Rajasthan, Part I

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July 15th 2004
Published: August 17th 2005
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Sorry it's been too long since my last update. At times it's seems as though I have experienced a lifetime since I last wrote to you guys. India is such a wonderful place where a multitude of religions, cultures, and ideas blend together. I'm not too sure where to begin now, so i'll just continue from where I left off.

After leaving the former Portugese colony of Diu, I headed to Rajasthan, which thru it's enigmatic history is known as the home of the Maharayas and the powerful Rajasthan armies. The Moghuls invadors from Central Asia knew better then to fight them so they allied with them and allowed them to keep regional control. It worked for a few centuries until some of the Maharayas rebelled and took over full control of their princely states. Most were to remain in control until the Indian Independence in the late 1940's. At that time, all the princely states and territories of the union gave up their sovereignity in favor of a unified India.

Alas, Rajasthan still was far away. After Diu, I headed to Ahmadabad, a city in Gujarat with over 1 million ppl that serves as the crossroad in and out of that state. I arrived before sunrise into this caotic city and to be honest a stay in here was out of the question after the lovely stay in the island of Diu. I asked a rickshaw driver to take me to the private bus stand to grab the first bus heading to Mt. Abu, the only hill station in Rajasthan. The bus wasn't going out until mid-morning so I spend the wee hours of the monring sitting on a lawn chair outside their office on one of the main arteries, avenues, of the city. I thought it would be rather boring, but instead I got to see the vibrant city come alive at the dawn of the new day. A parade of sort apeared across my eyes as I counted over 100 heads of cattle parading down the street roaming freely in their urban habitat. These animals don't seem to be owned by anyone. They just roam freely living off whatever they can scavange off the streets and whatever ppl offer them. Remember, to the hindus, the cows are revered as gods. Soon, the merchants began opening their shops, some of which actually slept on the same shops they opperate during the day. Mind you, Indians like to sleep in so not all opened up. Traffic did picked up with cars, buses, rickshaws, and even the occassional camel, pulling a heavy cart, passed by before my eyes. When the time came, I was more then ready to get on the bus.

Mt. Abu is Rajasthan's only hill station, a word used to describe a settlement up in the highlands where the weather is coler and more pleasent. Mt. Abu is located on the south part of the state near the border with Gujarat and as such is a popular retreat with Indiands during the heat of the summer. The ride up hill was superb as you leave the lowlands and climb quickly up into the mountains. The scenery from teh bus was spectacular. As soon as I had settled in the hotel, I took a walk around town. I walked down the bazar, which is designed to sell touristy items and clothes to the tourists. I walked as far as Nakki Tala Lake, where I enjoyed looking at the views even with a huge mass of Indian tourists in sight. I then returned back walking around the pologrounds.

The following day, I took a day tour around the region to visit several interesting sites. Our first stop was at the temple of Adhar Devi. This interesting Hindu Temple lies on top of a hill. You walk over 300 steps to reach it. I followed the others up to pay my respects and afterwards got to enjoy a spectacular view of the sorounding areas below. We then took of to Honeymoon point, which is said to have even better views of the valley below. Unfortunately, it was far too cloudy to trully apreciate it. So, I visited Ganesh Temple instead. He is my favorit Hindu God. Son of Siva, legend has it that his father cut his head off. His mother wouldn't have the end of it and demanded to him to bring back his son. And so he did, giving Ganesgh the head of the first animal he saw, an elephant. Ganesh is the god of good beginings and clearer of obstacles. You usually see his figure in entrances across India.

Our next stop was at a famous yoga and meditation center. Mt. Abu is world reknown for its many ashrams offering the visitors a wide range of yoga and meditation courses. Its cool climate allows it to be a welcoming experience to all.

