The solitude felt exhilarating at first. Five weeks alone, no work, no responsibilities. I couldn’t sleep until the early hours and stayed up reading The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. Not only had I had my synchronicity on the train, the book contains a lot of magic. Also, I got my period just after arriving, The veil is thin, I said to myself (re magic, emotions, intuition and so on.) I’m in one of the holiest places in the world. I’m reading a magic book. I thought about all kinds of spells or rituals I could do, then realised of course, all I need to do is write the book.
At night there was the usual noise of dogs, a cacophony of howling which began around midnight. Temple chanting and bells began in the very early morning, and during the daytime there were sometimes loudspeakers outside the temple which felt deafening. A few nights there was the sound of different people being sick, or coughing badly. Once there were monkeys crashing about up and down the stairs and outside the room late at night; I got up and checked that my door was locked properly.
There were lots of monkeys around in the late afternoon, looking for food. I saw Ganesh from the hotel standing outside with his phone held up and wondered what he was doing; he was playing trance music to get them away. There seemed to be a lot more monkeys and they seemed bolder, Ganesh said they seemed extra hungry. Once one grabbed my food off my plate and grabbed at my clothes.
At first the evenings were long and cold, sometimes I put on music and did yoga, exercises and a bit of dancing in my room to warm up.
The guesthouse rooftop was just the same but at first I wasn’t very sociable, feeling shy probably, and I kept myself to myself writing. There were a lot of people in a group, drinking and getting stoned and another man alone playing guitar. But later when I spoke the people were really nice, and one came over and gave everyone Oreos, and after that we used to chat regularly.
One day I was working on the Nepal chapter, and re reading my blog about meditation and about how we heard some of our favourite music coming through from the room next door, Nick Cave, put on by Harrison, a twenty one year old Australian. At the same moment, The Pixies Where is my mind, one of my favourite songs, was playing in the rooftop restaurant, the music belonged to and had been put on by Lochie, an Australian, days away from his twenty-first birthday.
Everyday, get up, wash, dress, go out for breakfast. A full on experience just going out to get breakfast. I could chicken out and just go to the rooftop but the coffee wasn’t as good and I needed to walk before sitting and writing. I retreated there afterwards though to write and use the WiFi, which didn’t work in the rooms.
I mainly used the same shop nearby the guesthouse. There was another in the main street where I regularly bought bananas (for cows and monkeys.) One day they saw I had bought tissues from somewhere else. ‘Where from, how much, we have those here!’ ‘Next time,’ I said, feeling chastised. The other man said, ‘It’s okay.’ I remembered to take a bag out after that, fierce loyalty seemed to be expected.
As well as Ganesh and the rest of team at the guesthouse, there was also Shiva in the market to talk to. The staff at Raju restaurant remembered me from last time, we had spent Diwali there, and told me that if I needed any help, I could come to them. Sonu at the juice bar gave me advice about what to do about gifts for a wedding I had been invited to.
On holiday days especially there were lots of Indian tourists, many were dressed in jeans, and wearing clothes that were more Westernised than mine. But in general Rajasthan is a traditional area and there were many people in traditional dress, the women in colourful sarees and beautiful scarves.
People often asked what I was doing there, it was good to say I’m writing a book, even though it did seem a little extravagant.
I felt conscious of behaving correctly, both etiquette and decorum wise and ethically. I liked it when people said, Good Karma, etc, when I fed the animals, but I can’t really claim to believe properly in Karma.
The idea is appealing, of course and I couldn’t help building a hope around giving my book a good chance by maybe creating some good luck, but just being in Pushkar with the Pushkar energy and writing the book each day felt like magic and fortune enough.
Feeding the pigeons or cows or monkeys or giving a person some money was immediately and intrinsically rewarding; it gave me a warm glow, whether or not anyone was watching or whether I really thought it did anything else as well.
And Pushkar Lake provided some magical moments. One day I bought food from the little stall by the steps (Ghats) down to the lake. I fed some cows. I fed the pigeons, who swoop up and down in great clouds. I felt the wind of them. I looked at the water. From the steps two women walked down to the lake. Over their sarees they wore the traditional scarf like a veil which covered their heads and flowed over them to the ground. One woman’s veil was peachy orange, the other one’s a deep reddish pink. The shapes made by the beautiful gauze like fabric, the colours against the backdrop of the stone Ghats and the blue grey lake, it was almost too beautiful.
