Thursday, 27 November 2014

India: Pushkar

For our journey to Pushkar we bravely purchased train tickets for Second Class Sitting - little did we know that this was also known as 'Jungle Car!' Every inch of the carriage was jam packed full of people and their luggage; there were even men lying in the luggage racks above our heads and about 10 people in the seats we had reserved. We struggled our way over to them and showed our tickets and kindly asked them to leave our seats - as you can imagine they were not best pleased that they were being asked to move and one man got a little irate. This actually worked in our favour as it attracted that attention of the others on the train and a few people came over to see what all the fuss is about. After much deliberation they moved out of the seats and stood nearby giving us evils! We're still yet to work out exactly how the Indian train system works, we think people can buy tickets but with no seat; therefore they try and steal ours. 

Pushkar is one of the five pilgrimage sites for Hindus as it is believed that the God of Creation (Lord Brahma) dropped the petals of a lotus flower here and in doing so a lake formed. Now Hindus from all over the world come here to bathe in the ghats dotted around the lake in an attempt to wash away their sins and redeem their lives. The atmosphere around the lake is amazing, we loved sitting along the waters edge watching people take part in this holy act. Unfortunately there are many priests who work to perform blessings for money for both individuals and their families. This meant that we got hassled a few times to take part in this also; although after politely refusing numerous times they got the idea and left us alone. The ghats along the lake had a strict no photograph rule, which we respected for the first couple of days. However after sitting at the lake and watching Indian after Indian photographing everything in sight and laughing and joking, not showing any kind of respect whatsoever we decided a few sneaky pictures would go unnoticed. This is not something we have done anywhere else as we are always careful to show the utmost respect at all times, we just grew tired of feeling like we were showing more respect than others. We also discovered that snakes are apparently holy in Hinduism too - one man spotted a snake and suddenly everyone in the vicinity started running over to see it like it was a celebrity. We had no idea what was going on - had we seen the snake that close we probably would have been running pretty far in the other direction!

The shops surrounding the lake itself were pretty cool and very different to anything else we had experienced so far in India. They stocked loads of really cool, original trinkets, clothes, and souvenirs, and we managed to walk around pretty hassle free, aside from the noise which was deafening. Rickshaws, motorbikes and bicycles completely filled the really narrow alleys where there was no pavements so people are forced to walk amongst the craziness - its definitely not easy to navigate. We welcomed a small respite away from it all in the form of a lovely rooftop restaurant called Baba, just above Sadar Bazaar - one of the busiest streets in the town where we ate roast potatoes adorned with spinach and rosemary on the recommendation of an Australian lady and her husband who had apparently eaten the same meal four days running because it was so good, and it did not disappoint. We were completely stuffed for 100 rupees (approx £1) - total bargain! We also visited a cafe called the Laughing Buddha which was right near the lake and felt very hippy and chilled. It's the tiniest cafe ever with about 6 seats on a small terrace and a small cushioned area inside. Incense was burning and music pumping and the drinks came in clay cups which we thought was quite cute. It was really cheap which made us VERY happy and was owned by a really cute family. We'd definitely recommend visiting!

The main reason we were excited about visiting Pushkar was for the Camel Fair which ran from 31st October to 6th November this year. Our biggest dilemma was whether to visit during the festival to experience what we were told by many Indian people 'one of the best festivals in India' or whether to visit at a different time where we could experience the 'real' Pushkar - an idyllic, holy, calm place. We decided to opt for the festival just because we were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and felt we shouldn't really throw the opportunity away. During the Camel Fair, people from all across the world visit Pushkar to trade/invest in camels and horses. Unfortunately that's as exciting as it gets - there are many events going on throughout the day in the main stadium alongside all of the trading that goes on but we don't really feel that they were anything worth writing about. We spent most of our time being harassed by Indian people who were visiting Pushkar (tourists from more rural parts of India who don't really see white people very often and are therefore mesmerised by us). This really affected our enjoyment of the festival because we felt we couldn't explore freely or stay in one place to watch something without being hassled for photos. For example, Sam was approached by a young Indian girl whilst we were watching the hot air balloons take off. She was convinced that Sam was Perrie Edwards from Little Mix and refused to believe her when she told her that she actually wasn't. The girl kept complimenting Sam on her 'boyfriend' Zayn (One Direction) and telling her how jealous she was of their relationship - a proper fan girl situation which was hilarious.

We also visited the Savitri Temple. The story behind the significance of this temple is that when Brahma was to perform a worship ritual at Pushkar, his wife Savitri could not reach the ritual in time. As a result, Brahma performed the pooja (a religious ritual performed by Hindus as an offering to various deities) with the help of another woman, Gayatri, who later became his second wife. This enraged Savitri and she sulked off to the hilltop. The views from the temple itself are really good - you can see for miles. It was especially pretty because there were lots of hot air balloons floating about as part of the Camel Festival so was definitely worth the tricky climb up the steep hill in the heat.

The only downside to our experience in Pushkar was our hotel - Hotel Poonam which was unfortunately way below average. We booked using ClearTrip for all three of us to stay in one room to find that we all had to share one double bed. The mattress on the bed might as well not have been there at all as it felt like you were sleeping on the bare metal frame. The staff shout non-stop up the stairs at one another - starting at 6am and continuing until around 11pm, so we struggled to get any proper sleep during our stay - they seem to have no respect for guests whatsoever! We almost got kicked out of the hotel halfway through our stay because apparently they were overbooked and somebody else needed the room. However ,we argued to stay so they kicked out an American couple instead - horrendous! The only good thing at Poonam was Mikey who is in charge of the kitchen - he always remembered our order and always made an effort to make us feel welcome. HOWEVER, when it came to leaving we had a bill charging us for our stay which we obviously didn't question as we knew we hadn't paid anything yet. It was around 4000 rupees (approx £40) which is quite expensive in comparison to what we had been paying elsewhere but it did include all food we had eaten during our stay so we gave Mikey this amount plus whatever our food bill costs which was quickly handed over to one of the other guys. Later, after checking Bethan's credit card bill, we realised that we had already paid for the hotel in full when we booked using ClearTrip! We are all disgusted that the staff did not question why we were handing over such a lot of money when they were aware that we had already paid online. It was our mistake for paying twice but we at least expected the staff to question why we were handing over this money again. We were not very happy wanderers at this stage, especially because we'd paid double for not one single nights sleep! Rant over on the hotel front.

All in all, to sum up our experience of Pushkar, we have very mixed feelings. We are glad we visited during the festival, because we know we would have regretted it had we not, but we don't really feel it is a festival that has much appeal to Western tourists who have no real knowledge or appreciation of the trade industry in relation to livestock.

Welcome to Pushkar Camel Festival

Hot Air Balloon Rides 
Cute Gypsy Kids
Savitri Temple
Swastika - representing the four directions of the world 

Chill time at the Laughing Buddha Cafe
Pushkar Lake





Happy Wanderers 

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