The ghats at Brahma Lake
Pushkar – raising up to the clouds
Pushkar is a small town in the semi-deserted central region of Rajasthan. The soil is sandy and there is not much vegetation. Small streets and buildings with ancient architecture surround Brahma Lake. Taking pictures, eating meat and walking with shoes around the sacred lake is strictly forbidden. There are artificial pools with ghats (stairs leading to the water). Dipping in the water is believed to be a blessing – to some it gives beauty, to others fertility and to some healing.
A sign next to the lake
Carriages pulled by camels transport passengers among the temples. The access to most of the temples is forbidden for non-Hindus. The only Brahma Temple in whole of India is open to all, but is not so impressive as we thought it would be. The temple of Saraswati who is Brahma’s wife, is situated on a hill in the outskirts and in order to visit it one has to climb many stairs which takes around half an hour. Another interesting temple is the one where there is a Murti (small statue) of Vishnu in his reincarnation as wild boar.
The ghats of Brahma Lake
The town is full of western tourists mostly from Israel. Their community even has own religious center which is guarded by the police. We also see many orthodox Jews with their typical hats and long beards.
A street in Pushkar
The main market had long ago lost its authentic identity and offers mainly clothes and jewels that follow the tourists’ tastes. There are also quite a lot of bars, pizza restaurants and cafes. Nevertheless when we go out of the commercialized central part of the town surprises expect us. There is a very nice group of people living at the foot of the mountain, far from the mundane world, in the Samadhi of Bengali Baba.
There are four musicians among the inhabitants whose only occupation is to sing the mahamantra “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” for eight hours every single day. The first singing session starts at 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and the second is from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The music is broadcasted via speakers and could be heard pretty far away. Musicians are paid 150 rupees (around 2,5 euro) per day and never leave the temple. I don’t know if you could imagine what is it to sing one single sentence that consists of just three words for 8 hours every day.
The musicians at the Samadhi
Another inhabitant of the Samadhi is a former policeman who one day came to Pushkar with his car and heard the music. He climbed to the temple and never got down back. He left his car where he parked it when he came. He told all his relatives that he renounced the material world and then stopped picking up his phone. His main occupations were cleaning with a broom and meditating. He starts with the broom at 3 a.m. In two hours the music begins and wakes everybody living at the temple.
The former policeman comes to us with a strange tea made from tulsi leaves which he gathered around the temple. Every morning we sit with him on the roof, drink tea and he tells us wonderful stories. Some are about the life of the Bengali Baba – Arjuna Baba – a saint who lived here ten years ago. He was Naga Baba, which means he went everywhere completely naked, bathed only with dust and occupied himself serving people, feeding the poor and cleaning. He slept without a mattress and didn’t eat for long periods of time.
Other of his stories take us to Thar Desert in Rajasthan where the drug traffic to Pakistan passes through. He told us that the traffickers gave each of their camels a kilo of ghi (filtered butter) or a whole bucket of alcohol and the animal started running full speed through the desert and crossed the border still running, carrying on its back the “brown sugar” load.
The steward of the Samadhi is cooking and cleaning all the time and always asks whether we are hungry. He wears the same dirty pants every day and serves us food with a smile in the morning, afternoon and evening.
At sunrise with our friend “The Tea-man”
We walk around with Pir Baba who lives in the temple under the Samadhi. At noon we go to a big yard with several very old trees and we cook on open fire. In the afternoon we rest and meditate. It is hard to even explain it, but our eyes changed. It is time to leave soon and to us it seems we’ve spent an eternity here. We’ve become close to everyone and we don’t want to leave. At parting they give us a bag of fruits and Baba Ji presents us with rose leaves from Shiva’s altar, blesses us and we leave.
New Ragunath temple, Pushkar
We take a bus from Pushkar to Ajmeer and then a tuk-tuk to the outskirts. We start hitchhiking in the non-touristic part of Rajasthan and we head east to Bengal that is 2000 km. away. We are at the outskirts now and a dozen of gypsy children surround us and start asking us for money and tweak us. We shout at them, but the result is more children coming. Luckily an older boy shows up and starts chasing them away with a rod. All the villages in this area seem pretty poor which is in contrast to most of the Indian states we have been at up to now. There are many people with matted hair and a handful of begging children.
