India

The Fifth Tale from Karnataka and Rajasthan – Pushkar and Rathnambore

By Nick Goslett
Pushkar lake/Pushkar Sarovar rajasthan
Pushkar lake, Rajasthan

I am sitting in the tigersafarihotel foyer in between safaris and crossing my fingers for this afternoon. Whilst I drew a blank this morning, others in the hotel had a large one amble slowly past their vehicle so they do exist. My total excitement this morning was a few samba deer, a few spotted deer, lots of peacocks, a pied kingfisher and an Indian Treepee magpie. The owner of the establishment greeted me last night by asking if by any chance I was British royalty because my emails were so perfect which seems oxymoronic to me. Anyway, he cannot do enough for me .. including shooing the small rat out of my room when initially showing me the accommodation!

Waiting for a tiger … any tiger, Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan


My health has improved markedly since my last missive and now all I am left with is a cough. I had abandoned Indian food altogether and had dined on macaroni cheese (reminded me of watching Sunday Night at the London Palladium with Mum all those years ago when she would wheel in macaroni cheese on the trolley), spaghetti pesto (delicious) and other Western delights but am back again on the Indian trail though it’s veg all the way.

The bus trip from Jaipur to Ajmer was in a smart Volvo bus and the major roads in Rajasthan are privately built and flat and very fast if your driver dreams of Le Mans. The only scary part was when he pulled out to overtake in the outside lane of the dual carriage way only to find a haywain hurtling towards us the wrong way. It was a very close thing.

Thence a bus to Pushkar and a wonderful place: made me like India again. Pushkar was created when Brahma (the Creator, but who had no home) was told by Vishnu (the Preserver) and Shiva (the Destroyer) to drop a lotus flower from heaven and that would be his home. It is the only place in India with a temple dedicated to Brahma because he two-timed his wife and she did not approve. It is a very spiritual place with a lake in which there are 52 bathing ghats (steps) in which every Hindu should bathe once in the life. It has one main street which sort of wanders round the lake and this is a tourist’s paradise with wonderful silverware, handbags, throws, poofs, etc. all looking really classy and not a car or tuk-tuk in sight. I spent three days there in all. Yoga in a large bamboo hut overlooking a mountain as the sun went down with Arnaud, a young metal sculpturist from New Caledonia who was having trouble with his girlfriend who was doing a dancing course. Two more tabla lessons, but this time they cost and this time the teacher (the third method!) seemed to me to be by far the best player and teacher and lo and behold he hand makes tabla and can easily export them, all for just a hundred quid. How could I resist (and I have been living pretty frugally!) so mid-November Wordsworth will sound like India. I reckon he is trustworthy because he is in Lonely Planet and if anything goes wrong they will get to know about it. However, he was such a nice guy and seemed genuinely pleased with my progress during the second lesson.

The main street, Pushkar


I got talking to another young guy, 6’2″ with such a mass of curly hair that the Indians stare at him all the time (better to be small, old and white said I!) and we spent a happy two hours on a rooftop before he went back to writing his novel (not going brilliantly but he is struggling on) and I to climb a rather high mountain with a temple at the top (after all it was midday). I got within a 100 foot of the top but the terrors of going down and seeing how very far I could fall got the better of me. The views were absolutely stunning. On the way back and ambling contentedly along Tourist’s Paradise (and after having just purchased the tabla) there was Jonathan again pointing out that my money belt was showing. He said how much what I had said about travelling in India had helped him and he had been thinking about it ever since and how about another drink before he took his overnight bus to Jaisalmer. Quite bowled me over!

The girls who showed me round the temple


I was wandering around the far side of the lake, ducked up an alleyway, leapt over a metal barrier and saw what looked like an interesting temple. A young teenage girl was swinging her legs on a wall so I sort of gestured that if I took my sandals off would it be OK to go it? I was suddenly surrounded by 14 young teenage Hindu girls on a religious tour who all spoke really good English and gave me a tour round the temple then sat me down and asked about England. A gorgeous experience.

The hotel in Pushkar was a converted Haveli and glorious. The bed was about 10′ wide and everything worked .. except that after I had had my Craghopper trousers cleaned and went to put them on, I espied my first, and enormous, oriental cockroach!

Pushkar at night


You may have noticed above that I indicated what the three man gods were famous for. Well, I arranged for a Mr Hassan, the hotel neighbour and recommended guide for Pushkar, to meet me on Day 2 for an in-depth ramble round the main temples, and the stories (myth and real) of Pushkar. He starts right in by telling me that he is a Brahman and used to be a priest but has forgotten too much. Then he tells me that Brahma is the Destroyer and Shiva the Creator, and it was all down hill after that. Initially I was hopping mad but after hearing his mythical story of the birth of Pushkar about 70% of which might have been in Linear B for all I could understand, I forgave him and just went with it. Completely useless! I talked to the owner of the hotel, another charming erudite Indian and he completely agreed and said he only used the guy as a favour to give him something to do, and for many tourists it was enough that they could go round the lake and the ghats without being got at by the priests. I said that they ought to warn people like me who actually wanted to learn!

A view from the Savitri Mata temple, Pushkar


During this “tour” a musician of about 8 years and his little brother who was about two foot high with a turban which doubled his size and who spun round and round did their turn and asked me for money. I had no change so said I would come back later. That afternoon I received a top on my shoulder: “do you remember me?” which I did and asked for another turn and offered them some money. No, the tiny one said we would like some food. Seemed excellent so off we went to the far side of the market where he got the stallholder to bring down 1 kg of ghee at 400R which is four quid. 10 out of 10 for sheer nerve! They did well out of the transaction.

A very cute operator


I have now returned from my second tiger safari, and the first one was a ripper compared with that. This time I saw neither the spotted deer nor the kingfishers. It is the tail end of the Big Hindu festival which finishes with Dussera in a couple of days time so the Indian tourists are everywhere and as a result there was total chaos at the Forest booking office and my canter was an hour late. We must have waited silently for 60 of the 120 minutes of the actual safari because a tigress with two cubs was coming our way. I think she was tired so slept all afternoon. So, no tigers seen.

My one downside in Pushkar was a bit of restaurant chicanery when a 1,000 rupee note I offered in exchange for my bill turned into a 500 rupee note and there was nothing I could do about it except to wish them both the most dreadful karma in the coming days.

A Shrine in Pushkar


Got on a bus from Pushkar with a lovely young English couple (friends who travel together), then we all got off and caught a taxi and the upshot was that he is a ski bum in Verbier and the off piste is so good that we must go there next and he can help to organise it.

Catching the 05:25 train tomorrow morning to Bundi for two days, next stop Udaipur. It is all going so quickly now!

Lots of love

Nick

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