Rajasthan: a whistle stop tour, pt 2

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On to Pushkar, the town of ghats, a holy lake, pilgrimages and pilgrims, no booze, no meat and a lot of hippies. The town is built around the holy lake, and ringed by hills, which is both beautiful and acoustically perfect for rave parties…
It feels a little like San Francisco, in that some people arrived here for a quick visit sometime in the 1960s and never left.

I haven’t really mentioned the cows… it’s one of those idiosyncrasies of a strange place… it occupies your mind for a while and then you just accept it as business as usual… anyway, there are cows everywhere in India.

They line the streets, they walk down the middle of the road, they hustle humans for food. No one messes with them, cars will stop, motorcyclists who would merrily now down a person in the road will carefully manoeuvre around a cow. They have no fear beccause no one would dream of hurting them. It’s absolutely forbidden to harm them.
This is more apparent in Pushkar than anywhere else I’ve been so far. Maybe because there are more of them here. I find it charming, although you do have to watch your step to avoid all the squishy ‘landmines’.
Tasha wants to feed and cuddle all of them and make friends. She actually buys bundles of grassy plants to feed them… which practically causes a stampede!

 

We have the pleasure of a dawn walk to the Savitiri Mata temple to watch the sunrise… up at the crack of you-can’t-be-serious and striding up the 750 odd steps to beat the sun to the top of the hill… which we do. Puffing and panting. Sunrise over a mountain is a pretty cool sight though, everyone, even the monkeys, shut up and watch in silence as the sun crests over the top.

Tasha took this last picture… along with an abundance of cows, there are also monkeys all over the place! These guys were not too happy with the dawn climbing patrol, and sat on the steps hissing at everyone who came near… I worked up the courage then dodged around them and scarpered. Tasha obviously found this hilarious… I’m amazed she even took a picture what with all the laughing

Bit of banana porridge and chai for breakfast, back to the hotel for a quick snooze by the pool and I’m all set for the rest of the day.
We embark on a camel ride into the desert for an evening of traditional food and entertainment. I feel, and always have felt, conflicted about forcing other beings to carry me places, but I clamber up onto Cobra, my camel for the journey anyway. His young handler is very fond of his him, and I learn that the practice of camel riding is pretty ancient, and they’re accustomed to carrying heavy burdens, so I swallow my ethical discomfort and focus instead on my physical discomfort… bumpy way to travel, this! We arrive in a little clearing in the sand dunes and I slide off Cobra, after giving him a quick thank you pat, which he ignores completely.
We don some traditional costumes, sit by a campfire and eat a delicious dinner that the camel herders have made, and are entertained by desert magicians and dancers. The camels have the night off now so we drive back in jeeps. Tomorrow: Jaipur.

 

Jaipur: the Pink City
This is a city of diplomats and consummate survivors, or of skilful brown nosers, if you want to be crude about it. The Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh decreed that the city was to be painted pink to honour Prince Albert’s visit in 1876. The thought being, I suppose, that a gift is all well and good, but painting an entire city is likely to stick in the mind somewhat more.
We are staying in the Hitel Bissau Palace, which I mention because if you ever go to Jaipur, that is where you have to stay. It’s on old heritage house in the city, and was once the King’s residence. It’s like staying in a museum! I kept expecting to walk around the corner and bump into a princess or a pet tiger or some such… they also make a smashing G&T at the bar.

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The next day we visit the Amber fort above the walled city. I’m a bit fort-ed out truth be told, and my ambivalence is made worse by the parade of gaily painted elephants carrying gleeful tourists around the courtyard. Maybe it’s the fact that I know elephants shouldn’t carry that much weight on their backs, maybe it’s the state of their feet on the stone cobbles, maybe it’s the goddam body paint, but I’m furious. I can’t stand to look after a while, and look out in the city and try to think of a way to do something meaningful with my outrage.
So I’m not in the best mood for a fort tour, but it is a fascinating place. Built by Raja Man Singh in the 16th century, he had 33 wives (12 favourites) and 350 mistresses, all living in the confines of this palace/fort, (imagine the cat-fights!) Its all secret passageways and pleasure apartments. The ladies were adorned with such a weight of jewellery that they couldn’t walk anywhere, they had to be carried in wheelchairs by the servants… who, if male, had to be eunuchs… raw deal.

After the fort we go to Janter Manter, one of several parks in India devoted to huge astrological measuring devices… sun dials gone mad. And then onto a block painting class. I make an elephant and buy a load of printed fabrics… I’ll figure out what to do with them when I get back to England… (thank goodness for Mary, who has kindly agreed to take all this stuff back with her and store it until we get back!!)

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We are starting to make our way back to Delhi now, stopping first at Ranthambhore National park… which is very lovely and full of wildlife, with great overgrown rope-like trees and crumbling grand stone buildings from the royal hunting days. Present day it is a haven for 60 odd tigers, although you couldn’t prove it by us…. not one stripe was seen on our daybreak safari!

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