Later Shiva told me that he fed the animals every day, including throwing tiny pieces of chapati into the lake for the fish. ‘If I don’t do it I feel something not right inside, something missing here,’ he said, holding his chest. He told me that the wind from the pigeons flying was good. I’d felt that.
I met the poor nomadic man who lived in the desert and sold homemade instruments and CDs of his music in the street. Jonathan from Israel had bought him a goat last time we were there. He told me the goat was doing well and was now pregnant. We walked along beside the lake together, picking up string from the previous day’s kite festival as it harms birds and animals, he told me that earlier he’d picked out string from the lake using a long stick.
At the garden of a small temple near the lake I saw what looked like a monkey crèche in full swing, with baby monkeys swinging across the wires. Two trees nearby were often full of monkeys, including mothers with what looked like newborn babies.
I usually walked back the same way, and coming back to where I had started there was usually the sight of tens of pigeons sitting on a steep bank of steps as if they were at the theatre.
Opposite the steps on the other side of the street was a restaurant which served the best masala dosas in Pushkar. From the tables inside I could look out to the street and watch little birds raiding the fruit stalls and monkeys playing at the archway and steps of the Ghat. One day the restaurant was very busy and I had to sit right at the front. A very big cow came to the entrance, came right up the steps and nudged me for food. One of the staff came with a small dinner for the cow in a tin tray, made up properly with a neatly folded chapati on the top, and set it on the ground away from the entrance.
I ate at the falafel stall in the main street a few times. The meals were too big so I didn’t eat the chapatis and took them with me and gave them to cows. The second time the staff gave me a paper napkin to wrap them in. Walking away back towards the guesthouse I fed them to the first cow I saw and scrunched the napkin in my hand. I’m just too British to chuck rubbish on the floor, and the cow thought I was holding out on them and had more food. The cow was very big and wouldn’t leave me alone, determined to get the napkin which was scrunched in my hand. One of the stall holders told me, ‘Go inside,’ I went into the entrance to the temple, and they shooed the cow away with a stick. I’d tried to do a good deed and created a scene, but no one seemed to mind.
I managed to go to the Brahmin Temple without anyone speaking to me or offering to be my guide. Maybe it was because I arrived at the same time as a big group of European tourists and the guides all thought I was with them. I like to think it was because I was all prepared and strode through the crowds confidently. I’d asked Ganesh at the hotel what visitors need to do to be respectful, and arrived with flowers and sweets bought from a little stall, to hand to the Brahmin. There was a crowd of people and after waiting politely as people went in front of me eventually someone pushed me forwards. The Brahmin who was saying blessings, presumably, took people’s offerings, took some, handed some back, over and over as the people passed. His phone rang. I was surprised to see him pull out a smart phone and answer it and carry on with doing the offerings until I thought, This is India.
In the evenings many people go to the lake to watch the sunset. There were always lots of monkeys jossling around and getting ready to go to sleep. I watched baby monkeys swinging on wires outside guesthouses and thought, So that’s why the WiFi is often bad. Pigeons on the ledges of a tower flying off and on, fighting a little, sorting out where everyone was going to sleep. I met a few Indian families; lots of introductions and family photos.
Afterwards I sat at the top of the steps, near the big bell which Hindus ring as they come down towards the lake. The walls, faded colours with plaster peeling, were beautiful in the light. The monkeys were settling down to sleep. I watched a pale orange cat going about the eaves. It all looked and felt magical, and I welled up a little. A black and white dog, friendly with a smooth soft coat, came and put its nose under my arm and I stroked its head.
Thank you very much for reading!
About the author
I am forty nine years old, married to John Hill, we live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire, UK.
In March 2018 after selling our house and giving away 95% of our possessions we embarked on a year of slow travel in India and South East Asia.
I’m writing a personal/spiritual/travel memoir of that year. This is my personal blog.
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