We next paid a visit to Delwara, a Jain temple complex. There are only 5 temples here, yet the intricate carved marble is far more beautiful then any of the ones I saw in Palitana. Unfortunately, Delwara is more of a touriost attraction for the non Jain. Your are only allowed in at certain times so you don't get to see the Jain pilgrims or feel the connection with the true purpose of the place. Nevertheless, it is a rewarding visit. On the right as you enter lies the rather austere Chaumukha Temple. This gives was to the Adinatha Temple, the most impressive Jain temple of the group. Notice behind as you enter the Hastishaba (elephant portico) with several large elephants statues. As you enter and walk around this temple, you are awe by the high quality marble carvings, particularly seen in the the many figures around the walls and in the ceiling. The small Digambara Temple lies right outside. This gives room to the large Neminatha Temple. It has an interesting carved lotus on teh ceiling. The last temple is the Risah Deo Temple. Although unfinished, it does have a huge 4+ meter ATirthankar image made out of brass, gold, silver, copper, and zinc.

We then headed up to Guru Shikhur, the highest peak in the area at 1,720 meters above sea level. En route, we stoped at Achaleshwar Temple, a hindu temple that is believed to have Siva's toe print. The huge Nandi bull is made out of brass. We continued on to the top of Guru Shikhar, were we had to climb another 300 steps to the top, which has a Vishnu temple. The coulds had cleared a bit so it allowed an excellent view of the valley below. Our last stop was at sunset point down below near town, but this being Monsoon season and all meant that there was nothing to admire. The clounds were too thick to allow for a nice sunset.

I had to take several long bus journeys today on old dilapitated state ran buses. My destination was the Jain temple complex of Ranakpur. Like Delwara, this pilgrimage site is only open to foreingers at certain times and even then it feels dead compare to the lively spiritual vibes I got in Palitana. Nevertheless, the main temple, Adinatha Temple, is worth seeing. This massive marble temple stands tall with over two stories. It has intricate carved ceilings, engraved pillars, decorated arches, and tons of Jain saint sculptures and friezes of scenes from their lives. Of particular interest are the massive domes that have superb lace-like decorations.

I ended up in Udaipur late that night. This Rajasthani city is often refered to as the most romantic city in India. It has a spectacular palace in the middle of a lake as well as a large city palace at one of the shores. I had dinner, on this clear night, at the rood of the hotel. The views of the lake were stunning as the beautiful lake Palace was shinning with light. It looked as if it were sorounded by this beautiful lake at night. Alas, darkness can be deceiving as I would find out the next day.

The following day, I set off on a quest to explore the city by foot. My first stop was at Pichola lake. The sweat decievefull view of the night before was erased as I realized that the lake was nearly dry. Apparently, Udaipur hasn't had a good monsoon in over 4 years. Thus, the lake is only about a quarter full. It was so dry that I managed to walk across part of the lake. I walked past some locals washing their clothes on my way to the Lake Palace, which will forever be remembered for the film Octopusy (James Bond staring Roger Moore) was filmed here. Before hollywood iconized it, though, it used to be a palace for theMaharaya. This was their summer residence. It was built by Maharaya Jagat Singh II. Today, flocks of tourist make a visit by boat to enjoy their overpriced hotel and restaurant. As for me, I managed to walk right around 3 corners of the palace. The fourth and last side was facing what remained of the lake.

Later on, I headed to the impressive HJagdish Mandir Temple, which is a rather interesting hindu temple built using the Nagari style. Two massive stone elephants are located at the entrance steps. Inside the Temple, one can see the blackstone image of Vishnu as Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe. A student was kind enough to give me a tour. He suggested for me to visit the temple tonight at 8 PM to see the puja ceremony with live music and chanting.

From the temple, I walked uphill to the entrance of the City Palace. It was built with a blend of Rajput and Mughal architectural design. Today, half of it serves as the residence of the royal family. The other half is opened to the public. The entrance fee is reasonable and worth it. However, one need not pay the camera/video fee as there is not much to photograph inside. The beauty of it is in the outside, which is actually free to see from the main courtyard. The small gov't museum atached to the city palace is worth looking out as it has some itneresting artifacts. the price is small.

I left the comforts of the City Palace and headed towards the Bazar. En route, I saw the Clock Tower. I proceeded to loose myself around the bazar filled with everything imaginable. Most of the business here was geared to the local needs rathern then the tourist trinkets. I then headed over to sunset point, where I climbed for about 30 minutes to a hindu temple atop a hill. The view from up here was amazing with the whole city on one side and the tourist area aroudn the lake on the other side. Although sunset was a dud again, the climb was well worth it for the views alone!

