Just like in Varanasi, there were a lot of bikes, and they were annoying. They made dust clouds from the desert roads, drove too fast through the streets, and parked outside where we had breakfast, spewing fumes and blocking the entrance. But at least there were no cars (cars are banned from the main streets). Bikes used to be banned too, but gradually everyone stopped obeying the rules.
There was good healthy food available in Pushkar. Juice bars sold muesli with fruit salad and soya milk, and delicious soya milk smoothies with dates, you could even add cacao shavings and spirulina. The portions of muesli and fruit salad for breakfast were almost too big to eat (almost.)
We had a regular muesli and juice place. There was a small seating area, which gave a great view onto the main street full of shops selling Rajasthani goods: brightly coloured cushion covers, clothes and blankets. We used to sit and watch the shop keepers getting ready for the day; sweeping the road outside the shop with one brush- everywhere was dusty due to the desert plus motorbikes- and beating the clothes hanging up outside the shop with another brush, sprinkling water on the potholes outside the shop, and then doing a ritual with incense and a flower garland. It was a beautiful way to start the day. One morning an Indian man sitting opposite us at the juice place was playing recorded music. He told us that the singer he was listening to had just died, at three am that morning.
There was so much to see: the Rajasthani women’s clothes so beautiful; thin scarves in red, pink, or green, decorated with tiny mirrors. A monkey nonchalantly climbing across the street along tinsel put up for Diwali. More shops sold jewellery, drums, and masks. Away from the main streets things were quieter with fewer shops, and small stalls selling water and basic provisions. Women sat on the pavement making and selling beaded jewellery. Some had small children and babies sleeping in cradles. In the market, stalls sold bags, bangles and- surprisingly to us- huge gold swords. We saw children in heavy theatrical makeup and ornate dresses, they looked like spooky living dolls. Beyond the market was an Indian- not touristy- area, with more shops and stalls, cheap clothing and local restaurants, and beyond that the camel area.
We ate Sabje bhaji; a local curry, which was a rich red colour, made with peas and other vegetables and served with delicious fried bread which was puffy and chewy. They also served real Italian strong black coffee and homemade brown bread toast with peanut butter. A portion was four slices, we accidentally ordered a set each and couldn’t eat it all. I wrapped it up and gave it to the cows at the rubbish dump on the way home near the guesthouse.
They had the main kitchen inside but outside they served street food with the ingredients all out in the open. Like in Varanasi they did mosquito fogging (a scooter with kind of like a leaf blower at the back, blasting out grey clouds of insecticide). One evening the mosquito fogging scooter came and we all rushed inside covering our mouths and noses with scarves or t-shirts until the worst had passed. We looked out at the uncovered street food, some other tourists said, I’m not going to eat that.’ We felt really sorry for the cafes and street food stalls. We saw mosquito fogging again, they came right along the road at the bottom of where the guesthouse was; we saw kids chasing along behind it. Staff at the guesthouse told us that the kids take selfies in it.
We got to know a man with a textile shop and wholesale business who we bought a lot of stuff from and who sent it home for us. We often sat and chatted with him. He said, ‘Westerners going about like Indians, with their dress, meditation and yoga, and Indians dressing in jeans and forgetting about yoga and meditation.’ It was like Osho said, what was needed was a merge of East and West. The man did meditation each morning, ‘Up at 5.30am, and sit.’ On business he said, ‘Business always good; feel good, business good, money come, money go.’
It was an honour to experience Diwali in India and especially in Pushkar. We bought sweets for the staff at the guesthouse, and admired the layers upon layers of sweets in the shops, like terraces, so many that men had to climb around to get to them. We went out for dinner and heard the fireworks going off all around. Kids threw bangers down onto the street that made our ears ring. But the poojas go on indoors, in homes and businesses, so there aren’t things outdoors to join in with, but the restaurant owner, who was explaining all this, said that the priest was coming soon and we could join their blessing for the business. There was me and my husband, two Western women, the father, the son who ran the restaurant, and a younger boy who was trying in vain to control a tied up Dalmatian dog who wanted to say hello to everyone. Prayers were said into the fire and then the priest tied thread around our wrists, making a bracelet, as he did so he said, ‘Happy marriage, happy life.’ (I only cut mine off very recently April 1st; Diwali was in November)
We went back to the guesthouse, running the gauntlet of the boys with their bangers. The street where the guesthouse was was covered in the litter of fireworks, and there was smoke everywhere. We went up to the rooftop and listened to the fireworks. Later lying in bed, the fireworks nearby actually shook the room a little.
The morning after Diwali, the streets were all cleaned up. That such a big party could happen and then be tidied up so fast, was yet another thing I admired about India. We sat outside a cafe and watched people all greeting each other and giving money in street. When we’d finished our breakfast and the man was adding up our bill, he had to break off from his task suddenly to shoo a cow away down the road, another wonderful ‘Only in India’ moment.
The waiters tried to teach us Hindi, ‘Everyday you learn a new word.’ They would test us when they saw us on the stairs or back at the restaurant. Hi, how are you, okay, fine, etc. The owner, a Brahmin (the highest caste), corrected our responses; what we were saying was not correct for us, too casual, we should say xxx instead. Obviously we’d learned the casual version with waiters, which we were fine with. It felt rude that he said that in front of them. ‘We don’t observe the caste system,’ was something I used to say in private to Anthony. Meaning, I don’t observe the caste system myself. We just talked to whoever talked to us. We asked our friend with the textiles, a businessman, if he knew our friend from the guesthouse. ‘But he is staff,’ he said, looking puzzled and dismissive at the same time. Our favourite two people didn’t mix at all.
Northamptonshire April 2019 I recently read a blog by an Indian person from Bangalore, describing the pitiful life and death of someone of a lower caste, from her childhood- so not that long ago. I was upset and initially judgemental. Why was he treated that way, why didn’t anyone help or seem to care?
But then I remembered before we left the UK, in March 2018, a very cold and snowy winter, just how many people were sleeping rough in Norwich- one of the most affluent cities in the UK. And on our return to London, how many people were on the streets just the short distance from the tube station to our hotel. And how people walk on by, and don’t want to touch them, and how it is accepted that there are people on the street. We have a fully functioning Government in the UK, both national and local, a small population, and money to spend on other things, and yet we don’t provide enough shelter beds, and everyone just accepts that. Society accepts that that is the homeless person’s lot- the lack of healthcare and the low life expectancy and ongoing risk of violence. So in a way we have our own caste system.
We did read horror stories in the paper of Dalits (lower caste people) being attacked and killed. But India is a huge country of over a billion people, and every state is different. Our good friend Y from Tamil Nadu who is a college teacher, said that caste makes no difference within his classroom. Places on courses are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Tribespeople, which guarantees that his classroom is open to all castes (this follows the legislation in place). Of his students, he said, ‘Oh yes, they fight, usually about girls, but never about caste.’
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. Now back in the UK and now living on a narrowboat. Writing a book about everything…
For more photographs of the trip see Instagram travelswithanthony