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Mark's World Tour 2007-08

Day 23: From Jaipur to Pushkar

INDIA | Wednesday, 28 November 2007 | Views [523]

Wednesday 28th November

The journey towards Pushkar took me further west and first to the town of Ajmer, a trip on the train of about three hours across drier and sandier landscapes. The state of Rajasthan has had a drought for almost ten years and much of the ground is arid and dusty. I met a German girl called Kristina on the train and we travelled together to Pushkar on the bus from Ajmer.

Pushkar is famous for several things, but two in particular: the 'sacred' lake which is considered one of the holiest places in the Hindu religion (and on which the ashes of Mahatma Ghandi were scattered), and also for the annual camel fair which attracts several hundred thousand camel traders and tourists to the surrounding area. The camel fair had finished the weekend before we had arrived and, although it would have been an interesting spectacle, I wasn't too upset to avoid that kind of crowd.

The hotel I had checked into was in a quiet, cool area off the main road and it didn't take long to walk into town from there. I met Kristina a few hours after we had arrived. We met at one of the 'ghats' (steps leading to the waters edge of the lake, from which people bathe or wash clothes). As we walked down the steps, we were accosted by two guys, who thrust flowers into each of our hands and literally dragged us to the water. I had read in the guide book that 'Brahmin' priests ask that all tourists make a 'Pushkar Puja' (a form of worship at the lake). The guide book said that, after leading you through a series of prayers while scattering rose petals into the lake, the priest would ask for a donation which would serve as a benefit to the priests and the upkeep of the lake. We were warned not to donate too much, as anyone asking for large sums was most likely a fake priest.

Anyway, we were taken to the waters edge, and to possibly the filthiest, most manky water I have ever seen – filled with worms, shit and whatever else I could have seen if I dared to look any longer. I wanted to tell the guy to get lost but couldn't say for sure whether he was genuine or not. So, I went along with it, feeling like a complete moron as I recited the lines only out of a desire not to disrespect him or what the lake represented to so many people. He dipped his hands in the water, pouring it over the flowers that I was holding in my hand. He went to spread paste on my forehead and I firmly told him not to go anywhere near my head, considering where his hand had been!

Then came the all important request for money. I told him I would give him 20Rs and he laughed, asking me if I was joking. Anytime I voiced disapproval of his request for money he became quite aggressive, at which point I should have turned on my heels and not worried whether I was disrespecting anyone, as he was doing a good job of it himself. I eventually gave him 50Rs, but Kristina was much more sensible and didn't had any money over.

To say that I was pissed off with myself was an understatement. I had woken up that day determined to avoid getting ripped off, but it is often unavoidable. However, I couldn't tell for sure whether this guy was genuine or not, and that goes to the heart of the matter for me: some of the people hanging around these temples are free to take advantage of people (mainly western tourists) and to prosper from gullible folk like me. It's always the people who want to avoid offending anyone - even if they're almost 100% sure that they might be phonies - that get caught out. They're free to run amok and nothing is done to prevent it, which is itself the biggest mockery of this so-called sacred place, and other places like it that I have visited.

Kristina and I spent the rest of the evening relaxing in a café, and it was good to talk about our experiences of India. It was good to know that we shared many of the same frustrations that life in India can expose you to, plus all of the great things about the country too. However, the experience of earlier in the day left a sour taste which never quite disappeared for the rest of my time in Pushkar.

Tags: I should have known better!


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