Lessons in Pushkar

Pushkar Lake Sunset

August 2007

It was August and still off-season in Pushkar. There were not too many other western backpackers around and the town was quite peaceful.

We found a nice room for a very good price. It was still raining season and the beautiful big garden was lush green. Turtles wandered through it to feast on the hibiscus flowers, birds of all sizes and colours bathed everywhere in small puddles and there was a stable with two beautiful horses.

I marveled at the beauty of the Rajasthani gipsy girls and enjoyed watching a group of New Age people performing psychedelic dances on the shore of the lake at sunset.

I had to cross the whole town in order to reach the ATM to take out some money. Just around the corner of the guesthouse a boy approached me with his coconut sarangi to beg for some money. I don’t know if there is any way to make this instrument sound nice, to me it sounded awful! I ignored him, but he didn’t give in and followed me fiddling like a possessed. First I found the situation kind of funny, but after half way the squeaking sound really started to annoy me. I stepped into the ATM and the boy was clinging to the glass door, still fiddling. By then the sound was making me so nervous that I forgot my PIN code.

I opened the door and asked him to leave. No reaction. I was tempted to pay him something so he would just stop playing, but I decided to do it the Indian way and yelled at him that I would break his arm if he would not leave me alone immediately. I don’t know if he understood what I said, but he eventually left. I felt proud; for once I managed to get rid of a beggar by myself. It’s not that I never give anything to beggars; I do so if it feels right to me. There are so many that it is impossible to give to everyone.

I took the money and turned around to find that the boy had been replaced by a beggar woman, who held a skinny baby in her arms. Great!

And yes, I fell for one of India’s biggest scams!

She asked for money and made me understand that the baby needed milk. I did not want to give her any money, so she took me to a pharmacy nearby and asked me to buy a packet of infant milk. The eyes of the little baby looked so big in his tiny face. I got weak and bought the milk, which by the way was pretty expensive.

Later I found out, what actually happens: The women have a deal with the pharmacist. They bring back the powder milk and he gives them part of the money in return. Both of them have a profit. But that’s not the worst, in most of the cases, the babies are not even their own. They borrow them from someone to go “to work” and occasionally even pinch them to make them cry in order to arouse more compassion. Lesson learned!

Camel cart tour

When I called home I was asked all the time, what I was doing over there all day long. I didn’t know what to answer anymore, as doing nothing is not acceptable on the other side of the world (except you are on paid holidays, of course). So I decided to do something more touristic than usual.

Baba was thrilled with the idea of riding out on a horse. I asked him if he ever had ridden a horse. But if you ask Baba if he knows how to do something, he will rarely answer that he doesn’t. A guide would ride with us and I guessed that they would give us anyways some lazy, old horses just for the pleasure of enjoying the landscape on a horse’s back.

I guessed wrong; the horses were young, full of energy and ready to race off.

We had an adventurous three-hour ride, which we enjoyed a lot. Unfortunately the result was that Baba could not sit probably for three days.

PyalsWhen Baba could sit again like a normal person, we booked a camel cart tour to spend the night in an abandoned temple ruin situated in an oasis somewhere in the desert. Our camel’s name was Krishna. I don’t know if all camels do so, but our Krishna farted a lot! It took a little getting used to this, as we were sitting right behind the animal.

We crossed small villages and met a couple of Israeli backpackers surrounded by a crowd of curious kids who observed how they were swearing at their rented scooters that had broken down on the road side. To have a motorbike breakdown only after a few kilometres seems to be something pretty common in Pushkar. I heard the same story from a lot of people. I thought that maybe it’s a strategy of the bike rental, which might have many bikes requiring major repairs. So they rent them knowing that there will be a problem and afterwards demand a large amount of money from the tourists, telling them that the bike was fine before they took it. Like this they get their broken bikes completely repaired and don’t have to put even one rupee from their pocket. This is just one theory, though.

By dawn we arrived at the oasis. It was amazing! There were hundreds of peacocks everywhere dancing and singing and the temple ruin was pretty cool. The camelwallah made a fire and cooked dinner for us. I wondered where he had taken the water from as I did not remember to have seen any container on the cart. First I enjoyed the mysterious atmosphere a lot, but then mosquitos and bizarre animal sounds kept me from sleeping most of the night.

The next day, after our breakfast got stolen by a group of monkeys and we had some strange tasting chai, I took a walk through the area and found the source of the water. I insistently prayed that I was wrong. It was a lake or more precisely a swamp. Water Buffalos were bathing in it chewing on the algae that covered the green water.

Without going further into detail:

This was rather an adventure for my digestive system than for my spirit.

Lesson learned!