100 Days in India Project
15/ 100 The Dangerous Suburbs of Pushkar
The small town of Pushkar, in the dry and dusty Thar Desert between Jodhpur and Jaipur, was a fascinating place to visit. We arrived into Ajmer on the wonderful Shatabdi express train from Jaipur. Unlike some of the other trains we had experienced this one did indeed offer an express service, and had great food served to us too.
The comfortable travelling ended immediately though when we were guided by the taxi driver we had picked, chosen at random from the 1000 drivers who were there to greet us, to a vehicle that was both large and small at the same time. Like some sort of reverse Tardis, from the outside it resembled a minibus, but inside it resembled a small microwave oven and there wasn’t even enough room to sit upright. The seats were so high that you had to bend double to squeeze under the roof which, I should add, was so hot I worried I’d burn onto it permanently if I stayed still for too long. I think some of my hair is still attached to it. At 6 foot 2 inches tall I appreciate that I am taller than most, however, I don’t think anyone other than a very small child would have been comfortable inside.
When we disembarked and told the driver it wasn’t suitable he didn’t even try and argue. That’s very un-Indian, so perhaps he was also relieved that these sweaty giants had vacated his van. Never ones to miss out on a job, we were spotted leaving the taxi and had many, many offers of other vehicles in which to travel to Pushkar. We picked a car with more care this time, and we were on our way.
The town itself was one of the more touristy places we visited and was awash with young Israeli visitors, many of whom were clearly there for the relaxed rules about smoking cannabis. There was so much passive smoking to be had that you didn’t actually need your own devil’s lettuce and walking around the town was quite pleasant and calming.
Whilst there was certainly plenty of stuff going on it all felt a bit too much like it was there specifically for us. We had decided not to stay right in the town and, instead, had booked an AirBnB in a compound about a mile outside. This actually turned out to be one of the best accidental decisions we made as the long and dusty walk to town and back each morning and evening was absolutely fascinating.
When you left Pushkar you almost instantly left all the other tourists behind and entered a world where local Indian people were going about their daily business. There was an even wider range of animals than usual roaming about the streets, including numerous camels and pigs from an encampment nearby. Pushkar is famous for its annual camel fair, although we weren’t there at the right time for that.
The owner of the AirBnB was a pretty unlikeable chap who thought that his higher caste status granted him permission to be completely obnoxious to everyone except his tourist guests. He also had a roaming squad of barely controlled, and quite large, guard dogs (one of whom greeted Fiona by peeing on her leg). Every time he saw us he would proclaim how appalled he was that (relatively) wealthy people like us walked through the poor and dangerous lower caste people to get into town and kept trying to insist that we took a ride in his drug-baron style 4×4 instead. He also weighed his staff each week, in the way that he weighed his horses, to ensure their work: food balance was spot on.
Needless to say, we refused the upper-class car rides. We love walking about from place to place and the slower pace opens you up to far more experiences. The ‘poor and dangerous’ inhabitants of the village we walked through every day were absolutely delightful and nothing but pleasant to us. We discovered a little chai stall just minutes from the apartment and had a drink there every single day when we passed. A small group of wrinkled old men, who seemed to be there permanently, would shuffle along the plank of wood they used as a bench and flicked through Fiona’s travel sketchbook each day in complete amazement and wonder.
Eventually they would break away and return to playing an ancient game on a traditionally designed rug. All seemed to go well for a while until, for a reason that was completely indecipherable to us, there was always an upset in the game and a huge heated argument would ensue. Was it cheating or a sore loser? Who knows.