Monday, 24 October 2011

Towns in the Desert

Bikaner is a town much like every other town in Rajasthan. It is hot, dry, sandy, and it has a fort. It is also a town much like ever other Indian town - noisy, grubby and occasionally smelly. Unfortunately for Bikaner, it's pretty much bog-standard as towns go. Not even the fort leaps out at you and exclaims its presence. That said, I had a really relaxed couple of days in Bikaner. The heat means that any form of exertion is probably folly, so you're best off finding a nice, shady spot and reading a book. Which is exactly what I did.

I did visit the Junagarh fort on my second day in Bikaner, but that only took 2 hours out of my lazy day of book-reading and snoozing in the shade. The fort was, surprisingly, not built on a hill which means it's the only fort not on a hilltop in Rajasthan. Meandering around the fort, through the opulent rooms with impressive views of Bikaner was a welcome alternative to reading my book, which I had whittled down to the last few pages. Sight-seeing always seems like the thing a tourist must do at all times, but I find that reading a book in an interesting place can be just as rewarding as bumbling around the said interesting place with a guide book in hand and a lost expression on the face.

I left Bikaner with no pages left to read in my book and the hope that Pushkar would be a more interesting place around which to aimlessly wander. Pushkar, as it turns out, is fantastic for the aimless wanderer. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Before I got to Pushkar, Kaushik took me past the Rat Temple in Deshnok. As the name suggests, rats are worshiped at this temple. As the name further suggests, there are thousands of 'holy' rats which live in the temple and are fed in the temple. It's quite a strange experience walking through a temple and watching thousands of rats scurry around between (and sometimes on) the feet of the temple-goers.

Pushkar is a very holy place to most Indians, perhaps the holiest of all places in India. It is believed that at this place Brahma dropped a lotus flower to earth from which the lake in the center of town sprung. Brahma was apparently conducting a ceremony here and his wife, Savitri, hadn't pitched yet. To spite his wife for not pitching Brahma married some other bird right there and then. Savitri thought that was about as good a time as any to rock up and when she arrived she saw Brahma had married some random lady. She was pissed off at Brahma and vowed he would be worshiped at not other place than Pushkar. Brahma was pissed off that she was pissed off about him marrying some other woman and he vowed she would not be worshiped in the town itself and would have to be worshiped outside of the town. So Brahma ended up with a temple in the town center and Savitri got a spot on a hilltop nearby. A priest told me this story, although he used slightly different language to tell it.

 The Brahma temple is one of only a handful in the world and so a visit was definitely on the cards. I did visit the temple, but found that it was somewhat like every other temple I've ever visited. To an atheist all temples seem the same after a while. The walk around Pushkar was a much better experience though. I walked all the way around the lake, along small streets lined with shops selling garments, incense, spices and local treats. Crowds of people drifted to and from the lake, coming or going from their holy baths. Pushkar, as it turns out, is a fantastic place around which to wander aimlessly, and i'm a huge fan of aimless wandering.

I'm staying an extra day in Pushkar because I've been invited to a birthday party. Alcohol is not allowed in Pushkar as it is such a holy place, but I believe we'll be blaspheming tonight as I've been told there'll be whisky for everyone...

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