katrinasadventures' Travel Journals


  • From Massachusetts, United States
  • Currently in Jakarta, Indonesia

Fall 2009: Northwest India

Join Katrina as she shares her adventures, stories and feelings throughout her journey across India's spiritual land. Traveling with a consortium of New York Schools (Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Hobart and William Smith, and Colgate), Katrina will spend time in various locations, such as Musoorie, Delhi, Jaipur, and Varanasi.

Text for Chaksu and Pushkar

India Jaipur, India  |  Nov 18, 2009
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Oct. 26th: Chaksu Field Trip

            Marissa and I were arriving late an usual and so arrived at the bus last.  We drove 20 minutes and arrived at a beautiful building, this was the CECOEDECON (center for community economics and development economics).  In 1982, this NGO was established to provide immediate relief for people to help each other in a large flood in the region (but then after the flood there were droughts and so the organization assisted villagers further).  They are not a charity, but they focus on development and capacity building.  Therefore, relief is one part of it, but the main focus is Rajasthan development (roughly 855 villages).  They also work with other NGOs at the state level, national level and international level to increase funds, alliances, networking, and international policies.  The program emphasizes female education, illegalization of child labor, sustainable agriculture, fair trade and improved health of women and children.  The strategy for the organization is community mobilization through civil society building, capacity enhancement, networking & alliance Building, and advocacy for policy reform and systems accountability.  Only 20% of the land is irrigated here, so farmers are very dependent on rainfall. 


Development agencies all over India are making the same mistake and wasting huge amounts of time and money on projects people do not need or want.  They use their own set of values to determine what villagers need and do not consult with the locals on what the village would be the most effective use of resources.  This organization is very meticulous about changing their approaches through comprehensive reviews.  They have moved from a need based organization to a rights based one in order to demand aspects of life that are a human right, such as access to water, education, and food. 

After a brief synopsis of the program, we headed to the villages.  The place we visited first was off the beaten trail where the government hired rural workers to create a road under the Labor Employment Act.  I thought that we were going to be taken to the side of a main road and see men laying down cement; however, this was the exact opposite of what we found.  It is difficult to picture, but imagine a big tour bus driving on a dirt road, which at one point was quite uneven and forced the bus to tilt significantly, with bare fields all around and goats and camels grazing in the background.  We were making our way to a small village, where the government was paying people (mainly women) about Rs 100 a day, to complete a dirt road from one village to the next.  Yet, since the ground that they were working on was so hard the workers were behind schedule and therefore the government only paid them Rs. 70-80 per day.  Wow, can you imagine only being paid $1.50 a day.  I buy a pack of gum for Rs. 10 here.  Essentially, I would be able to buy only seven packs of gum and have to survive on that. 

The women were intensely colorful in their orange, yellow and pink saris, while the few men that were there all wore white to remain cool in the harsh sun.  Most of the women wore their veils over their heads, in part because of modesty and because there were elders about who were very traditional (it is still to be determined what role the men played in the women having to wear veils over their faces).  Most of the women wore huge nose rings that looked pretty heavy to be lugging around.  The men also had piercings, but they were only in the ears. 

When we unloaded our big tour bus (I call this EXTREME TOURISM), we were ushered to the mob of people that were waiting to meet us.  They were so happy to see us!  They were all laughing and smiling and just staring as I/we took hundreds of pictures of them.  We asked them a few questions with the assistance of an interpreter and then helped them “work”.  The work entailed stabbing their bent shovels into the hard, dry ground and then piling the dirt into buckets to dump on the side.  The villagers found us to be quite entertaining.  Then, we started a little dance session while the villagers sang some songs.  They wanted us to sing as well, so we did our best rendition of “She’ll be coming around the mountain”, “I’ll be there”, and “You are my Sunshine”.  I hope that they were pleased with our off pitch voices (well, maybe it was just mine).

