Monday, November 26, 2012

Pushkar and the Pushkar Camel Festival

Oh my god.... This was even more awesome than I ever could have imagined. And I am so glad I decided to stay for the duration because not only did my ankle prevent me from being able to do everything all in a single day but also because there was just so much to see every day.

I have enjoyed meandering through the crowds of the bazaar, listening to calls of "nice tattoo" and ignoring the pleas for "no money, chapatti" from the begging children. Hearing the rumbles that warn of an approaching motorcycle. The popular elephant or camel chimes that dangle from practically every third shop that tinkle at the slightest breath or passing bicyclist. The chattering in many different languages. Drums and other musical instruments all through the day. Chanting. There is nowhere to go for even a moment of silence.

The entire town was just a burst of color... from the ever popular pashminas and clothes to the piles of red and orange powder you use to mark your forehead and various flowers (nasturtium, marigold, and orchid blossoms) to offer if visiting a temple. Saris and punjabi suits of every color imaginable make the women in the streets remind me of an explosion from a crayon box and I'll keep these images in my memory forever.

And the scents were enough to make me want to just stand still and close my eyes and try to identify each individual one. Spice and perfume shops. Incense burning at the temples and open air kitchens making my tummy rumble even if I'd just eaten. One particular stretch of the bazaar had three coffee shops offering REAL coffee, complete with that scent I hadn't realized til now I had missed so much. But not all scents were good. Men go to the nearest wall or corner to urinate, and one place even had "stalls" right there in public. I'd have to hold my breath every time I went by that particular location or find myself gagging and wanting to throw up. I have no idea how the people who run the shop across from it work in that stench day in and day out.

The town of Pushkar is situated around a small lake, considered extraordinarily holy to religious types. Holy men, both genuine and those just after your money, are there to lead you to the water and offer blessings. I managed to piss off one of these men when I went down and got a plate with powder, flowers and rice thrust into my hands. The man who took me down to the lake asked questions and started leading me in saying a blessing for my family until he reached the part where I was supposed to pledge a 7000 rupee donation to the temple for my family. I stopped him right there and said no, I am not saying that. He got all huffy at me and wanted to know how much I would give for the blessing. I had actually deliberately left my money in the hotel room that day and when I told him I had no money on me he got so angry! Started calling me a liar and telling me I'd be receiving bad karma for not giving to the temple. That I obviously have money to give or I wouldn't be traveling. I told him I would have been more than happy to come back another day to leave the temple an anonymous donation but how dare he accuse me of lying, that he is just a fraud out to steal from innocent tourists. He snatched the plate of stuff out of my hand and strode off. I couldn't believe that jackass. Another day I was at the lake up at the top of the steps, watching the lighting of all the oil lamps and prayers when a holy man gives me a flower and wants me to follow him down to the lake. I told him no, and showed him my wrapped ankle. He was pissed too. Around town you see a lot if holy men (wearing orange, usually) with little brass jars as they wander around hoping for donations. I was more likely to donate to them than to the predatory ones at the lake.

I don't know if this is just during the festival or if it's like this here all the time.... But you have to be careful taking pictures of people and I'm glad I prefer candid snapshots anyway. Many people, mostly women and girls dressed up in their finery but it has been a common practice for most people, come up and offer to have their picture taken. But then they want money in return. I am tempted to reverse it. Sooooo many people want my picture that I want to start asking for ten rupees for every photo. But I doubt I'd ever do that. It's truly not that irritating for me, and it really does appear to make these strangers' day to be allowed to take my picture. It's kind of flattering, actually.

All of this just as I walk from my hotel through the Bazaar and make my way out to the actual festival grounds.

The festival itself... *Smiles* Has been just as much a feast for my senses. I rode the rides, and I have never in my life been more scared than during the Dragon Boat ride. You know.. The ride where it swings back and forth and higher and higher til you're almost flying vertical on the high up and down swings. Back home, these rides have really major safety regulations. Bars and seats designed to protect you from falling out of the ride. Yeah, not even a seatbelt here. I had one hand gripping the seat in front of me and my arm curled along the back of my row of seats with my knuckles white from the tightness of my grip as I curled in on myself and tried not to scream in real terror. The kids seated a few rows behind me were so cavalier about the danger and laughed at my fear. But trust me, once was enough for me on that particular ride. And I've had nightmares every night since going on it a few days ago. Even the Ferris wheel was slightly scary due to the speed of the rotations and no door on the baskets. But the views were so worth the fear that I've gone up several times already and will probably go up again at least a few more times. For only 20 rupees a pop, it's cheap entertainment.

Most of the "action" happened in the big sand filled stadium. Locals vs Foreigners football match played in deep sand. Most of the players played barefoot. And foreigners won on penalty kicks! Go foreigners! *Laughs* I missed the camel race, and the camel and horse dancing. But I loved every second of the camel decorating contest. And the turban tying contest was chaotic and crowded and I couldn't see through the crowd. But I was able to get a pretty good view of the mustache contest, and that was simply awesome! One man (I'm pretty sure he was the winner, but I couldn't hear or see when the winners were announced so I don't know for sure) had a mustache so long he raised his arms up holding up the 'stache and it still dangled nearly to the ground!

This guy came in second place in the camel decorating contest...the camel, not me.
Everywhere you look there are camels. Decorated, waiting to be ridden. Decorated, hooked up to carts and being offered as "camel taxi, I give you good price!" Camels in the distance. Camels on leads. Baby camels. This festival often gathers as many as 50,000 camels. I heard this was a smaller year, yet I was still in awe of just how BIG everything was.

Hi, I'd like a tattoo with a side of hepatitis, please!
 More stalls and tents line the entire festival grounds. And if people don't have a tent they just lay their wares on a tarp on the ground. That includes men with inks, needles, and tattoo guns. Right there in the sand, offering tattoos. Never! That was my thought on how scary the thought of getting a tattoo like that was. I think I am reassured that while I've seen a half dozen or so of these "tattoo purveyors" not once have I seen anyone actually being inked. It makes me have hope that people are smarter than I often give them credit for.

I found an Israeli cafe, with very good and very cheap food. I've eaten there a lot. I checked out a rooftop restaurant recommended by the guide book. Expensive. And food wasn't even that good. Except the dessert. Their lemon tart was spectacular. I plan to go back one more time just for the tart.

With just one week left in India I have found myself slowing down til I'm ready to just curl up and wait for the 3rd. I'm ready to go home.

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