Nearing 8 PM, I headed back to Jagdish Mandir Temple to witness the Hindu puja ceremony full of livily music, singing, and chanting. The music was complemented by a guy playing an Indian drum. Puja was a great way to end the day 😊. I do have to warn you if you ever are there, stay away from the bells on the entrance for at the start they will ring the bell a thousand and one times. I'm sure this loud high pitch noice is enough to leave one deaf if exposed to it on a prolong basis!

The following morning, I took a bus to Chittor, which has recently renamed Chittaraugarh. Before I go explaining about this town, it's worth explaining about the renamed cities. There are so many of them in India, a remenant of a nationalistic wave that spur in the last couple of decades. Their aim was to rename the cities from their English name to a more Indian translation. Sadly, it hasn't worked as planned as most Indians still call the cities by their old English name: Mumbai is better known as Bombay, Chenai is better known as Madras, Kolcata is better known as Calcuta, Varanasi is better known as Banaras, etc.

Anyway, my intentions were to spend a night in Chittor, but the town itself proved to be dull, boring, and overpriced. In retrospect, this would have been better undertaken as a day trip from Udaipur as there are plenty of buses that ply this route. I came to Chittor to see the formidable fort that lies on top of a hill overlooking the town. It's a bit far so I went ahead and hired an auto-rickshaw for nearly 4 hours for only 120 Rs. The rickshaw took me across town and up the hill, crossing the 7 impressive gates en route to the fort on top.

The first stop was at the interesting ruins of Rana Kumbha's Palace, which is located right across the ticket boothe (100 Rs entrance fee). Walking thru the ruins, you come across several remaining bldgs with interesting balconies. You can see beautiful remenantes of the jali screens that onced covered the zenanas, a compound, part of the palace, where the wifes and concubines of the maharaya (ruler) lived. Traditionally, this ruler could have dozens and sometimes hundreds of wifes and or concubines. As in the traditions of the European royalty, the first male born (usually, but not necessarily, from the 1st wife) would inherit and take over the thrown. You can feel the history of this palace as you walk through it. You pass thru what must have been a beautiful courtyard. Legend has it that below this courtyard Padmini, wife of Rana's uncle, lead the women and children in the ceremonious sacred Jauhar in the year 1303. So, what is a Jauhar and why has Chittor residents done it at least three times (again in 1535 and 1567)? In simple terms it is one of the highest sacrifices anyone can make for their kingdom. The town of Chittor had been target by foreign armies so powerfull that defeat was inminent. Rather then facing a dishonorable defeat, the men prepared for a suicidal fight against the invadors. In the case of the one in 1303, the King of Delhi, Ala-ud-din Khalji, had set his eyes on the beautiful Padmini. He demanded that she be by his side, but she blantly refused. War broke lose as the King of Delhi saught to take Padminiby force. Since defeat was inminent, Padmini led all the women and children into the flames of a huge funeral pyre. Thus performing a Jauhar, prefering an honorable death instead of surrendering and becoming slaves of the enemy. History wouldn't be kind to Chittor for this act was repeated in 1535 when invaders from Gujarat sacked the fort. A mere 32 years later left Chittor in the same place as the Moghul leader, Akbar, invaded the town. Three times a sharm as they say so the capital of Mewar was eventually moved to Udaipur in 1567 following the last Jauhar. It wasn't until Jahangir reing, 1615, that the city was restored.

