Gurdwara in Delhi
We go back to Rajiv Chowk, the center of Delhi at 7 a.m. and we witness the Sunday morning occupations of the people who live here. The traffic around the main square had been stopped and thousands of people are running, jumping and dancing around. At one place there is a huge yoga class taking place, at another some youngsters perform Bollywood dances, at third some guys are performing break dances, comic sketches, guitar playing, rope jumping and many other sport and cultural activities. We enjoy this a lot and after stay for a while, then we head to the old city.
The 7 a.m. party at the central square
Delhi is known for its architectural landmarks built at the time of the Moghul Empire – The Red Fort, The Friday Mosque, tombs of famous historical people… Some recently built temples also attract tourists with their architecture and impressive measurements like: The Lotus Temple of the Baha’i Faith, ISCON temple (Krishna Consciousness) and the Temple of Lakshmi Narayanan. We have our first contact with Jainism next to the Red Fort. We enter in an old temple that belongs to one of the two major schools in Jainism – Digammbra, whose followers are known for the fact that they are always naked and use brooms to clean the road in front of them in order to not step accidentally on ants and other small creatures.
The Red Fort
The Red Fort from another angle
Jainists are famous for their extreme pacifism and non-violence principles. The temple is very beautiful and covered with skillful paintings. It has several statues of Jainist saints who look a little bit like aliens – with bald heads, big bellies and totally naked. Behind the temple we find a one-of-a-kind-hospital for birds. People bring all kinds of pigeons and other small birds, they have found on the streets, to be cured here. Inside the hospital we see hundreds of cages. The doctors and the personnel are volunteers. We are touched by their attitude towards animals.
Charity Birds Hospital
We then go to see the central mosque which was built by the Moghul Empire. We cross the bazaar where one can eat, drink and buy clothes for 1 euro in total. At the entrance we encounter some racketeers who ask entrance fee for the tourists (5 euro). We know that there is not even a single mosque in the world with entrance fee so we refuse to pay and they don’t let us in.
We find another entrance and disguise ourselves to look more like Muslims. I put a shawl on my head, but they recognize me because of the clothes. Then we see a sign where it says that the fee is only for cameras and phones. We kick up the dust and I enter first. Mr. Shushtari waits outside with the luggage and he enters afterwards. The Indians walk undisturbed and take as much photos as they want on the other hand the ticket sellers ask the foreigners to pay for everything. We leave disgusted.
We visit the spice market and pass on some back streets where there are thousands of big bags. This is the biggest spice market in the world, someone told us. We then find ourselves on a street that passes by Mahatma Gandi Park where all the people who drive rickshaws are drug addicts. One of them is lying on the ground as if he was dead and his colleagues were searching through his pockets. We leave momentarily.
The evening continues with adventures at the metro. It is rush hour and the trains are full. We miss one because we can’t enter. On the next one we enter the women’s department. It is empty and we enter easily. Mr. Shushtari stands at the back where the mixed department starts. All men are packed like sardines and little by little start entering the women’s department. Then to our surprise some armed military men enter on one of the stops and start shouting at the men to go back and throwing them out. Thank God they let Mr. Shushtari stay – maybe they saw he was a foreigner. To summarize – it is very interesting and packed with action at the Indian metro.
Ancient step well
At noon we catch the metro to the last stop where the industrial town Gurgaon is located. It looks ultramodern with its luxurious buildings. We hop on the highway and start hitchhiking. Without even noticing we pass the 230 km. to Jaipur, Rajasthan. The people who took us were all businessmen with luxurious cars, very nice and well educated.
We are finally at Rajasthan – a place we dreamt of visiting for long time. Rajasthan – the state of deserts, Gypsy camps, palaces of maharajahs, palms and colors. In the evening we catch a tuk-tuk to our couchsurfing.org host who is from Rajaput family that belongs to the high military cast that guards the maharajahs. The streets here are wide and clean with palms and low luxurious buildings and the atmosphere remind us of Dubai – its Indian analog anyway. It is very hot.
The gate to the old city of Jaipur
We spend the next three days going around Jaipur. The architecture of the city is amazing. The old town a.k.a. The Pink City is overflowing with different nuances of pink. Old houses (haveli) with small barred windows and palaces of maharajahs succeed each other in the wide streets.
Street in Jaipur
Majestic elephants with colored trunks walk heavily next to us. Massive forts dating back to Raja’s time rise in the outskirts. If there are 5000 temples at Vrindavan, then here there are at least 10 000. Every street is specialized in some craftsmanship – jewelry, marble statues, leather, textile, iron figures, colorful bracelets covered with special lac etc. It is very interesting to just stand there and watch how things are made.
Jaipur is known for its special jewelry called kundan, for the special techniques of printing and coloring saris with special wooden press, fabrication of traditional paper and its blue ceramics.
Practically all the streets at the old town are bazaars for traditional goods. While we walk around Hawa Mahal – a palace that’s façade is covered with small windows so that the women from the royalty could watch the parades passing down undisturbed, a boy shows up and invites us at the second floor of the building opposite the palace where he shows us a nice spot for taking pictures.
