From Alison: November 20. It’s our first afternoon in Pushkar, getting towards dusk. We’ve been walking the narrow winding streets, and have found our way to the fairground and back through the busy market streets. Julie is photographing something. I’m waiting under the corrugated awning of a street stall when suddenly I feel water running onto and down my arm. Jesus, where did that suddenly come from? I look up. There’s a steady stream. Somehow I manage to get it onto the other arm as well, and then wipe my forehead with the back of my arm, so now it’s on my face too. I look up and see a monkey sitting on the roof. I don’t quite believe it at first. I can’t quite take it in. The monkey is pissing. I’ve just been pissed on by a monkey! Holy sh*t! Um, no, actually it’s Holy piss. Since monkeys are regarded as sacred animals here, make that blessed by a monkey. I have only seven words to say about it really: praise the Lord for antiseptic wet wipes.
Oh, and eeeeewwwwww.
Indian animals love me it seems. In Tiruvannamalai I was head butted by a holy cow. Now in Pushkar I’ve been pissed on by a sacred monkey. Blessed indeed.
From Don: India has been amazing, but Pushkar at the time of the Camel Fair is an astonishing assault on the senses. The town is one of the oldest in India, and the place we stayed, The Everest Hotel, is in the old part of town. We came from Jodhpur by car but the last part of our journey was a five-minute walk along narrow twisting alleyways to the hotel. We’d never have been able to find it by ourselves, but someone came from the hotel to meet and guide us there. The hotel was perfect for our needs: far enough from the fair grounds and the busy market around Pushkar Lake to provide a quiet haven of rest when we needed it, but close enough that we could walk everywhere. Each morning I was woken by the sound of sweet music and chanting. We were given a “map” of the town, but the map was not by any stretch of imagination the territory, and the entire town is narrow twisting alleyways. We were frequently lost. Fortunately for us wherever we went in the old town there were blue arrows with the words EVEREST HOTEL painted on them, so we never stayed lost for very long.
Our hotel had a restaurant on the roof that had a great view over the town and countryside. The restaurant was open all day so we could get a cooked meal any time we wanted. They had a pet tortoise that spent his days making his way across the roof, only to be picked up and put back on the other side by one of the waiters. In the mornings we’d see monkeys hanging out on the roofs of neighboring buildings.
Walking the narrow alleyways was always a feast for the senses: there were crowds of people, cows, women with baskets of goods on their heads, men pushing handcarts, and wild young men on motorbikes roaring up and down. Whichever one of us was leading the way would call out “poop alert” or “motorbike alert” to warn of approaching hazards. The alleys were filled with tiny stores providing every type of goods and services you can imagine. On one side of the street would be a store filled with beautiful materials, and on the other side would be a tailor sitting working the treadle of an ancient Singer sewing machine and making a pair of pants or a shirt.
Just around the corner from our hotel was a tiny store, more a hole in the wall really, run by a friendly lady called Lalita. Every time we walked by her store she would call us over and ask us what we wanted to buy that day. We bought pens and single-serve sachets of shampoo to give to the children on the street, and Oreo cookies and chocolate bars for ourselves. She could have sold sand to the camel drivers. Once Lalita knew our names she would hail us by name whenever she saw us.
Pushkar is a holy city, and alcohol, meat and eggs are banned, but we managed to find a rooftop restaurant beside the lake that served bottled beer in a teapot and had meat and egg dishes.
As I told Ali, if it hadn’t been for her I would never have gone within 10,000 km of Pushkar, but I’m really glad I did.
From Alison: The town is amazing, ancient, one of the oldest in India, and despite the motorbikes, and electricity and ubiquitous cell phones, there’s much that happens there in the same way that it has for thousands of years. Life goes on in the same way, washing clothes by hand, cooking over fires, using donkeys for hauling building materials, with this overlay of modernity. And, as always, the incredibly friendly and open Indian people.
And then there’s the thousands upon thousands of people who flooded into Pushkar from the desert for the livestock fair, and the thousands more who came from all over India for the many religious ceremonies that are held at the same time.
Religious ceremonies are held every day. We went to Maha Arti one evening. It was held on the ghats, which are the steps leading to the lake, every evening. A ceremony of lights and chanting: with the sound system turned up so loud it was all distorted. And many people lit small oil candles and let them go into the sacred waters of the lake with a prayer.
We went to the Brahma temple for Puja. The Brahma temple in Pushkar is one of very few temples to Brahma in all India. It is the most sacred of the sacred. Thousands come to Pushkar just to go to the Brahma temple. I could feel the energy of devotion of hundreds of thousands of people over hundreds of years and was moved to tears.
There are four hundred temples in Pushkar. One day hundreds of women in the most brightly coloured saris swept into town, clogging the streets, and poured into one of the temples. By the end of the day they had all left again.
One day there was a procession with cars and vans decorated with flowers covering them, and a big silver wedding chariot pulled by a white horse, and a marching band, and at the end a camel chariot and in the back these two dressed as hindu gods.
On two evenings we went to see the dance performances at one of the temples. On one of those evenings we arrived a bit early only to find a huge Hare Krishna Elephant-on-wheels, being ridden by someone special, who was being administered to by a priest who also rode on the huge contraption. And the whole thing was accompanied by loud-speaker chanting, and by hundreds of people, as it rolled slowly around the large courtyard of the temple.
And then there was this: a sadhu (holy man) covered in ash, walking slowly down the crowded street, in a deep deep trance, in one hand a begging bowl, in the other a bell he was constantly ringing, his tongue out a little, and through his tongue a spike. Many people, including us, put money in his bowl as he passed. It is said that everything is possible in India, and I think we actually got to witness one of the true holy men of India that day.
And on the final day is the big, most important full moon ceremony down on the ghats. Everyone bathes, for purification, in the sacred lake in the holy city.
There aren’t enough words to describe Pushkar during the Camel Fair. Every day, everywhere we turned there was something new to see, to experience. It was a zoo, a carnival, an extravaganza all rolled into one. Everything was happening, and sometimes it seemed as if everything was happening at the same time, and it didn’t matter where we turned there was something else going on, something new to see.
The next post will be about the temple dancing, and all the events at the stadium – the camel races, the school girls dancing, the camel decorating contest, the horse judging, the closing parade.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.