Our next stop further on the road was at the Vijay Stambha, an impressive 9 story sandstone tower rising 37 meters from the ground. This tower was errected by Rana Kumbha to conmemorate the glorious victory over Mahmud Khilji of Malwa in 1440. The tower is visible for several kilometers as it stands atop the hill. The intricate carvings with several imaculate sculptures make sthis the cream-of-the-crop at Chittor. I did climb to the top, but before that I walked thru the Mahasati Terrace en route to the Hindu temple Samashishvara, erected for Siva. It has some nice friezes sculptured into the wall. Steep steps past this temple leads you down intot he deep sacred spring that feeds the water reservoir of Gomukh Kund. Notice the cow mouth that is where the spring water goes thru. Anyway, retracing my steps, I returned to Vijay Stambha only stopping once to take a pic of the cute monkeys. I proceeded to climb the narrow stairs to the top floor of the tower. Although not completely open as it is, the view thru a terrace-like window is spectacular!

As we continued driving, I stoped the driver to walk into the ruins of the Palaces of Jaimal and Patta, which have several interesting terraces and windows in pure Rajasthani style. We continued driving to pay our respects at the Hindu Temple of kalika Mata, which has the traditional decorative carvings in the exterior walls. This depict various religious stories.

The beautiful Padmini's Palace is next with its pleasant gardens. It is certainly worth a stop. Together with the tower, this is what you pay for when you see the fort. The rest is free! This palace and the Vijay Stambha are a must see though. We then drove to the other side of the hill to check out the Suraj Pol (Sun Gate). This impressive gate was the original access point to the fort. You can still admire the cobled stones that once saw massive caravans of elephants, camels, and horses walk into the fort bringing the rulers, merchants, and others.

Our last stop was at the Jain temple, which has the second largest tower of Chittor. Although not as tall (23 meters with 7 storeys), this tower stands tall in honor of Adinath, who was the 1st Jain Tirthankar. I couldn't climb this one as it was locked, but I did admire the decorative carvings around it.

I took a bus later that afternoon to Bundi, about 5 hrs away. As such, I arrived late at night feeling like a lost puppy without a home. Raj and his family opened up their doors to me and gave me a modest room at their Kishan Niwas Guesthouse (gh). They would open up their home and show me some true Rajasthani hospitality throughout my stay in Bundi.

The beautiful town of Bundi is strategically located in a narrow valley with the defencive Taragarh Fort guarding the town on top of a hil. This small town still holds true to its old roots with its many narrow streets and adorning houses in the old part of town. It trully feels as though you are walking in a medieval Indian town, except for the motorized vehicles (auto-rickshaws and motorcycles) that ply the roads!

The amicable Raj kindly invited me to his 'project,' a hotel/ gh he is slowly bldg right below the palace. It still needs some work, but given the location and ample garden it will turn out to be a great place. Raj's face lights up with joy as he showed me the place and shared with me his dream.

I bid Raj farewell as I began todays excursion. I followed the cobled stone road to Jagargh fort. The first stop en route is at the gorgeous palace. You enter it thru the tall Hathi Pol (elephant gate), which as the name implies has two elephant sculptures on top looking at each other. The first thing you se as you enter the courtyard is an imaculate marble balcony ov erlokign from above. Walkign thru the maze of rooms and floors lead you to several interesting spots. Some rooms have intricate decorations with paintings and carved doors. The best ones are locked, but the guards can lead you inside to admire the frescos on the walls, which depict the rulers, historical wars, hunting expeditions, and love stories. The ceiling on some of these rooms are beautifully decorated with frescos as well.

After exiting the palace and walking a hundred meters or so, you come across the Chitrasala, a courtyard with attached rooms. These rooms contain soem of the finest Rajput frescos i've seen. The miniatures depict countless of love stories and the everyday lifes of the rulers. Notice the blue and green hues that dominate the paintings. The rooms have hundreds of small mirrors that allow the sunlight to enter the room.

Bundhi seems to have a religious festival once a month and I ended up visiting it during one of them. As such, I followed the pilgrims to the temple on top, outside the fort and near the TV tower. The cobble stone path ends at the main gate to the fort, where a massive wooden door lays shut so as to ward off the invadors of ancient times. You are allowed access thru a small door in the giant gate. This tiny door is a meter or so in size so you have to cruch in order to get inside. Following the crowds, I stopped at a water tank, where several local kids where diving from the 10 meter walls into the pool formed at the bottom. I carried on with the pilgrimage and exited the fort from the other end. A short path leads to the TV antena and further on a road (yes, I could have taken this easy path by taxi) leads to the temple a hundred meters ahead. After paying my repsects at the temple, I backtracked into the Taragarh fort. Following one of the outer walls , I came across a bldg that had been overun by a dozen or so cute monkeys. Some of the them got aggitated and agressive as I intruded into their home. I carried on exploring the old houses, some of which had decorations as beautiful as the palace below. The fort tower stands tall above the fort, allowing for some amazing views from the windy top. The last stop was at the hindu temple inside the fort with a beautiful round copula. It is abandoned, but you can still see oferrings left from the occassional pilgrim.

