Friday, April 26, 2013

Pushkar: There will be a show tonight.

Five years of college in Jodhpur meant five years of hunting for free weekends so we could hop on a bus and be off to Pushkar. We travelled all over the state back then, but kept coming back to Pushkar.  

Pushkar is dusty, Pushkar is crowded, Pushkar is the most charming place in Rajasthan.

The main part of town is one long winding street. Wide and calm in certain places and impossibly narrow and raucous in others, walking the length of the market is the best part of any trip there. Quaint roadside cafes with cows brushing by you as you eat, people of all nationalities dressed in outrageous clothes, shopkeepers selling stuff ranging from clothes and jewelry to antique swords and metal lingerie, who seem to enjoy haggling more than making a sale, there are always way too many things to look at.

The place we usually stayed at had a lovely green lawn where we’d spend our nights, sitting in a circle with our drinks, playing the occasional bawdy game of charades. There were 2 gentle tortoises on that lawn. We once had to convince someone not to use one as a pillow. The tortoise seemed to appreciate our efforts.

Pushkar is a fully vegetarian town. Contrary to all expectations, it doesn’t actually matter. The food is so good, even the most seasoned carnivores don’t miss the meat. Though most of the places serve excellent food, Israeli and Italian food is what should be given priority.

Once we set out for a proper food trip. We started at one corner of the town and ate our way through it. Various dishes made with hummus and falafel, the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever eaten, a strange wrap called a Mars Bar Roll, the ubiquitous popular dessert called Hello to the Queen, we ate so so much. After all this, we couldn’t do much but lie down on the grass and give those tortoises some company.

The town is actually alcohol free, so you need to source your liquor from nearby Ajmer or look for people who peddle it on the sly. Most people however, prefer to have the local bhaang drinks that are sold everywhere.  Any food item with the word “special” in the name means it contains bhaang. Special juice, special lassi, special Nutella pancake anyone?

A friend once told me a fun fun story once about how his parents went with him to Pushkar to see the Hanuman temple there. They unknowingly had a lot of Special Mixed Fruit Juice and gave him hell for it later. It’s probably best to keep your adults on a tight leash when you’re there with them.

The people here are very friendly. Also, slightly batty. Sadhus lurk near the lake to spot couples and immediately bless them with a future that has marriage and several children. Waiters go out of their way to give you food recommendations. Shopkeepers start chatting with you if you linger at their shops, and make surprisingly accurate guesses as to where you’re from.

I remember being offered a pinwheel by a stranger in a tiger mask who then saluted me and ran away. Another time, someone stopped us, handed us flowers and told us that if we threw them away, the apocalypse would be upon us all. Yet another time, a Tamil waiter in a café gave us all free drinks because he heard one of us speaking in Tamil and claimed to feel a special bond with us.

I miss going here at every possible opportunity. Sitting by the lakeside, eating truly spectacular food, watching the sun set over a wall featuring the work of the local graffiti artist, Kikasso (oh yeah), with friendly stray dogs at your feet, I miss that. Stepping out after dark into the empty streets dotted with sleeping cows, joining a group of stoned foreigners quietly playing cards outside a tea stall, I miss that.

Being in Pushkar is like being inside the video of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite. It’s easy to imagine that a circus is set up exclusively for you, every single time you visit. The performers dance, the crowds entertain and when you leave it shuts down and packs itself away, waiting for you to come back and take part in the show.

“As Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don't be late.”


Anonymous said...

Nice articles. I read the two ones above:)

Punvati said...