Monday, January 10, 2011

Pushkar – 31 December 2010

On the way through Jaipur this morning we made a short detour for a photo stop outside the Palace of the Four Winds, supposedly the second most iconic sight in India after the Taj Mahal.

This imposing edifice is just a facade one room deep and was built in 1799 to provide 800 windows, on various levels, for the women from the palace to sit and watch parades that passed without being seen by the general public.

Pushkar was about 23km off the route we were taking between Jaipur and Nimaj, but it was a convenient location to break the trip and have lunch. Pushkar is one of the holy sites in India as it has the only temple to the number one Hindu God, Bhrama. It also had a holy lake that is completely surrounded by steps down to the water, called Ghat, where the faithful go to bathe in the water.

The coach left us just outside the town and we walked through the bazaar to the temple. At this point we had divest ourselves of handbags, cameras, cellphones, etc, etc and, naturally, our shoes, so that we could join the throngs circulating through the temple.

After retrieving all from our patient Tour Manager,we walked the length of the main street bazaar to the hotel where lunch was available. After visiting the roof top restaurant for a great view over the lake we decided to forego easting and instead spend the time exploring the town a little more leisurely.

Whether the holy vibes rub off on the populace or not I don't know but the bazaar is fairly laid back in terms of the vendor-hassle factor. The most persistent people in the area are those attempting to press a flower into your hand the minute you make any move towards the lake. We never discovered their end-game as we were well warned by our guide to simply ignore them. Undoubtedly the acceptance of a flower to throw into the lake to bring good fortune to your family would not come without some monetary compensation.

We still had another 150km to cover to our hotel for the night in Nimaj and this was not without interest as we waited for trains at level crossings. One, in the country, was fairly civilized with only a few queue jumpers on the hard shoulder. The second one in a town was much more exciting with the queue jumpers driving down the wrong side of the road thereby creating a traffic jam when the opposing traffic was allowed across the rails.

In the UK this would, no doubt, have resulted in road rage and violence but in India it is all dealt with quite calmly and, surprisingly, quietly. As it was explained to us earlier, the rules are largely ignored so no one gets upset when someone breaks them and thus our driver was totally sanguine about a bullock cart meeting us in the fast lane of a dual-carriageway, likewise the car, the motorbike and the tuk-tuk, all of which we have seen so far. Similarly, yesterday morning at a busy roundabout in the middle of some roadworks in Jaipur, no seemed the slightest bit bothered by the commuter bus going against the flow on our left-hand side.

Over-taking, under-taking, fitting four lanes of traffic happily into a three lane road are particular Indian art-forms and if there is a designated slow/fast lane arrangement, it was decidedly hard to deduce, even on a three-lane motorway. Anything goes; even a fully ladened bicycle with its rider holding on to a equally loaded motorbike using a three lane expressway.

With all the traffic hold-ups it was a 12-hour day by the time we disembarked from our coach at the Nimaj Palace Hotel. This property has been in the same family since 1426 and is now a heritage hotel. Once again our suite was palatial in size with a bedroom , bathroom and an ante-room where the fan-whallah used to sit, pulling the rope to move the fan above the bed. The hole in the wall and wooden pulley are still in-situ.
The structure is obviously designed to keep the occupants cool in the hot Indian summers and the next morning our entire party complained about how cold they had been overnight as the area was apparently experiencing record low temperatures for this time of the year, something that we had hoped to leave behind in the UK. Given the effort that has gone into converting this property into a hotel it is a real shame that they did not put a bit more efforts into the the food as it is the easiest and cheapest way to make a guest happy.

Because we were so late arriving we only had time for a quick freshen-up before the New Year's Eve entertainment began. Indian dancing girls, and Indian bagpiper and what could be described as Indian Morris dancers entertained us until dinner was served. Then there was an Indian disco to occupy us until fireworks marked the change of year. Fortunately one of our party had an Ipod with some more familiar music that could be interfaced to the sound system so that we Westerners could also enjoy the disco.

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