Chapter extract about our time in Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, Oct-Nov 2018:
The Varanasi guesthouse had a rooftop area with amazing views, but here the rooftop was a restaurant and they had also done it up. Indian parasols and quirky light shades hung down from the ceiling, the walls were decorated with Indian print bedspreads and round fabric rings in different colours like chunky padded bracelets, used to put between the head and the basket when carrying things on the head.
At the rooftop restaurant there were wicker tables and chairs and also day beds to sit or lounge comfortably on. These doubled as beds for the kitchen staff. During the day heavy blinds were lowered to keep the sun out, it came in through gaps at the edges and was anyway still too hot to hang around for too long up there in the middle of the day. We’d go up and eat or have a drink, at least once most days: Sprite, aloo jeera (perfectly done spiced potato), dal and rice; mushroom, olive and tomato toasted sandwiches; home made finger chips, and banana pancakes.
As in Varanassi, Bhang Lassis (a kind of weed milkshake) were legal and available everywhere, it was fun watching stoned people lounging on the beds and eating banana and Nutella pancakes one after the other…
The owner wasn’t there all the time, but most days he’d come up and talk to us for a bit. We had an open and surprisingly easy conversation about periods, him talking about cooking, and explaining how in his house he cooks, as for five days the women don’t do any cooking. ‘You know, on period,’ he said, in case I hadn’t understood. ‘Good idea, I said, we should do that.’ He said to me and my husband, ‘Yes you should do in the UK in your home!’.
One evening he cooked for all the guests who were around, huge pots of food and round balls of bread cooked in tin foil in a cow dung fire, all of us sitting on floor outside, eating with our fingers, ‘My first time,’ a young Western man said, ‘I just did my best.’
One day the owner pointed out across to a small temple. It was hard for me to see at first, there was a red shiny temple, a Hare Krishna temple nearby, two mountains with temples, and other decorative buildings all around amongst the houses. This was a small peachy orange and white temple. He told us that his late father had built that temple; at the time his wife and children were not happy, especially his wife, as it cost a lot of money. But the father went ahead and did it anyway. On his deathbed he called his son to him and said, ‘You wanted to know why I built that temple, I shall tell you. When I die and you have the guesthouse, you are going to make a lot of money. You may be tempted to spend it on women, gambling… If you get tempted, you look out there and see the temple that your father built.’
The owner told us how to reach it and we went one evening. Along the way we passed several camels pulling carts with lots of people. I felt bad for the camels, I didn’t want to look and turned away. ‘Don’t turn your back on them,’ my husband said, ‘They need your support. You can give them some love, show them that you acknowledge their pain.’
Up close the temple was much bigger than we’d expected, and was painted in a similar style to the guesthouse; multi coloured, some of the paint was slightly faded which had turned the colours into delicate pastels, with arches and small shrines with Gods. It was almost completely dark by the time we got there, and the crescent moon was beautifully framed by the outside arches.
The staff were not supposed to smoke marijuana at work, one day the owner appeared, like many bosses, quiet, like cat. I tried to distract him by asking what he’d got in his bag; he’d arrived with bag of what looked like baby lemons. I described what I’d seen in Varanasi; a tiny lemon and green beans hung from a doorway of a house. ‘How to explain,’ he said, ‘Say someone jealous of you and Anthony’s relationship…’ ‘Like evil eye,’ I said, ‘Yes!’ he said, high-fiving me. In Kerala we had seen black masks with scary faces for sale in shops and hung outside properties. We had asked the man we bought lungis and bananas from what they were for, he said, ‘Someone break in, they break leg.’
One of the guesthouse staff said that in his village they still grind their own oil from seed using a bull, they grow the seed themselves and they give the residue of the oil to the bull. People give seed to the pigeons; he described how each day one hundred pigeons go to his house to eat, then the next house, then the next. ‘If you get God’s gifts, extra grain, seed, you give a big percentage to birds, pigeons, cows.’
In his village, if someone commits a crime or ‘makes a mistake,’ the police are not involved, instead everyone talks, together with both families. They decide which family is in the wrong and they make restitution, offering x kilos of grass for cows, seed for pigeons. ‘Pigeons are not very clever,’ he said, ‘If a cat comes, they shut their eyes and think the cat has gone away.’ ‘Pigeons are loved in India. Not cats. But I know tourists like cats, especially British, love cats, love animals.’ The pigeon as well as the cow are holy- hence the pigeon feeding station on Chennai beach, I realised.
April 2019, Northamptonshire: About a week ago we went to our local town to pick up some shopping (and go to Greggs for vegan sausage rolls, of course). In the town car park was a sign forbidding people to feed the birds. I felt sad, and momentarily confused. It’s all conditioning; This is acceptable here, This isn’t. I get it, but still, I’d rather be somewhere where all the animals are fed.
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house left job decluttered almost everything else. With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India. Here are my India highlights. Recently arrived back in the UK and now living on a narrowboat. Writing a book about everything…
For more photographs of the trip see Instagram travelswithanthony