Indians are very curious and friendly. At times they can become anoying as they question about you. They will usually bombard you with questions: Where are you from? What's your name? What do you do? (I usually tell them i'm a student to avoid the next question) How much do you earn? First time in India? How long? Take a pic? etc etc etc. These are repeated over and over again by the countless of curious folks you meet on an everyday basis. On a day like today, with the pilgrimage at full swing, I probably heard these as well as "hello" and "uncle" about 1,000 times 😊... Enough to drive one crazy! To make matters worse, I was followed by a mob of kids all the way from the top of the fort to the city below! I decided to play a game and so began to charge them some rupees for the answer to their questions. I even asked for 10 rupees to take a pic of them 😊. It was a funny game as we both laughed it off all the way down the hill. Ironically, a very cute kid put its hand into his pocket and offered me the 10 Rupees to take his pic right as we were entering the town. I declined the money of course and took the pic for free.

I found just what I needed waiting for me in town, a delicious lassi from Sathi's Cold Drink shop. Sathi makes one o the best lassis i've had so far. They're made out of zafron, pistachiops, nuts, rasins, and more. Raj spotted me in the streed and invited me to his project for a cup of chai (masala tea). Indians take their tea with milk, sugar, and spices. It's delicious! The secluded terrace of his allowed me to see the night fair taking place below on the street.

I then had a delicious home cooked a thali. This basic dinner are available all throughout India. They usually have one to three dishes (mainly vegetables, but sometimes with cheese, egg or meat), rice, dal (lentils), curd (yogurt) or raita (desert with yogurt), papad (tostada), and chapati (pitta or tortilla looking flat bread made out of wheat). Each regions varries in how spicy or sweat the dish is. At times, the chapati is substituted by nan (oven baked flat breat), parathas (flat bread), or a masive portion of rice (as in Bengal). I trully think Raj's wife makes the best chapattis in India!

I spent the following day exploring the town of Bundi. My first stop was at the market area right outside the old city. I came across streets full of vendors selling all the imaginable things from foot items to car parts to clothes and more. I met a nice muslim man who invited me to have some chai at his stall on the side of a road. He was quite a friendly characted who trully enjoy having conversations with the few foreigners in town. I bid him a farewell right when a Jain guru was ending his pilgrimage at the local Jain temple nearby. If you though Catholic priests had it hard, well think again. The Jain gurus live a rather strict life. They start up like you and me. Once they get a call to follow their path they begin to strictly adhere to the Jain believes of not harming any soul, which includes animals and some plants. Such is their calling, that they begin detaching themselves from materialistic possessions. The culmination of this period will have the Gurus (male) totally naked and bare footed. Since they renounce materialistic possessions it means they walk everywhere bare footed and naked regardless of weather and location. I was tlkd this sort of enlightenment takes over 10 years. I enter the temple in home I could meet him, but I was told he didn't se foreigners, plus he was having his one and only meal of the day.

So off I went to see the Ranji-Ki-Baori, a beautiful stone well located a few minutes away. It was a nice place to relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility. Afterwards, I walked back to the oldtown to get a refreshing lassi at Sathis' cold drinks shop. He suggested to me to see the nearby lake Jait Sagar. I followed his advice and took off on foot walking by narrow roads with houses build one after another. Some of the doors had intricate carved designs and colorful murals on each side depicting rajpu scenes and hindu gods. I eventually reached the lake, which had a nice view of the hills nearby. I walked into the main park and from the terrace above noticed an abandoned bldg full of monkeys. I thought they were cute so I went in to explore. The agressive monkeys gave me quite a scare as they male leader began making hizzing noices as he jumping up and down in anger. I bid them farewell as I went back to town. I met up with Raj at his new project for some chai, which was followed by dinner at his gh.

