DAY 6 - JAIPUR
We spent the morning eating breakfast on the roof terrace and chilling out with our mate from the jewelry shop and his friend, a fellow student. We went down on to the street and settled next to a chai (tea) stand where groups of men watched the street's traffic roll past. Whilst in the their shop later, his brother offered us a business opportunity which we gracefully declined. We talked into the afternoon and eventually separated and got some lunch. After spending a couple of hours desperately trying to update our blogs, we met Imran and co. in the restaurant and got some lovely food on their recommendation (Thali - a mix of sauces and small curries with chapatis to lap up the spices) and had some nice Indian rum. Imran gave me a spare Indian sim card for my phone but unfortunately it didn't work. At around 11 we left to get some sleep before our train ride the next day. Imran recommended that we visit Shakawhati, the area his village is situated in, if we want to see the real India, offering to take us there if we come back by Jaipur. He was very sincere and acted with the kindness of an old friend so we took his number and promised to let him know if we could fit it in our plans. Realistically, however, it doesn't look like we will be able to, although reading about the area, it does sound very interesting. We got some sleep after having a much needed day of relaxation.
DAY 7 - PUSHKAR
We got to the station with loads of time to kill - not necessarily a good idea it turns out, as we got a lot of hassle from beggars on the platfrom, mostly children. The train chugged out of Jaipur as we relaxed on our double-tiered sleeper seats, enjoying the comfort and space of the sparcely occupied carriage. Once again, we got a precious glimpse of rural India, farmers tending to their flock whilst women and children worked the fields between small settlements scattered around the region. We arrived in Ajmer in good time and quickly found a taxi to take us to Pushkar for a decent rate. We meandered our way through the mountains that engulf the town, a typical feature as you move further towards western Rajasthan, and caught some great views of the desert beyond Pushkar as we made a slow descent towards its entrance. We settled in the Mount Everest Hostel and strolled the town's winding corridors and colourful market spaces, dotted with decorated cows and Sadhus (hindu holy men). Pushkar is a holy place for Hindus, its lake believed to possess redeeming qualities, so we found that many of the visitors to the area were Indians on a religious pilgrimage. We made our way to the lakeside and were greeted by a group of holy men who took us through a hindu good luck ritual, rubbing dye on our foreheads and blessing our family with good luck as we sat by the water. They recommended a steep donation but we firmly let them know that our budget didn't allow for extravagant spending and eventually they relented. They gave me a red and yellow threaded good luck bracet which I intend to wear indefinitely. I can see how an experience of the spirtual and religious life of India could easily swing between one of awe and enlightenment and one of disappointment or disillusionment. Some of the religious aspects of India that we have seen have been truly beautiful and memorable, but any naive preconceptions of India as an automatic spiritual booster are blown away when one realises that these holy men are only human and some are just as liable to try to squeeze you for money as any market trader. I don't think it's necessarily a moral compromise on their part, it's just the way things are. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking down the main bazaar, soaking up the atmosphere and appreciating the 500 or so temples dotted through the town. The place was buzzing with an energy that carried us down alley after alley, street after street, chasing every scent and sound, desirous of every experience that the town had to offer. When we felt sated, we retired back to our room before heading to the fantastic Rainbow cafe for dinner, enjoying its great food, relaxed vibe and fantastic panoramic views of Pushkar lake.
DAY 8 - PUSHKAR/UDAIPUR
We returned to the Rainbow Cafe for breakfast before deciding to venture out of the town centre to the small clusters of quiet temples and huts that rest just outside the hustle and bustle of the area directly surrounding the lake. Children on their way to school greeted us excitedly, demanding a picture with us and then cheekily asking for money, giggling through charming smiles. One particularly sweet little boy innocently asked us for some food whilst rubbing his stomach, stressing that he was not asking for money, he was just hungry and too poor to get much food. When I told him that we didn't have jobs and therefore needed all our money to travel, he replied with complete sincerity, "So you are poor as well? OK, I'll leave you now, bye." We spent the early afternoon playing draughts and drinking tea on our hostel's terrace before catching a taxi back to Ajmer station and getting some very nice and cheap food to eat whilst we waited for the train. We left for Udaipur at about 4 pm, the landscape increasingly barren and mountainous as we travelled closer towards the desert. We watched the sun set behind the mountains, rendering the sky a soft gold that sillouetted the huge jagged forms sculpted from the vast windswept landscape.
I really can't express how achingly beautiful this country is, it's something I can't begin to quantify. Even if I pained over every sentence or possessed the literary credentials of the greatest of writers, I couldn't begin to do it justice. It's sights, tastes and smells are impossible to describe, as is the excited anticipation I bear as I turn every new corner, never once disappointed. Its landscapes and people have a richness that surpasses anything that I have seen before. Travelling through the country is more than an isolated experience, it's a life lesson, a broadening of perspective that leaves you giddy, drunk and thirsty for more. I can only speak subjectively, of course, but this journey, and I mean journey in the broader sense of the word, has pulled on my heartstrings with greater force and melody than any other. As we delve further into the soul of India, behind the inevitably shallow preconceptions and cliched tourist posters, beyond the ephemeral pleasures of her immediate delights, we are discovering a more fulfilling India, one of three dimensions that lives and breathes in the timeless beauty of every sunset, the chaos of the markets, the spices, the food, the jokes of our new friends, the tragic glint in the eye of a child beggar, the spirituality, the poverty, the smiles and laughs, the animals, the rickshaw rides, the constantly changing pace of life, the energy and the resonance of every memory which I barely have time to capture and write down before a new one joins it in my mind and builds upon my steadily increasing archive of experience. I think it has something to do with the age I am, the position I find myself in, but I can't help but feel that these four months will be some of the most influential and enriching of my life.
We arrived in Udaipur at 10pm and got a clapped out auto-rickshaw to the Panorama Hostel, a cheap, spacious but quality alternative to the city's many luxury hotels, with fantastic views of the lake from a large, well decorated terrace outside our room. We had a late but very nice dinner on the hostel's rooftop restaurant and enjoyed the views of the city's landscapes, highlighted by the fairytale-like Lake Palace, seemingly floating off the shore, brilliantly lit up. It is easy to see on a night like that why Udaipur is regarded by many as India's most romantic city.