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India, On the road 0

Holy rats, rainy deserts and omelettes in royal Rajastan (part 2)

In the last post I took you through the first part of our trip starting in wee hours in Delhi and making it all the way to the desert near Pakistani borders. Although adventure packed, this has been just some 10 days in our one month trip! The best was yet to come.

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The itinerary of the first 19 days of our trip – the Rajastan/Delhi/Agra circuit.

Bikaner

There is not much going on in Bikaner, although the city itself has a chilled vibe. Why did we spend two nights to have one full day there? To go see the in-famous Temple of Rats.

The Rat Temple is about 30 minutes bus ride away from Bikaner in a small town of Deshnok. The objects of worship there are…well… rats. There is supposedly twenty thousand of them, as there was twenty thousand deserted soldiers who sought refuge in Deshnok. Karni Mata, the incarnation of goddess Durga, spared their lives although they were meant to be punished by death for desertion. As an expression of gratitude, the rats serve her until today. If one dies, it must be replaced. And if one runs over your bare feet, it’s blessing!

Indeed, just like in any other Hindu temple, you are obliged to take your shoes off before you enter. The smell in the temple combined with heat and humidity of the climate is an experience by itself. I wish I was allowed to publish the picture I took of Ája’s face, but I know I’m risking my life just thinking about doing it.

Warm welcome to the Temple of Rats.

In Bikaner, we stayed at Vinayak guesthouse ran by Jitu and his wife Pooja. They took a good care of us, and we loved that cosy girly evening we spent with Pooja decorating our hands with heena and talking about life in India from woman’s perspective.

By the way, Bikaner has its own fort (of course) and it’s quite nice and full of old artefacts and photos of the royals. Worth a visit unless you are fed up with forts.

Heena drawing with Pooja.

Heena drawing with Pooja.

Pushkar

Oooh, did we love Pushkar! This small hippie town with a sacred lake surrounded by a lively market selling everything a tourist may dream of (or not) became our sanctuary for three full days. This is where we gathered energy, fixed our stomachs, escaped from the rush of big towns and enjoyed some nature.

We did yoga and first encountered ayurveda in green and peaceful Yoga Garden in the lush outskirts of Pushkar, we enjoyed the best salads and strong chai at Laughing Buddha cafe, watched sunrise (one) and sunsets (several) over the Pushkar lake stalking on Indians bathing in the holy water and doing their offering ‘puja’ – pink flowers that were blessing for the locals and trouble for uninformed tourists – and spent evenings in the peaceful garden of our ashram like guesthouse over ginger-honey tea.

Pushar with its Lake as the center of the town.

Pushar with its Lake as the center of the town.

Our favorite day in Pushkar was the one when we rented a scooter, and after beating the scary traffic full of bikes, tuktuks, bulls and wild local buses we embarked to discover the hills around the town. We headed towards the Aloo Baba temple and beyond. Outside the town the road was empty (thank god) apart from occasional herd of cows or goats, a honking motorbike surprised to see two white girls daring the broken bumpy road or a lonely woman carrying big load of wood on top of her head. The landscape was stunning and the weather great.

Pirate of the (dirt) road lost in the middle of nowhere.

Pirate of the (dirt) road lost in the middle of nowhere.

Aloo Baba temple peaked out from behind a curve about 20 km away from Pushkar. A small colorful temple built in and around rock formation hosts no one else than Aloo Baba. Baba is a Hindi word for a spiritual leader, an old man, a caretaker of a religious place or simply someone who smokes lots of pot. You choose. Aloo means a potato. What do you make out of it? Yes, Aloo Baba is an old man who only eats potatoes and smokes weed. We caught him sitting outside munching on chips (present from villagers) and… smoking. He invited us to sit with him and drink chai and despite no common language was spoken, it was one of these warm connecting moments not to be forgotten.

Aloo Baba giving his blessing.

Aloo Baba giving his blessing.

 

Jaipur

It was hard to leave cosy Pushkar knowing we are heading to a big city with unsettling reputation. Many say Jaipur is “love or hate” and I was not sure if I was ready again for that craze after chilled Pushkar. Despite initial doubts, we ended up having time of our lives. It’s not about places you visit, but about people you meet ,who make the journey count. We would never enjoy Jaipur this much without always smiley Anil and his friend Hardik. I owe to Britt, my co-volunteer in Kenya, who put us in touch with Anil, her Hindu teacher, and together with Hardik took care of us for two full days, taking us places, stuffing us with ice-cream (for breakfast, seriously) and responding to all our curious questions, never laughing or rolling eyes at our ignorance.

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Being silly in the Palace of Winds with Anil. Duh!

We strolled the city and sipped chai together on our day one admiring the beautiful pink architecture of the city particularly the famous picture-perfect Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal) and the markets around. If you long for cold drink with the best view in town, climb up to the WindView Cafe terrace to have Hawa Mahal all for yourself.

We couldn’t miss the obvious – the Amer fort outside Jaipur – supposedly one of the most stunning forts in Rajastan. The sun was high up and the nature around beautiful making the fort look even more majestic. We enjoyed getting lost in it’s narrow corridors and gigantic halls, tried to walk far up the fortification wall. Unfortunately, the observatory tower closed too soon for us to take up the whole challenge – perhaps next time. At the end of the day, we met Hardik, who saved us from the heat and invited us eat European food with Indian twist in a stunning Italian style resto. As underdressed as we were, it was a chilled place somewhere in central Jaipur (the privilege of being taken around and not having to know where we were), where we had one of the most engaging conversations that helped us understand many aspects of Indian culture, spirituality and religion, and provided great basis for the second part of our trip.

Inside the Amer fort.

Inside the Amer fort.

On our last day in Jaipur we were tempted to go discover the mysterious Monkey temple about 10 km outside of Jaipur. It was a bright day that gave this otherwise rather neglected place a character. Set up in beautiful nature with a natural spring filling three sacred pools where religious pilgrims take bath together with ignorant monkeys. Monkeys totally own the place and rumours say one of the pools is dedicated only to them. Clearly, the jumpy daredevils didn’t care much and played their silly games all over the temple grounds.

The Monkey Temple.

The Monkey Temple.

I’ll take advantage of this space and express my thank yous to Anil and Hardik one more time. Typing the words above I felt very clumsy, because no words can express the great times me and Ája had with and thanks tothem. Again, this trip would not be the same without them, and  I genuinely hope and believe this was not our last time to meet.

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See you soon, guys!

From Jaipur we continued for a quick stopover to Delhi only to catch local flight to Rishikesh, the world yoga capital, where we stayed for a week in the Himalaya Yog Ashram and then continued to holy Varanasi, one of the most special places in India. Stay tuned, I promise I will not take months to put a post together about the out-of-this-world experience we had in Rishikesh and Varanasi.

Yours,

Petra

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