It is a good a time as any to describe the imfamous male rajput attire. They wear quite modest and simple white pants and shirts. What gives them away is their beautiful colorful turbans wrapped around their heads. Unlike the sikhs, who wrapp their turbans inwards, the rajput wrap them outwards denoting the many designs and colors. Traditionally, the turban would tell what caste and region the male was from. I recall seeing a case in which an obvious higher caste member refused to grant a bus seat to a lower caste member with a different color turban. The lower caste male simply sat down next to him, causing the higher caste male much discomfort. Alas, it braough both a good laugh and joy to my eyes to see that even though castes are very much engrained in Indian culture, the rules of division are not as wide-spread at before.

Anyway, I bid farewell to Raj and his family today as I grabbed a bus to Jaipur. Before I left, Raj gave me a good luck leaving gift in the form of a hindu forehead and kneck paint tat brings good luck to the traveller. The bus tok off thru the bypass road that has killer views of the fort as you leave town. I felt shocked as I arrived to the 2 million plus caotic city of Jaipur.

After settling in at an uncharismatic hotel, I took of exploring the city. I headed downtown to the City Palace. In my hombly opinion, it is not worthy of a visit as it is now only expensive compare to other palaces, but more importantly, it lacks character. The main attraction, the Chandra Mahal, is closed to the public as it houses the royal family. To make it worse, their isn't any real vantage point to admire its 7 stories from within the palace. For those willing to enter the palace, you can see a collection of clothes and textiles, an armory and weapons exhibit, a rug exhibit, and a miniature painting and photography exhibit.

Nearby, I visited the impressive Jantar Mantar Observatory. Built by the Maharaya Jai Singh in the early 1700's, this complex houses huge astronomical instruments built from marble and metal in such a grand scale that it allowed him to calculate astronomical data with superb precision. Definitly worth a visit!

I continued walking around down town in the bazar area. Jaipur bazar is supposed to be one of the largest in India. The wide streets are covered with bldgs full of stores that sell everything your heart desires. On one of the streets, you can admire the great facade of the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds). This 5 story pink sandstone bldg is covered with small balconies and windows making for a great treat as you walk by the street.

I then proceeded to get lost as I exit the bazar and explored the small alleyways full of residential houses. I came across a Jain temple and was invited to come in by a small girl. When we got to the alter, she demanded me to leave $100 USD. I laughed and left the place as she kept insisting for the money.

The highlight of the day, ironically, was a ride on a cycle-rickshaw. It marked the first time I've ridden on one. The driver took me across downtown and back to my hotel on this vehicle who sole power was the mighty legs that moved the pedals, chains, and wheels. It was an interesting experienc. In retrospect, riding a cycle rickshaw today is as normal as taking a taxi back home as it's a major means of transportation in India.

The following day was spet visiting the beautiful Amber Palace and Jaigarh Fort. There are local buses that take you all the way to Amber. En route, you can stop to admire the beautiful Lake Palace, which stands tall similar to the one in Udaipur. Once in Amber, you are dropped off below on the foot of the hill. You have two options: climb the 20 min walk to the entrance or take an elephant ride. I opted to walk as the sad faces of the elephants alone where enough to convince me that they are being mistreated badly. As you pass the main entrance, Saraj Pol (Pol=Gate), you can see a vast courtyard where those riding on elephants are let out. On your left is a large staircase leadng to the Singh Pol, where you enter the palace properly. On the side is the hindu Temple of Shila Mata, built in honor of Kali, goddess of War. The intricate black marble image is worth a look. Plus, the serenity of the place makes for a moving experience.