Hitchhiking in Rajasthan
Hitchhiking is good here, but each time they take us for just 30-40 km. The temperature is 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit). The scenery is dry. It is obvious water here is scarce. Most of the people don’t have water in their homes and we see many women carrying pitchers filled with water on their heads. They take the water from wells or big reservoirs. Men walk around the streets pompously and obviously don’t have much work to do. The typical man from Rajasthan wears white clothes – kurta and dhoti (shirt and a piece of cloth as pants), colorful turban, most often bright red, pink or orange and a moustache that protrudes in all directions.
We are already finishing hitchhiking for the day. Our last ride is a truck, that transports a giant bamboo tree and we are at the back with two locals. We get off in a village at Tonk Province.
Arriving at Rajput Village
We notice a place from where many women come carrying pitchers on their heads and we head to it hoping to find water. We see a small spring with a hose attached to it and we wash the dust from our bodies. Mr. Shushtari leaves to seek for a place for the tent and shortly comes with two elders. One of them speaks English and they invite us to their home.
The pride of Rajput
The two tall man walk heavily and show us to the center of the village. They are Kshatriya – belong to the military caste and are high up the hierarchy. They walk with their chests thrown out and walk slowly. They take us to an ark in a wall. The young brother proudly states: “This is my fort”. They are the only Rajput family here – military people since the times of the Raja and they own a fort. Near the entrance there is a small temple of a deity we are not acquainted with.
The entrance to the fort
Several men sit on the landing in front of the gate and speak with each other. Red turbans with flower patterns and protruding moustaches rock slightly in the dusk. They accommodate us in a clean bedroom with a big double bed. The woman prepares food in the kitchen and every time she sees an older man she pulls the sari in front of her face. All women hide their faces from the older man even if they are from their own family.
Our proud hosts, the Rajput family
They gather in groups sitting on the ground and whisper among themselves in a conspiratorial manner. They ask us why we don’t have children, to which caste we belong, why we don’t wear golden bracelets and the like. While we are talking they don’t miss the opportunity to emphasize again and again they are Rajput. None of them works because they own a lot of land.
The neighbors of the fort start coming to see us one by one. After a delicious and picante dinner we drink the usual cup of hot milk and we get ready to go to bed. I noticed that when we sleep in a room I dream nightmares, sweat a lot and in general nights are tough for us.
Our hospitable hosts wake us with tea at 6:30 a.m. It seems that while we are in India we will never sleep till, let’s say, at least 8. All the mornings somebody comes to us early with a hot cup of tea.
The morning is cool and hitchhiking is pleasant. What we didn’t expect was that till the evening we will had ridden at least twenty different vehicles. First we take a truck full of tomatoes. After 20 km. they leave us in a noisy town where we have hard time to go out of. We hitchhike inside it.
Other truck takes us to the main road that passes through the center. After we have breakfast with fried peppers and some sweet rice we catch a tractor to the outskirts. Then a luxury van stops and takes us to the highway. Then we stop a car with two men inside and after that a truck for 150 km. Every time we get off a car the next one stops immediately. Hitchhiking is amazing here.
We take a truck that transports fireworks. The driver is very religious and worships Shiva. With time passing by he is more and more convinced we are Sadhu (travelling saints) send by Shiva. To our horror he starts explaining to everyone we meet that we are a maharaja (literally “king” – another name given to Sadhu people) and a mata (woman saint). Of course he treats us to tea every time we stop and doesn’t want to take our money.
At noon we pass with the truck through Kervala. The town is so miserable and noisy that it gives the impression of a city where millions live. We decide to take a bus and tell the driver where we want to go. One of the people inside says he is going there too.