We went back to the CECONDECON accommodations for lunch and met another fellow Mass hole who was here making a documentary on climate change in the area.  Being that it is the edge of the desert, this region of Rajasthan is drought prone and for the last few years has endured little to no rain.  Water is a HUGE issue here in terms of scarcity, fluoride proportion, alkalinity (ph=7), and pollution.  Even my lips lost any water that usually moistened them while I was here.  It is true that with the Green Revolution poverty and hunger has been reduced, but so has the environment (water input is especially high).  The new hybrid seeds and the availability of irrigated water give villagers better crops than ever before.  And those that are employed earn huge salaries, but this all comes at a cost.  Back to lunch, the food prepared was glorious.  I am really getting used to having Indian cuisine, which for us tourists is usually the same dishes, but they have slight distinctions that really stick out on your taste buds.  These somewhat spicy meals are also quite good at clearing out any sinus back up that there is. 

Next, we headed to another small village to see a women’s self-help group.  The village we visited was about 200 people and everyone lived in mud huts with goats and cows hanging out in every nook and corner.  The children were running about freely and most of them wore blue dress shirts, which indicated that they went to school.  Motorcycles were the main mode of transportation as seen by the teenage boys who would ride around the village.  Some parts of the village were beautiful with brightly colored walls, especially blue.  This village essentially fit the idea of the ideal Indian village.  One thing that I had not expected to see was all the celebrity posters up inside the houses.  There were American, European and Indian celebrities all covering the walls.  We learned that most people had a television in their homes and so they enjoyed watching show at night.  The women said that the T.V. was fun to watch, but sometimes it made people lazy and they would not do their work (bit usually electricity only came on in the evening for a few hours).

The organization had provided embroidery work for four groups of about 12-14 women.  The women covered their heads with their saris when they talked to us and seemed very shy.  I do not think that it helped that practically everyone in the village was surrounding them/us when we were asking questions to the women.  It was interesting to observe that the crowd around mainly consisted of children and men (because all the women were at home preparing the food, we were told).  I learned that the women went through a lot of wheat per day (for cooking) and that the work that they did allowed them to have a little bit more income and flexibility with the family.  The income from their embroidered saris created a better relationship with their husbands because money was not as tight.  The women also said that they wanted their children an opportunity to get a better education, especially their daughters; even so, it looked like there had only been two (male) graduates of the school. 

While the sun was setting, we visited a wealthy RamaKrishna temple.  This place was huge and beautiful.  It stood out drastically against its barren, impoverished surroundings.  The whole thing was made out of marble, which is mined in this area.  We also stopped at a Jain temple that was covered in idols.  The tirathan karra idols are so similar to Buddha icons, which makes sense since the religions were created within 100 years of each other and share many of the same characteristics, such as ahimsa.  We had a late din-din and slept in our neat, dormitory rooms.


Oct. 27th: Tonk Field Trip from the Chaksu Field Trip

We were off again to visit villages, but this time it was an hour and a half drive from our accommodation…  Well, I had thought that we were going to villages similar to yesterday, but today we toured urban labor development.  First, we got to the CECONDECON headquarters in Tonk.  A group of men greeted us and they all told us to go upstairs and sit down.  The headman began listing out statistics about the Tonk area.  While doing so he suddenly suggested that we all start writing notes, so he got his men to get us some notepads and pens.  The female literacy is 32% while the male is 71.25%.  The area has a history of Nababirs (Muslim kingly people).  Tonk has a population of 150,000 people (1.5 lakh) with 50% of the population (70,000 people) identifying as Sunni Muslim.  For Rajasthan, this city has a large population of Muslims.  The first spot we stopped was a 300-year-old mosque in the Muslim district.  This district used to be known internationally for its meat exportation, but it has changed since regulations have been put into place.  Now, there is a big problem of underemployment since there is no “industry” after meat industry became restricted.  The restrictions were mainly due to the government listening to the Hindus complaining about the gory massacring of the animals.

Anywho, we explored the mosque, which also had a madursa (school) connected to it that taught kids Arabic.  We all noticed that girls were also learning at the school since they were allowed to until the age of 12.  After that age, there are more restrictions on education for girls and family makes all the decisions for these girls.  At the mosque, there were also many clocks that revealed the time namaz (prayer) times.  Even though there are five main times to pray, there were many more clocks for additional services, including the times that women were allowed to pray at the mosque.  At least, the women did not have to pray in a different section of the mosque.  At the end, imam (head priest) could not appear in front of us and answer questions because there were women in the group (or should I say women dominated the group). 