The first courtyard as you enter thru Singh Pol has the Diwan-I-Am, which was the Hall of Public Audience. This imaculate pavilion has nice marble pillars. Walking thru the courtyard, you will come across Ganesh Pol, which serves as the gate between the public area and the private rooms of the palace. Check out the colorfull designs on the paintings of the gate. What follows are several interesting rooms of various palaces, the first of which has a beautiful garden in the middle. The intricate marble columns, painted ceilings, and great views of the lake below make it a worthwhile experience. The far end of the palace houses the Zenana, which has far more secluded and closed quarters.

I left Amber Palace and headed up the hill thru a cobled stone road leadig to the top of the hill. Here is where the Jaigarh Fort is situated. The walk uphill was demanding in the 40'C heat. In route, I came across several monkeys hanging on the trees and at the side of the road. The fort itself is impressive with thick walls that once housed a powerful army. Inside, you can still see the cannon foundry, where the barrels where cast. As usual, there is an armoury with an exhibit of swords , other arms, and pictures. The fort palace itself is interesting with a large garden at the end that overlooks the Amber Palace and town below. Perhaps of most interest is the Jai Ban cannon that stands atop one tower at the end of the fort. Weighing a massive 50 tons, it can fire at a range of around 20 kms.

Twenty days in India is how long it took for me to ran across the imfamous Gem scam. I was walking down the road and met a local guy. He invited me for a drink at a bar and I said ok. We chatted for an hour about life in India and abroad. Then, his friends came in and joined us. One of them was quite fluent in English. He said his family ran a gem shop that exports throughout the world. Funny cause he was wearing a very cheap watch and set of shoes. He went on saying how much export taxes ran in India. How at 250% they are far toomuch to bear. So he asked me to take some along to his shop in OZ or Eupope. Ha, yeah right! I entretained him for a while asking questions. Eventualy, I excused myself saying I was tired and headed to bed. Later on, I would hear about ppl who fall on this scam. They end up paying thousands of USD in exchange of plain polished worthless stones!

I took a late morning bus to Pushkar taking in the dry scenery. I fell asleep sometime into the trip. I woke up when the bus reached Ajmer about 20 mni from Pushkar. Leaving Ajmer, I soon realized that the scenary had turn to an arid semi-desert as this city lays close to the Thar desert. The bus climbed a steep hill to descent to the town of Pushkar with only 12,000 ppl. This is a famous pilgrimage site for the Hindus, particularly those who follow Brahma. The lake in town is believed to lay right where a lotus thrown by Brahma, Hindu god, landed. As such, tons of hindu pilgrims visit the Ghats around the lake to inmerse and clean themseelves in the lakes holly water. As a testimony to the holly lake, one can see dozen of temples in town (sadly, foreigners are not allowed inside many of these temples).

The international fame of Pushkar is its world reknowned camel fair that is helf every year on November. The small town is flooded by over 100,000 ppl that come to see the festivities. The actual camel and cattle trading now takes place a week before the festival begins.

As I visited Pushkar during the off-season, I managed to find a really decent room at an inexpensive price. After settling in, I walekd around town. My first stop was at the Raygi Temple (hindu), where I walked around the outside to admire its many frescos.

My next stop was at one of the many Ghats who's name I can't recall. I removed my shoes and proceeded to walk down the stairs towards the lake. I could see local boys swiming in a man made pool next to the lake A few pilgrims where bathing and cleansing themselves. This peaceful scene was interupted by a Panda (priest) who motioned me to come to him so he could perform a ritual ceremony for me. It was nice and interesting, but lacked the true spirituality of the afair. Originally, it was intended as a ceremony in honor of the death family members. Today it is more of a required passport for visitors of Pushkar. At the end, he demanded 500 Rs, but I knew better so I gave him only 20 Rs for his troubles.

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the interesting bazar in town. The narrow streets of town get filled with stores as you approach the lake. Cateering to the western tourist, the bazar sells a wide range of products from back home. They also sell overpriced souvenirs and the like. As it was getting dark, I headed out to eat before calling it a night.

