Sunday, March 3, 2013

Living Like a Local in Pushkar

Everyone in Pushkar is either chanting, meditating, praying or on their way to do so. Most mornings begin with the sound of humming mantras, the days are filled with bathing and making puja in the holy lake and end with spiritual drumming late into the night. As one of the holiest Hindu cities in all of India, what better place to slow down and get comfortable for a while.
When you're traveling long-term, it's necessary to occasionally take time in one location without an agenda. In five months, the longest I've stayed in one place was two weeks in Bangkok. After moving around too much in the past month, I was in need of some serious soul rejuvenation when I arrived.

Having split from the Israelis, I met Natalia from Brazil on the train ride here. We shared a room and life for my first week in Pushkar, and I learned a lot from her care-free, easy-going spirit for the days we spent together.
Natalia's natural beauty causes all heads to turn and
men to confess their undying love (seriously!)
Pushkar is a quirky little village full of ironies. While it's an extremely holy city that is visited by Indian pilgrims  from all over the country daily, it's also a major stop on the tourist track of Rajasthan. The locals and shopkeepers are accustomed to Western culture and befriending tourists, so it's easy to differentiate the visiting Indians from small villages who indiscreetly snap photos of our foreign faces in awe.

The narrow, compact streets offer an escape from the bustle of cars and rickshaws in most Indian cities, but it's still necessary to dodge the constant stream of motorbikes and cows often taking up too much of the cramped roads. 
What a standard sight in India
With the tourist bazaar on one side, the holy lake or ghat is on the other where Indians flock from all over to make puja, a special prayer for your family.

Pushkar's economy in large runs on tourism, with some of the most beautiful handmade clothing, art and jewelry I've ever seen at such incredible prices that it is impossible not to indulge. For months I've been pinching pennies, but I've allowed myself to empty my wallet enough to send a parcel home full of memories and gifts.

Like the odd mix of tourists and Indians in Pushkar, so has been our social life. We've been shown around by locals that work in or around our lovely guesthouse. Oh, the places we've gone and the things that we've seen, experienced and learned by hopping on the back of their motorbikes and going along for the ride!
Babu (Pushkar), myself, Natalia (Brazil) and Doug (Norway) at a lovely place in nature
The days have flown by in Pushkar as some of the fastest, and therefore the happiest and most rewarding, of all my travels. I have learned the most and had some of my greatest experiences in India over the past 10 days making local friends who are happy to impart their knowledge and exchange cultures. 
Monkeys are everywhere in Pushkar!
I've watched tourists come and go, including my Brazilian girl Natalia, while I've made myself at home here and struggled to find a reason to leave. It's a comfortable and easy life - tourists and all Western comforts surround me, but I mustn't look far for rich cultural stimulation. 

East meets West: 
Indian women helping to dress us
As much as I've learned this week, particularly about Hinduism, with millions of gods that I wonder how anyone keeps straight, it's impossible to know everything.

I cannot begin to explain the things that I've done and seen this week. I've learned some Hindi, shared chillum with holy babas, visited numerous ancient temples on the outskirts of town, spent time in nature, made the special puja prayer, learned more about India and Hinduism from locals than I could ever learn in a book, hiked a mountain for sunrise, practiced Indian cooking outdoors, experienced how the locals enjoy life, wandered if it's possible to drink too much chai, attended a traditional party in honor of a new baby, enjoyed a home-cooked meal of mutton outside the veg-only city of Pushkar, dressed in traditional attire, and oh too much shopping!
Hanging out with Indian women in their home was a highlight; so few are opportunities to interact with women as they do not leave their home often. Here, beautiful 20-year old Lackshmi insisted I try on her traditional Rajasthani dress.
This common Hindi saying shanti-shanti, is at it's prime in this pious, slow-paced village. If there is one thing that I hope I'll take with me from India, it's the shanti-shanti lifestyle that Indians have perfected. All in good time my friend. Slowly slowly, what's the rush? Sit back, drink a chai, smoke a bheedi or chillum and enjoy the present moment - something we forget to do far too often in the West. Everything works out.

My local friend invited me to his cousin's party for their new baby.
Everyone gathered around to watch the foreigner hold the newborn.

Most days I've woken without plans or expectations - and the adventures that have come my way are things that you can't just write from imagination. As I know I'll becoming back to India, Pushkar will continue to be a stop for me, as so many travelers return here annually.

It's hard to ignore the ticking clock though, as the longer I stay in Pushkar, the more places I'm giving up the chance of visiting on this trip. But I'm beginning to accept that it's impossible to visit everywhere and learn everything about India, and this is the type of travel that suits me best – getting to know a place well and making real connections with local people. 

Though the time has come to drag myself onwards to head further north to the famous Beatles-ashram, yoga-obsessed city of Rishikish.
Making chapati - after the meal was ready we all sat on the ground and
used our hands, Indian style. I really love Indian style - it is much more intimate.
My Brahman friend helped me to make puja, a prayer for my family
No discrimination in India: pigs, monkeys, we're all friends

I wish I could say I cooked all this food myself - but I did help! I joined a group of local friends  for the day cooking traditional Rajasthani food. Friends often get together and cook in nature as a fun activity. WOW, was this food tasty!
Pictured below are not yet finished "butty," flour-based balls that take a 5-hour process of cooking to perfect. This is real Rajasthani food that can't even be found in restaurants.
The Full Moon was this week; there was a special ceremony and food

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