned to look at us and said “full power, 24 hour”. We burst into laughter. He is such a funny character. We stopped by the guesthouse on the way back before heading out into the main bazaar with the Israelis. We settled at Mango Tree, a lounge-styled restaurant full of tourists. We sat on carpets surrounding a rectangular table drinking “forbidden” King Fisher and listening to irritating trance music. We chatted with a cool Israeli girl who explained that Holi is extremely popular in Israel which is why there are so many Israeli tourists in the holy city for the month of March.
The rest of the weekend was odd. The weather started to turn on us and it began to rain constantly, restricting what we could really do in Pushkar. India is really not equipped to deal with rainfall. Everything is outside, most shops and stalls don’t have roofs and all guesthouse common areas are courtyards or gardens. All you can really do is sit and relax in the comfort of your guesthouse's reception area or find a rooftop restaurant with an actual roof (ironic, huh?). Fortunately Pushkar is a really great city for just hanging out and doing absolutely nothing so the rain didn't ruin the day for us. The vibe in the small city is very relaxing and it is quite quiet because it is a holy city. It’s just the Israelis who make it so loud and happening.
Since Sunday was another cloudy day, we thought we would check out Ajmer, a big city about 10 km outside of Pushkar. We drove over a mountain and down into the boring looking city, instantly wanting to turn around and go back as we reached the bus station. Ajmer is a really ugly city and isn’t known for much except its fort and mosque and we saw neither. Everyone we asked gave us false directions and we ended up lost within the back alleys of the city. After about an hour of searching, we made our way straight to the bus station and headed right back over that mountain. As we walked back from the bus stop to our guesthouse, we passed the same kids that had been filling and playing with water balloons all weekend. One really evil looking one looked up at me as he tied his balloon. We locked eyes and he began to raise his arm. "Don't you dare throw that at me!" I yelled with a giggle. He looked me straight in the eye, with absolutely no humour in his voice and said "why? This is my country". My jaw dropped, I turned away trying to ignore what I had just heard but the little bastard threw the balloon straight at my butt. I grew extremely tense as my body filled with anger. His words were ringing in my ear. I didn't care that he threw the balloon or the fact that my ass was soaking wet, it was the tone in his voice. It was hate. Something I had not heard, seen or felt yet in India. Although it ruined my mood for the afternoon and put a scar on my heart, I couldn't help but think of all the bullying in North America where similar harsh words are said by children and adults to immigrants and tourists, especially those from India and the Middle East. This situation happens almost everyday at home. People of all ages are always making jokes and outcasting those with certain religious and cultural views, attire and accents. Everyone is guilty of it and no matter what age you are, it hurts when it's directed at you. We live in such a beautiful world and so much hate is taught around us. Even in a city full of peace and love, hate can still be found.
I was unable to get on a bus Saturday night, when I was suppose to head back to Gajner (as our weekend is Friday and Saturday), so making my 10pm bus Sunday evening was a must. It was sadly a bus ticket for one, as Ali’s time with EduCARE has come to an end, but it wasn’t our goodbye as tomorrow myself, Lachlan and Mathilde will be returning to the holy place to celebrate Holi alongside my little Spanish girl. With tons of time to spare, we made our way to the main bus stop, my mind still focussed on that cruel little boy. Half way there the sky began to crackle with thunder and then it did something I hadn’t really experienced yet in India. It rained…hard! Like, the sky released the entire Atlantic ocean onto the streets of Pushkar. We sheltered ourselves under the awning of a shop, standing on a platform watching as the rain washed away everything in the street. In some areas of the road, the water reached our knees! Everything was flooded.Well, there goes my bus I thought. Two buses missed…shit. “Don’t worry, the rain will probably stop in 5 minutes” Ali commented. A half an hour went by. 10 o’ clock came and went. We dragged our feet through the grey water that was rushing down the hill of the street, washing away everything in sight. Please Brahma, let there be a bus for me! By the time we reached the bus stand on the main road, our feet were black and covered in dirt, cow dung, scratches, and we were soaked head to toe. I’m officially nervous for monsoon season.
The main bus stop, Marwar bus stand, is set at a point in which two main roads meet. Under the awning of a chai stall, two men gave up their seats so we could sit and dry off. Although it was well after 10pm, they all reassured me that my bus was on its way and hadn’t left without me. We sat sipping chai and chatting with an adorable Indian boy who looks exactly like Michael Jackson as a teenager. Just after 11pm, a sleeper bus pulled up. It wasn’t the bus I booked but it was a bus going to Bikaner. Thank you Brahma! I paid the 200 rs. fee and climbed onboard sitting up at the front with the driver and the ticket man. We chatted for a bit then he led me to a seat in the back where I could rest for the remainder of the journey. Seven hours later, after a very bumpy ride filled with shortcuts dodging flooded roads, we arrived in Bikaner.
Tomorrow I'm off again to that little city of peace and love to celebrate Holi with Ali and the Gajner gang. Although that mean little boy is still on my mind, his words tattooed on my brain, I know that I can only move forward and remember that for every negative action or word that is thrown at me, I need to throw a positive one back out there into the universe.
My new mantra: peace, love and Israeli men.