Words cannot begin to describe the wonderful day I had today. I visited Ajmer on a day trip by bus. From the bus stop, I took an auto rickshaw to the Dargah of Khwaja Mu'inuddin Chisti. En route, I passed an impressive bazar selling muslim attires, religious items, and more. This bazar intensified as I walked the last few blocks before the main gate to Dargah of Khwaja Mu'inuddin ChistiDargah of Khwaja Mu'inuddin Chisti. This is the tomb of Khwaja Mu'inuddin Chisti, a Suffi muslim saint who brought Islam into India long before the Moghul invasion, which ultimately spread this religion across India. Chisti came to India in peace though and quickly made a point to help the poor ppl in India. He was quite popular as he didn't force Islam to the Hindu. After his death, his followers continued with his work. Many of them began yearly pilgrimages to his tomb, a tradition that was even followed by Moghul Akbar himself. Today, this site is the second hollyest place for Muslims, only after Mecca of course. Non-muslim are not allowed in Mecca though. So I was quite surprised when thehy allowed me to enter the tomb. The only requirement is for everyone to cover their heads so I went ahead and bought a muslim hat for a mere 10 Rs. As you enter thru the main gate, you walk past Shah Jahan Masjid, a courtyard made of white marble. The Dargah (tomb) lays in the inner court. It's made out of white marble as well and is covered by golden platings. As you enter the tomb, you do a clockwise circle aroudn it. Notice the golden decoratons in the ceiling. The tomb itself is covered with velvet blankets left by pilgrims and is in turn protected by a rail. A man gave me a blessing with a prayer stick and by placing a cloth above me head. It was such a spiritual place that I had to sit down to digest what I had just experienced. I sat next to a group of musicians chanting religious hymns. It was the perfect spot to see the pilgrims. I noticed several of them taking video and pictures of the place so I went ahead and took some myself. I then came across a group of four pilgrims taking pics from all sorts of angles around the Tomb. I approached them and ask them to take a pic for me. Afterwards, Jawed, as I later was to find out his name, asked me to be in a pic with him and his friends. I agreed and handed my camera to his friends to have a copy myself. We all talked for a while about the place. Jawed came with his two bro-in-law and a friend. They live in Baroda, a city in Gujarat. I was about to say my goodbyes when Jawed cordially invited me to join them for lunch. We went to a non-veg restaurant near the tomb. I let them order for me and we ended up having a big feast of mutton, chicken, veggies, rice, chapati, and an onion salad. I hadn't eaten this much since arriving in India so it was quite a treat. In the end, they refused any money from me saying that I was their guest.

We hadn't finished digesting all that food when we set up for the arduous climb to Jaragarh fort on top of a hill overlooking the city. The five of us thus walked past the narrow streets of Ajmer, past an old dilapitated mosque, across the side of a lake, and up thru the hard path up to the fort. En route, we stopped to kiss the holly white-stoen, whos significance escapes my memory at this point. The fort came on full view and eventually we crossed tha main gate. We entered what appeared to be a little town. We removed our shoes and walked up to another sacred tomb. The complex is far less elaborate, but still merits a visit. We entered the main tomb, which was also covered with velvet blanket. After getting a blessing, we descended down the hill following the main easy route to the fort. It was here where we experienced the flood of beggars askign you for bakshish (money). The scene reminded me of the old biblical times with several of the beggers sitting on a rug with an improvised blanket-tent built for shade. I swear one man with his turban and beard could have been one of the figures on my grandmma's nativity set, who she used during Christmas season as a decoration. Alas, he was muslim. As we reentered the city, we began seeing vendors selling change so you can give money to beggers. Up to this point, I only new the 50 paise (cents) coins, but now I saw a 25 paise and a 10 paise coin!

I said my farewell to my friends as it was getting late and I didn't want to arrive in Pushkar after dark. I didn't remove the muslim cap until I took a shower that night so it must have been something when ppl saw me walking past the hindu temples and ghats of Pushkar.

After freshening up, I took a stroll around town and lo and behold, I came across Brian and Sussana, whom i've met in Diu. I joined them and 3 Sth African girls for dinner at the Sunset Cafe, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Ghats and the lake. Its a great place to admire how the town lights up after dark.

Additional photos below
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5th October 2009

assalam valekum
this is very great and beutiful pictures thanks for u

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