Waking up at 4 in the morning to go hike up a mountain to see the sun rise is not the kind of thing I normally jump at… and even Kim was balking at getting up that early. Our tour leader on this trip has been pretty hands off as the style of the tour is more self guided, but this sunrise hike was supposed to be one of the few included activities and he was trying to get out of it, so we were wondering if it was really that daunting or if he is just lazy. But several people in the group were insistent that he fulfill this activity and since we’d already made our way up the Great Wall, to Everest Base Camp, and on our forced march of fun in Nepal I figured we should just keep it up and make the hike at dawn. Well, our tour leader failed to meet us the next morning so seven of us set out to find the Brahma temple ourselves and hike around behind it up this hill to the Savitri temple from where we could see the sun rise.
This was by far not the hardest climb we’ve made on this trip, but at six in the morning with a stomach full only with a few cookies (sorry, biscuits in deference to the Brits and Aussies we’re traveling with) no hike is easy. It was well worth it though as we saw the sun slowly rise over the hills surrounding Pushkar and the lake below. We were joined by lots of monkeys. A Polish girl foolishly started feeding them biscuits and they swarmed in like bugs while we watched the show.
After a few hours napping to make up for the early morning we went back to the famous Brahma temple. This is the only Brahma temple in India (or the world for that matter? I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is true)… There are a couple different legends about why this is, but basically Brahma was cursed for having transgressed (his wife, a sage, etc) and the curse was that he would no person would ever invoke him or worship him again. When we got there certainly nobody was worshiping him as the temple was mostly empty. Empty that is save for the bees. Somebody had been there earlier in the day and there were offerings of sweets left throughout the temple, and wherever these offerings were there were swarms of bees feasting on them. We got some good photos without getting stung and then we got out of there! Walking back through the town and around the lake, we weren’t falling in love with Pushkar as we were accosted by children and shop keepers to buy goods for Diwali or to purchase a flower to take to the holy lake. Pushkar is a holy city, and there is no meat or alcohol allowed inside, but there is plenty of dope, hash and “special” marijuana laced lassis (yogurt drinks available in other flavored but non-special varieties across Asia from Tibet to India) and the people seem to have turned the holiness of the town into a marketing strategy. I can see how it maybe once was a sleepy hippie destination, but it seems commercialized now, like a Grateful Dead lunch box and key chain merchandising scheme. I do wish we could be there next week during the famous Pushkar Camel fair though. It starts the day we return home and is supposed to be amazing. I can’t complain too much though as we were lucky enough to be in Kathmandu for Dashain and as you’ll find out shortly in Jaipur for Diwali.
The next morning we had another bus ride in store, but it was relatively short at just a few hours to Jaipur, the Pink City, the capital of Rajasthan and it’s largest city. Jaipur easily dwarfs Jodhpur, the second largest… which though it sprawled out, did not look nearly as dense and metropolitan (if that word can be used for any city we’ve been to). It even looks bigger than Delhi from what you can see because Delhi seemed to be hidden well by trees. We arrived early enough to grab some lunch and head out to see the city right away. Our hotel was close enough to the old city (which was painted pink for a visiting Prince Albert in 1876 and has been maintained ever since, giving it its nickname) that we walked, instead of taking an auto rickshaw, down to the Moon Gate and Heavenly Piercing Minaret. After walking through the gate we entered a madness of people getting ready for Diwali, buying sugar cane to decorate their homes, sweets for gifts, and of course fireworks. It was chaotic but very authentic feeling. When we climbed up the minaret to get a view of the crazy scene below we could see the whole city: the Tiger Fort up in the hills, a Ganesh temple beyond that (the Amber Fort was too far away to see in the haze), the City Palace, Observatory, and Hawa Mahal down below. It was short walk to the Observatory which was really fascinating. Jai Singh (the founder of Jaipur) was enthralled with astronomy and built several of these observatories around the country (in Delhi and Varanasi as well), but this is the largest and best preserved as since a restoration in 1901 (and was still undergoing work while we were there). There are sun dials of all kinds and hemispherical bowls set into the ground which chart the progress of heavenly bodies. We read the descriptions and tried to pretend like we understood, but it was pretty mind boggling and I’d probably have to go back to school to get a real grasp of how these tools work. We continued on along the bazaars, saw the Hawa Mahal from outside and grabbed a street chai before chilling out at a little cafe for a while, waiting for it to get dark so we could see the city at night, when it lights up for Diwali.