Ten minutes later we notice that the bus makes a U-turn and we go back on the highway we’ve came from. It turns out there was a misunderstanding – they heard Shivpuri instead of Sheopur. We get off in the next village. We ask some people if there is some transportation in direction north. They tell us there is, but it starts from the next village the next morning. At this moment a bus passes by and everyone starts shouting at it to stop. It does and we hop on.
The magic bus
The atmosphere inside the bus is intimate. They accommodate us next to the driver. All in the bus are chewing tobacco including one 13-14 years old boy. Everyone inside are very caring and ask us where we are going and how do we plan to get there. We drive on a dirt road and everything around us seems miserable and dirty. Hundreds of people with disheveled hair walk on the road. It seems like this is the first time people here see tourists. At this moment the story starts repeating itself. We make a U-turn, go on the highway and drive for 20 km. We start considering to stop somewhere, find a place for the tent and then continue again on the highway.
The magic bus
Then we arrive at Muriya, which consists of a few huts. It is not even in google maps. All the passengers get off. The driver says we are his guests and we don’t need to pay anything for the tickets. We take our rucksacks, walk for 200 meters and the fork miraculously shows up. It is a dirt road with a sign in Hindi. It is getting dark and we start looking around for a place for our bivouac. Suddenly the bus shows again. It stops next to us and the ticket seller Nabi peeks and says: “Hop on. We will drive you 20 km. further.” We don’t know what is going on. We saw that this was the last stop and all the passengers got off. Where is the bus going to?
There are still a few people inside including the boy that was chewing tobacco. The bus is empty but everyone inside sit at the most weird places – one on a horizontal metal rod, the boy hanging out from the door and the ticket seller has his legs on the driver’s seat. One guy takes out a giant utensil full of water and starts giving to everyone. We too filled our bottle.
The magic bus drives through a dry broad-leaved forest. At some places the scenery resembles Savannah very much – yellow grass, low trees and bushes. We drive into the wilderness. Shortly we reach a small village with few huts and stone houses. A few passengers get off. The driver and the ticket seller offer to take us to a “rest house” as they called it. They say it is 3 km. away from here.
We continue driving on the dirt road and then the bus stops under some wooden shelter. Several people cook on a fire. At the rest house there are three beds made of intertwined branches. We like the place very much and pitch our tent under a thick tree. The driver and the ticket seller park the bus under the shelter and prepare to also sleep in the open.
Later the driver comes with few aluminum boxes full of food – delicious homemade meal. He wants to share his dinner with us. Again we can’t grasp the amazing things that happened – a bus that drove us for free in the Savannah on dirt roads and then was parked under some cow-boy shelter where you could sleep in branch beds or in the bus itself. After so many similar experiences one starts losing sense of what is real and what not 🙂
6:30 in the morning. We are still sleeping when the bus driver comes to us with two cups of tea. After that he starts the bus and takes off. We settle under the shelter. The owner of the “restaurant’ is cooking samosas and we buy two for breakfast. Two cars pass for the next two hours, but none of them goes to the village we want to go to. Every few hours there is also a bus passing by so we decide to catch the one at 9:00 o’clock.
We drive for an hour on a dirt, sandy road. Here and there we see bulls and camels pasturing. Many people get on the bus at each village we stop. At a certain point there are so many of them that they start climbing on the roof. We sweat like hell because of the heat and the crowd. The locals look really strange with interesting faces. At the end the bus reaches Karahal Village.
Inside the crowded bus
Again we feel like we are in some mega polis. Hundreds of bikes, pigs and sewer waters dominate the central street and the bazaar. We are covered in dust and there are footprints all over our dirty rucksacks.
A street in Karahal Village
We decide to find an Internet café in order to see where exactly is the entrance to the wildlife sanctuary we want to go to. We find something like a bookstore where a guy is hitting the keyboard of his computer as if it is typewriter. He lets us use the Internet, but we don’t find much information. Nevertheless we see that there is a forest house 10 km. from the city we are in.
There are many people walking on the road and we doubt a vehicle will stop. Finally a truck takes us and drives us to the forest house which is close to a small village. We see a recently built building that nobody uses yet, we jump over the fence and settle on a flat ground. We cook and the get acquainted with the forest guards who live close by. They give us water and let us stay here.
