Pushkar is one of India’s top holy cities, and is a place of religious Hindu pilgrimages. It has hundreds of temples and a manmade lake, which is surrounded by bathing ghats. Due to the religious nature of this area, photography and shoes are strictly prohibited. The city is also famous for its annual camel fair, during which the city swells to near bursting, with over 200,000 in attendance. Our stay was about one week before this festival. What I found most bizarre within this holy desert locale, was the crazy, hippy, expat, backpacker community that seems to thrive here. A large part of the markets cater to a western-Indian clothing and jewelry aesthetic. There are competing falafel joints, complete with menus in Hebrew, and amazing fresh fruit and muesli bars, proudly proclaiming the use of safe and filtered water in all preparations. Walking the streets and people watching, showcases a spectrum of holy devotees and mystical men, side-by-side with your dreadlocked and hippy contingency in ali-baba pants, and the local Indian women in bright saris and bangles, with their men in trousers and button-up shirts.
We ended up scoring again with our accommodation, staying at the four-level, Inn Seventh Heaven, complete with marble courtyard and water fountain, twinkling lights and incense, dangling vines and colorful pillows. The kids played “restaurant”, making savouries and sweets out of fallen leaves and rose petals, and serving up any nearby and willing-to-play traveler.
Since the town is really quite small and walkable, it didn’t take long to explore the high-lights, like the praying and pooja offerings at the ghats, with loud chanting and bell-ringing. We broke our no-shopping rules, and gave into some of our trinket cravings in the markets that make up the outer ring around the lake. Another morning we woke early to partake in a two-hour yoga session for our family, with patient Swamiji. He was very kind and encouraging with the children, as he coached us on meditation, chanting and yoga poses. For sunset, we walked to a lower (= easier) peak, in which to view Pushkar lake from above, and the surrounding mountain peaks, which were partially obscured in a smoky Rajasthan haze.
It was here that we celebrated Diwali, the “festival of lights” with the locals, appreciating free music concerts and the holiday atmosphere. In anticipation of the celebration, we had been stockpiling fireworks, and had created our own bedroom shrine to the goddess Lakshmi (people pray and make offerings to this goddess to bring fortune and prosperity to their families and businesses in the coming year), complete with incense, an oil candle, fruit, sweets, and a golden-framed, brightly colored print with an image of Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Ganesh. For days, we had been watching beautiful, nightly rituals of women and children, placing lit Diwali lights/candles (a small terracotta dish holding oil and a wick) in front of their homes and temples. In the weeks building up to Diwali, anxious and impatient children and adults had been lighting fireworks in a form of “practice”. However, nothing compared to the actual holiday in which every household had its own mini-firework display, including a LOT of deafening crackers. The constant pops and explosions went on for hours and hours, bleeding into both the days before and after.
In the morning, the streets were littered with the detritus of fireworks, and we discovered that the street entrances to many homes and shops, which had been decorated with powdered mandala art the night before, now were accompanied with patties of cow dung molded into gingerbread figures replete with sex organs, flowers and lighted incense – Holy shit! I’m not sure whose duty it was to create these “play-doh” depictions, but I am curious as to who gets stuck with this job.
After having a very relaxing and comfortable stay in Pushkar, we drove via Ajmer to Bundi. Ajmer, is a much larger city, only 13 kilometers from Pushkar. We made stops at both the famous Jain Nasiyan Temple, which houses a huge, fantastical golden world in a double-storied hall. It depicts the Jain religion’s concept of the ancient world, in intricate gold and jeweled detail. We also decided to check out the Dargah of Khwaja (a sufi tomb with mosques and multiple arched gates), which is a very important pilgrimage site for Indian Sufis and Muslims. We were there on an extremely busy day, possibly a holiday, and felt the frightening crush of a large and dense crowd all around us. Dan was prevented from entering the Mosque because he was wearing shorts. Stella and I covered our heads with scarves, and I gripped both her and Gabriel’s hands tightly, as we squeezed our way in. The whole experience freaked out the kids, as throngs of people pushed against them, making them scared that they would lose my grip. We didn’t stay long before trying to find our way out, Dan, and our shoes that would probably be at the bottom of a massive pile. We exited to find the entry and main street completely packed. We were able to quickly spot Dan with his height and white face, and we all braced ourselves to escape as a solid unit, unscathed by some crazy, Mecca-like stampede.
Once we had finally arrived in quiet, Bundi, we were ready for some more relaxation. We were staying in a lovely, old, and bright white haveli, with rooms that overlooked a courtyard, and a roof top with great views of the neighborhood and hills around us. We only had one full day to see the requisite city palace and fort, unfortunately in the greatest disrepair of any royal complex we had yet visited. Sadly, this is the city that we lost almost all our photos of. Although the palace was less maintained than others, it did have some beautiful frescoes and turquoise was a dominant color in the art and decorations, which appealed to my aesthetics. Here we also hiked to the top of a hill, with the Taragarh fort walls extending in all directions, and monkeys running amuck in the abandoned royal homes and buildings. We were warned that they can be quite aggressive and carried big sticks for our entire hike. However, scarier than the monkeys were the large wasp nets built into the ceilings of several of the rooms, and alive with buzzing.
Our most notable experience in Bundi, was an invitation that we received to join a group of women and children celebrating what we presume to be a Hindu holiday. They had a table LADEN with sweets, a trio of musicians playing music, and there was much dancing and singing. We quickly became the center of attention, and were dragged to the front of the group to display our meager dance skills. The kids ended up in golden cloth crowns, and made quick friends with several other children. After we said our thanks and left, Stella and Gabriel were invited into the home of two young girls. It was a quick visit, but gave them some insight into the simple living of some of the locals, and the way the interior of their homes looked (apparently dark, bedroom and communal room in one, and a separate “prayer-room” niche).
Here are the only photos of Bundi (and some heavily decorated trucks) that made it to the iCloud before our iPhone’s bath: