India Day 18+19 – Long train journey and Pushkar

A 20-hour train journey to look forward to today.  Got a taxi to Bandras Terminus for a train to Aijmer.  Read the rest of ‘Platform.’  A good book, with a somewhat hurried ending.  Also began reading ‘Kite Runner’, set in Afghanistan.  So far, so very good.  Relaxed a lot, and ate dinner that the politician who sat across from me had prepared.  I was travelling ‘2AC’ first class sleeper…which meant an air-conditioned carriage and a bed.  There are 2 tiers, the top a bed, and the bottom 2 seats that can become a bed.  Neither bed is particularly comfortable, not that wide; certainly not a patch on Vietnam’s extensive and comfortable train network.   The politician was a lovely lady, who confessed to me that she was a ‘corrupt’ politician,but that you had to be corrupt to get anywhere or get anything done, as all the other politicians were.

People walked past periodically selling masala chai, chocolate, snacks etc.  All in all the journey was a quite peaceful affair.  I read a lot and ate a lot of junk food before turning in at around 11pm.  I slept quite well on the top bunk, my bag underneath my feet.  I dreamt ‘train dreams’ of travelling and adventure.

Woke around 8:30am.  2 more hours until we arrived in Aijmer.  Brushed my teeth and enjoyed a breakfast of samosa and chai.  Delicious.  Arrived in Aijmer and caught a pedalo or ‘becak’ to the bus station, where I jumped on the first bus for Pushkar.  A few local characters were on the bus, giving me my first colourful glimpses of Rajesthan.  Women in strikingly-coloured saris wearing huge gold nose rings linked to thir ear by a gold chain made for a beautiful and exotic sight.  A tout called Babu befriended me on the bus and promoted his hotel, Hotel Shree Palace.  I decided to give it a go.  The bus chugged painfully up the steep, snaking road where hordes of grey-faced monkeys sat and played, some as big as dogs.

We arrived in Pushkar, and Babu’s brother met me, as Babu had already gone back to Aijmer to try and catch more tourists.  We walked a few minutes up a hill behind the station and came to a hotel.  It was nice enough, with a rooftop restaurant and decent views over the town.  I checked into their most expensive room at the top, still a snip at 350 Rupees, and watched boys flying kites from their rooftops, a hugely popular past-time in these parts.  I then took in the town.

I stolled down throught the bustling bazaars, and towards the lake for which the magical, desert-fringed Pushkar is famous.  52 sacred ghats, where pilgrims bathe in the sacred waters, front the mystic skyblue lake, and hundreds of temples and domes dot the skyline.  It was a beautiful, fresh, crisp day.  I stopped for a tomato soup at Enigma cafe, had a coffee, then strolled around the narrow market streets some more.  Here, camels, not horses, pull carts through the streets, skirting past arrogant and lazy cows that clog up the streets, and cheeky grey-faced monkeys that roam the building-tops rather ominously, causing mischief wherever they can.  I passes into the desert area, mainly scrubland, with few inhabitants.  I got talking to a lady called Sonya, who lived in a tent with her blind mother, sister, and 2 sons.  We had a chai together, and she showed me a photo album of her and various foreign friends.  She was very weathered for her 27 years, and lived a hard life, having a to move on now and then when the authorities decided to evict her from their land.  Still, she had a striking smile, and her face was encrusted with countless gold rings, studs, and jewels.  She didn’t complain about her life, just explained it, which is something most wretched souls here don’t do.  I admired her courage and resilience, and we went to the shop and I bought her a bag of rice and some chipati flour.  It cost me 350 rupees, but would feed her and her baby for 2 weeks.

By now, it was late afternoon, and it was getting chilly.  It’s winter in North India.  I hadn’t done my research.  Unprepared, I had to buy a fleece.  I was glad for the hot shower at Shree Palace.  That evening, I booked a camel ‘trek’ for the next day, and ate a meal at Raj restaurant, a nice rooftop place that served excellent Italian food amongst other things.  After my meal, I got talking to 2 English girls on their GAP years.

We went to Enigma cafe together, and sat on the cushions in their psychedelic restaurant.  Then, we ordered 3 ‘special’ lassis.  A ‘bhang’  lassi.  They arrived, green in colour, and tasted ridiculously strong.  One of the bar owners came and sat next to us, and we chatted as we waited for the lassi to kick in.  It kicked in, alright.   It started with giggling, then laughing ridiculously at things that were not funny.  This was a fantastic phase.  But then, a darker, paranoid phase took over, and I began shivering uncontrollably and imagining horrible things were happening.  My mind began conjuring up images of my previous journeys, and some of the horrible and disturbing images and scenes I’d witnessed.  Small sounds became amplified, and aches in my body intensified, especially the injured tendon in my right knee.   At midnight, the effects still showed no signs of subsiding.  We were all pinned to the floor, unable to move.  Then, the girls started attempting to sober up.  “We’ve got to go,” they announced.  “I can’t…not yet..”, I pleaded…”I can’t move.”  But they insisted.  We left, staggered out into the cold and misty street.  The girls went off one way, and I went another.  I quickly walked through the dark streets, feeling as if I were in a dream, trying desperately to remember where my hotel was.  Luckily, I found it.  I collapsed on the bed and had a strange, disturbing evening’s sleep.  Bhang Lassi?  Never again.

Author: Neil

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