Children getting water from a well
In the evening we take a walk around the village. The locals look at us in amazement. The society here is tribal. Most of the children don’t go to school and there are many people with tattoos on their faces. We feel as if we were in Africa. We head to some hills in the distance where the sanctuarystarts. We walk among the bushes on some red sandy pathways and we imagine we are Bushmen. We couldn’t reach the hills because it was getting dark, but saw a fox and a giant one meter long lizard that resembled dragon lizard.
At the walk outside of the village
Close to the village we come across a group of men who are secretly drinking alcohol in the dark. When they see us they start bowing and touching our feet. The situation is awkward and we escape hurriedly. We go to the forest house where the rangers and their boss are. We have heard that they had moved two lions here, but now they tell us the lions are note here yet and that there are two tigers.
They offer us rooms for 25 euro per night and we can now easily tell that the wildlife sanctuary is a machine for acquiring money from the state. They tell us that if we wanted to see something we have to go on foot and nobody seemed interested to give us any information about the flora and the fauna here.
We take our rucksacks and go to our place. After a while a jeep stops by and the people inside tell us that it is dangerous to stay here for the night. We move closer to the central building. Suddenly the rangers remember that camping is prohibited here, but thank God they leave us to sleep on the roof.
They went to bed and then some of the other people working at the forest house start coming on the roof. They shout and laugh a lot and are obviously drunk. In the meantime we also hear loud music from the village – they told us there is a celebration in honor of the goddess Durga. We wonder will there be some night where we are alone in the nature with not so many people around us.
The fat rangers sleep till 9:00 a.m. (this is very late for India) and then have a rich breakfast. When they finish eating they order the staff to bring us bread and potatoes outside. We really want to leave their corrupted haunt that has nothing to do with nature protection, but yesterday we forgot our kerosene stove in one of their jeeps and we had to wait for it. Finally it came back at 11:00 a.m. and we said good-bye to the “rangers”.
The road is empty and we wait for quite some time till a truck passes by and takes us. It was supposed to drive us to Shivpuri which is close to the highway but it turned out that the driver was in our direction and we went with him to Jhansi. We are now in the state Madya Pradesh. After Shivpuri we take the east-west corridor – a giant highway with no cars on it. It has been built into the wilderness and there are no villages or towns in the vicinity. Travelling on it is pleasant and there is no garbage on the sides.
The cowboy-like restaurant for truck drivers
At noon we stop to eat in some restaurant next to the road that looks like cowboy bar – a shelter and some knitted beds in the middle of nowhere. They put two planks on the beds and like this you have a table on the beds. We eat dhal with chapatas. An old Sadhu man sells the traditional cigarettes “bidu” – tobacco wrapped in a leaf and tied with a string.
The Sadhu that sells cigarettes
An oven for chapatas (flat bread)
The drivers stop at a place 20 km. before Jhansi in order to arrange some documents. It is getting dark and it seems like the paperwork will take them some time to be finished. We decide to not wait for them and hitchhike instead. Soon a businessman going to Jhansi stops. Some kilometers before the city he deflects the highway and we tell him we want to get off here. He says: “trust me” and continues driving. We consider he will leave us on the road we wanted to take. Instead he stops 7-8 km. before downtown and says to take a cab to the bus station. All this after we said several times we travel hitchhiking only.
He played a nice trick on us. It is dark already and we find ourselves on a noisy street filled with people and rickshaws. We take a tuk-tuk to the railway station which luckily is just half a kilometer away. We continue hitchhiking in the dark and a tractor takes us out of the city.
We start looking for a place for our bivouac. A guy with a small truck stops next to us at this moment and offers to take us to the fork for Orcha – an old historical town. We had decided to not go there because we didn’t have much time left in India. But we see this as a wink from destiny so we change our plans.
We find a secluded place in some bushes next to the road leading to Orcha. Finally we go to bed with no people around. We hear some machines in the distance, but nonetheless we sleep well.