Monday, January 11, 2010

Chugging Along… (Sawai Madhopur to Pushkar via Jaipur, 16-17 December 2009) Written 18 December 2009

The train comes in on time, and I get on. It’s surprisingly uncrowded, and I am struck by the contrast yet again – I’ve fluctuated from general class to and from Agra, 3AC to Sawai Madhopur, and now I’m back in general. But this doesn’t even have seat numbers. And it’s night. Oh, wait, didn’t the guidebook say I shouldn’t travel at night alone as a woman? Hmm. I walk through several compartments, all the floors littered with peanut shells, plastic bags, and seeds of various fruits. I was looking to sit near a woman (not that a woman would be able to stop anything if anything actually were to occur, but I was reacting on my instinct). So I find a couple, happily crunching away on their peanuts, and they motion to me with the cutest head wobble that I should sit. So I sit next to them on a single seat – this way no unwanted man can sit next to me.

The train finally takes off and the windows that don’t quite close correctly are letting in freezing air (did I mention North India is WAY colder than I had expected? Why did I leave my jacket in New York? Sigh), and almost everyone lies down to sleep. And they’re obviously well informed, and have thick blankets and shawls.

We finally get to a town called Sanganer and the lovely couple who has also given me fruit and peanuts leaves. So does most of the train. Hmm all of a sudden I’m in a compartment with 3 men. And I have no idea where we are. I have my headphones in and am looking extremely interested in the Lonely Planet. They actually move to sit on all sides of me, kind of just staring. To be honest, I don’t think I had any reason to be scared of anything, but once again, I had to chuckle at myself and my idiocy. They just watched me (quite possibly they hadn’t ever seen a foreign woman on a local general passenger train at night) and it was all fine.

We got to Jaipur at 12:30am, and autorickshaws were asking me for 300 rupees, 200 rupees, all this ridiculous stuff. I had no idea how to get to my hotel but I was irritated and left the station on foot. Finally one came and got me, agreed to 50 rupees, and I arrived at Jwala Niketan and promptly passed out.

I hadn’t intended to visit Jaipur on this trip but I figured since I was passing through, I may as well have a look. So in the morning I headed out of the hotel, intending to walk to the Old City. Well, India doesn’t really do street signs. You use landmarks like banks and restaurants and petrol stations, which would be fine except…I don’t speak Hindi. Sigh. So I kept going around in circles and finally got in an autorickshaw to the Old City.

Jaipur’s Old City is known for being pink, and it certainly is. Noise, noise, noise. Unfortunately, I was there too early to see all the bazaars in action, but I still got a healthy dose of seeing street food being prepared, lots of chai all around, and a few merchants. I really love being out in the early hours of the morning, getting a peek at a city that not that many other tourists get to see. I had a spicy fried bun made from gram flour filled with spiced potatoes, of course topped with sweet tamarind chutney and mint and coriander green chutney – for a bargain at 6 rupees – that’s roughly 12 cents USD. Yum. I managed to walk back to the hotel and walked to the bus station and got on the next public bus to Ajmer.

The bus ride was pretty tame, a quick 2.5 hours and decent roads (but yes, incessant honking). The bus from Jaipur to Ajmer was 80 rupees – less than 2 USD. Once in Ajmer, I was able to catch a bus to Pushkar within a few minutes and half an hour later, there I was in this town that’s become such an engraved part of the hippie tourist trail (and also known for its heavy Israeli presence).

Pushkar is known for its holy lake, which has ghats – baths of holy water – going all around its edge, and the pilgrims that come to bathe there. This year, the monsoon was very weak/didn’t really happen (hello global warming) and there is no lake in Pushkar at the moment. Actually, I must admit that some sources are telling me that while others are saying that the lake is dry due to construction. I honestly don’t know who to believe. Anyway, the bottom line is there is no lake, and only a few of the ghats are being filled, which means the majority of the tourist draw here is currently nonexistent.

But no worries – I was meeting Tamara and her son Dorian! Meet Tamara, beautiful powerful strong drop-dead gorgeous woman from Croatia. We had met rather synchronicitously (I just made that word up) in Bali in July, at Jacopo’s house in Seminyak. We both felt an instant connection and felt we would meet again, whether I went to Croatia, or perhaps in Indonesia again, or whatever, but neither expected that it would be this soon. She knew I was headed to India this season and it turns out she planned a trip here too so we decided to meet up for a bit. And so I jumped on her Rajasthan planning bandwagon and we were going to stay at the same place in Pushkar.

Pushkar – Hotel Everest – nice rooms with a rooftop café (I think this is a universal institution in India). The town is very small, and notably quieter than the larger cities but quite noisy nonetheless. I guess maybe this also has to do with the fact that so much life takes place on the street (something I like). Vendors of everything are selling everything in the street, and people that have shops are often doing their work outside on the pavement as well, i.e. tailors have their sewing machines on a stool outside. The town has the feel of countless other hippie traveler haunts, like Durbar in Kathmandu, Kuta or Ubud in Bali, Antigua in Guatemala, San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico, I could make this list go on forever. Anyway, it’s a nice change from the crazy in your face India of the larger cities I’ve seen in the past week, but it’s also a place I would go crazy if I stayed longer than a few days. Too many dreadlocked people wearing baggy clothes. Sorry.

It’s a great place to just wander around and browse shops, hang out in great little cafes and just while away the days though. Which is precisely what we’ve done, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I went a bit overboard with the shopping, or so I thought. But then I calculated and I have gotten 2 pairs of Capri pants, one pair of long awesome yoga pants, 3 large purses/bags, a small coin purse, 2 really cute tops, and a silver ring for…less than 35 USD. I have a feeling I’m going to have to buy another suitcase before I leave India…We’ll move on to Jodhpur tomorrow, which I’m excited about as there are a few Couchsurfers there who I’m very much looking forward to meeting.

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