It is common here for the locals to show tourists something interesting and then invite them to their shop to try and sell them stuff. This time we decide to visit the shop and see the traditional jewelry they offer. At the entrance we meet some Spanish tourists just going out with a bag full of things. The shop is dark, has a red carpet and looks shabby. Some jewels look very beautiful and we ask for the price of a bracelet. To our surprise the seller says it costs 10 000 USD. The other jewels have similar price. The merchant insists they are made of platinum, sapphires and rubies. We couldn’t believe it that such high end jewels are sold at this shabby shop.
Street in Jaipur
We ask him how he protects himself against possible robbery and he says that the place is packed with cameras and if anyone tries to do anything the Special Forces will come immediately. Then he takes out a bag of diamonds, each one of which costs 100 USD, and says: “You don’t know who I am! When I take with me jewels to Italy I always carry a gun on me.” At the end it was unclear to us whether this guy is a real player or the most impudent crook in all of India 🙂
View from an old temple
After this we discover another Indian trick for tourists. Going around the ancient observatory Jantar Mantar, where astrologist from the whole world still gather in attempts to guess where the monsoon will come from this year, a guy driving a rickshaw wants to take us to the Water Palace. He says that today is the only day when one can enter for free. He wanted a large sum for the ride. Later we discover this is a common lie of the tuk-tuk drivers. We catch a bus that is very cheap and we see that actually there never has been an entrance fee here.
Woman selling bread for tourists to feed the fish – behind her the Water Palace
In the morning we decide to visit Sanganer Village famous for its hand colored saris. We take a bus that supposedly goes there. In half an hour the driver tells us to get off and take another bus. We stop the first one that passes by and the boy who sells tickets says without hesitation that the bus goes to Sanganer. In half an hour they tell us to get off and take another bus. We did this one more time and we found ourselves in the old town of Delhi, instead at the village. If you use the public transport in India you could be never sure where will you end and will you be able to go home. The house of our couchsurfing.org host is located in a remote neighborhood and it is a miracle that we manage to find it every evening.
It is time to leave the pink Jaipur. We say goodbye to Ravi family – the most hospitable hosts we’ve had so far in India. His mother was all the time caring for us and worrying if we had eaten enough.
The highway is 2-3 km. away and we walk to it. Soon a guy with a luxurious car stops by and takes us to our next destination point – Ajmer and Pushkar. We ask him in advance whether he is a taxi and he assured us he isn’t, but when we arrive he asks for money. This is very uncomfortable situation because he diverted 20 km. from the highway and took us to the center of the city. Finally we give him 100 rupees (3 euro) and part our ways.
Street in Ajmeer
Before we go to Pushkar we want to visit a very sacred place both to Muslims and Hindus – the tomb of a saint Sufi – Dargha Sharif. It is located at the old town and the closer we get the more people there are, so much that it is almost impossible to walk. It comes then to our minds that today is the noon Friday prayer.
Ablution pond in the Dargah
Thousands of pilgrims clog the narrow streets. There are so many of them that they pray directly on the streets, in between the shops, next to the street vendors.
We saw Muslims from all over South Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh etc. All are dressed with white dresses and wear different strange looking hats.
Rose vendors at the Dargha
There are not so many Hindustanis at the moment. We somehow manage to reach the entrance. Inside it is amazing. People are singing songs and there is a queue leading to the main temple. People bring as a gift baskets full of roses, scent oils and religious shawls. The richer donate jewels, silver plates and thousands of rupees, part of which are later given to beggars and poor people. The queue is crammed and I almost get smashed till I reach the tomb. There is a person standing at the door hitting softly everyone with a broom – a kind of ritual.
Praying women and the queue to the main shrine
We go out and make our way through the crowd. There are many street vendors who sell meat and many kinds of sweets. We also notice that there are many hotels and restaurants that give food for free to the poor and some of them even provide accommodation. The Sufi, who all came here to praise, was famous namely for being a supporter of the poor, and the tradition he set continues nowadays.
A sign at a hotel
At the market our blood froze from what we saw – tens of disabled people sit next to each other and beg. Some of them with no legs, dragging themselves on the hot asphalt. The views are horrific and we hurry to go out Ajmir. We take a bus for 15 euro cents per person to Pushkar.
Entrance to Dargah Sharif
The first thing we do is go look for our Baba friend from Rishikesh who moved to live here for the winter. His place is next to the Samadhi (in this case the place where a saint is cremated) of the famous Bengali Baba.
In search of Baba Ji
We are so happy to meet again our friends from Rishikesh, the German guy Gopi Baba is also here. We spend the afternoon with them and in the evening we lie down to sleep on the roof from where we see the whole city. There are many langars (kitchens) around us and they invite us to eat many times. Every one behaves cordially and when they see we are with Pir Baba they bow and touch our feet with their heads showing their respect. As you can imagine this makes us feel really uncomfortable.
In Pushkar we meet many great people and wonderful things happen to us. Our stay at the Samadhi was amazing and very freeing. We stay for two days and visit the old Pushkar where Brahma Lake is located. The legend tells that it formed when Brahma – the creator of the world, was looking for a place to perform a sacred ritual. He dropped one of the lotuses he was carrying and the lake appeared so he could do his ritual. This is the only Brahma Temple in all of India. But still the main reason we stay longer is to spend more time with Pir Baba.
Our new home at the roof of Bengali Baba Samadhi
Pushkar as seen from the Samadhi rooftop
Cooking with Baba Ji and Gopi Baba