One thing you’ll probably see lit up in the photos are what look like stars of David (a jewish symbol you’ll see on the Israeli flag). I’ll digress here for a bit to talk about the strange imagery of seeing Swastikas and Stars of David lit up all along the same street. I don’t think it’s news to most that Hitler misappropriated the swastika imagery and aryan race concept from Indian history and culture, so while we didn’t really give it a lot of thought I suppose we knew we’d be seeing some swastikas while in India and would just relegate our unease with the symbol to the same sort of funny culture clash we experienced seeing hooded “klansmen” at procession around Grenada, Spain during Semana Santa. What we didn’t expect and were totally surprised by were seeing swastikas all over the place in Tibet, then again in Nepal, and now in India. It’s not just an image, it’s an important symbol to many people across Asia and it’s on temples and religious instruments of all kinds. A little girl in Tibet had swastika earrings. So by the time we started seeing them in Nepal the unease with the image was waning and we just got used to it. But then, we start seeing stars of David all over the place!! Well that too means something different here. In Nepal it’s a sign for education and it’s on every school you see. It also represents male and female forms (Da Vinci Code anybody?). So here we are in India, and I’m not sure what the six pointed star means here yet, it’s not on schools and seems to be all over for Diwali, but now we are getting a little cognitive dissonance just seeing stars of David and swastikas hanging from the same ropes along the boulevards. It was also a little funny seeing hebrew all over the place in Pushkar, I’d been told that India was a popular tourist destination for Israelis, and apparently they all go to Pushkar. I can only wonder what they think seeing what I’m seeing.
Now, I bought some fireworks in Pushkar… and then a few more when I felt like that wasn’t quite enough, but I was getting more pumped and I just had to pick up some more here in Jaipur. I spent maybe $20 US total on a big bag of decent explosives. Feeling prepared, we took a cycle rickshaw back to the hotel, going through the old city all lit up, and MI Road with hotels looking like Las Vegas. We’ve been told that they are all lit up like this ONLY for Diwali and in a few weeks all the lights will come down… pretty amazing as these are complex lights that look pretty permanent.
Back at our hotel we headed up to the roof for dinner and an unmatched view of the city. A couple from Vancouver B.C. who were staying at a nicer hotel even came over for the excellent view. I literally had blast setting off the tubes and rockets we’d purchased… the quality control on Indian fireworks is not the same as at home and some of these went off in unpredictable ways (like blowing up before they launched into the air… oops!) but nobody got hurt and we had a really great time. The fireworks went on all night and were still going off when we woke up this morning… they’re still going on tonight (after midnight the next day) and I expect they will be going when we get up to catch our six am train to Agra tomorrow.
Today we visited the Amber Fort which was little underwhelming after seeing the fort in Jodhpur. It would be more impressive if they took better care of it and kept it free of graffiti. The Tiger Fort was in even more disrepair but we really only went there to catch another nice view of the city (covered in haze though) and watch the sun set. We were surrounded by a bunch of guys there who seemed to be really interested in my tattoo again, and wanted us to take pictures of them on their motorcycle… they got a huge kick out of me speaking a little Hindi, but when one other guy (a little more professionally dressed) walked up to me and suggested that it was probably a good idea that we leave… like, right now, we got the strong impression that Kim and I and the one other girl from our group that we were traveling with weren’t exactly safe with all these guys, so we quickly made our way back down to the city to eat some dinner.
We’ve got just over a week before we return home and we’ll be visiting the Taj Mahal and Varanasi in the next few days. Should be exciting and hopefully picturesque.
As I just said, it’s after midnight and I have a six am train to catch to Agra, so I’m going to sign off to catch a few hours sleep. I hope I can sleep as there are still explosions going off around us. Happy Diwali!