After running up to the mosque minaret and taking a view of the sprawling city.  CECOEDECON encourages different types of cottage industry, namely nagina (lapidary) and embroidery, as well as work to eradicate child labor in the carpet industry.  The first place we visited was through a section in the CECOEDECON took boys from their household beedi making (40 rupees per 1000 beedies) and trained them in lapidary work for six months.  Now, they use electric polishers to make stones for jewelry.  They are paid RS 80 per day for eight hours of work, which depends on many factors especially electricity.  The boys seem to like their jobs much more because it provides a constant income and is stable.  They had no education and so this was an opportunity to make more money, even if nothing they worked with was their own. 

Child labor is still prevalent, even though it is illegalized.  Children are forced especially into speaker (like radios) making because they have small hands.  This is horrible because the chemicals they use burn their arms and poison them.  In addition, there is a carpet mafia that steals children.  CECOEDECON has been adamant about getting rid of child labor in the carpet industry.   

Next, was a felt carpet maker (namda)… looked like cheaply made things, but lost of cutting, sewing goes into it.  They design their own rugs and wall hanging (bear and troll).  They had a mat that had “Wel- Come” written on it.  I think that Indians think of welcome as two separate words.  We loaded the bus again to go and see embroidery stations.  We walked into a room full of women sewing sequences on saris, which is very detailed, mutinous work.  I asked how old the youngest girl was and they replied “twelve”.  They had been working for four years and did not really like their jobs, but it paid the bills. 

We ate a beautiful lunch with stuffed eggplants, stuffed okra (bindi), green chilies, small brown green peppers (simlamirch), yellow dhal with great seasonings, yogurt, fruit (kela), rice, chapattis, and spicy pickles (achar).  Some cows from the street into the premise where we were eating, so Anna and I decided to feed them the only thing we had: banana peels… essentially it was like feeding crack to these cows.  They could not get enough of those banana peels.  I wonder if that will do something bad to their four stomachs.  Can they digest banana peels well…? Then again, I have seen cows eating movie posters, cardboard, and other various trash items. 

Anyways, the afternoon comprised of two other stops.  The first one was down a few alleyways to an open, degrading structure, where three huge carpet wheels were set up.  It was fascinating to watch how quickly these men could tie different colored string around the looms, especially since it took them about 3 months to finish a carpet at that quick speed.  There were five to six weavers and we chiefly talked to one man who discussed his current economic problems and how the recession was really hurting the business.  He complained about the hardships of trying to sell the carpets once they were done because the vendors (middlemen) would often cheat them out of most of the profit.  Also, because he did not own the fabric, looms, or any material he was working with he was constantly in debt to the owners.  He was fed up with that.  

The last stop was a unique one… it was the world’s only Persian Research Center.  This place was filled with Muslim men who wanted to talk and talk and talk about the history of the research center (and the one America woman who came here to take a picture of one of the ancient Qu’rans that they had on display, so that she could put it in the book she was writing.  They were very proud of that fact and loved showing us the book that they had received with the picture of the manuscript in it).  At one point, the group was dispersed among their collection of manuscripts, admiring the beautiful script and art, when the host called us all over (because he was getting anxious at us looking around) and then walked away while we were all standing around the one manuscript he told us to come to.  We were a bit confused.  Then after a few minutes, he decided to talk about the manuscript in a monotone voice that almost put me to sleep even though I was hyped up on energy.  He was an interesting fellow though because he has bright orange (yes, bright) hair.  This is actual common among Muslim men because they put henna in the hair and after it stays in a while it stains the hair bright orange.  I suggest googling it if you do not believe me.  We were only at the center for about an hour, but they still want us to fill out all the necessary passport paperwork.  When that was done, we went outside on the grass for some chai and got our picture taken for the Rajasthan Partika newspaper.  (I have been looking for it but cannot find our 15 minutes of fame picture).

After the day’s adventures, we started to drive the hour and an half back to the home base.  We also stopped at two wealthy Hindu temples.  The first one was huge with colorful murals and marble stone carvings everywhere.  The priests, who were men as usual, were just hanging out in front of the main deity, Krishna.  The second one was a fifteen-minute walk from where we were staying and it was a temple dedicated to the Goddess of Small pox.  There is a huge festival every year at this temple and pilgrims come so that their children are safe from smallpox, among other things.    


Oct 28th:

            Lisa and I had arranged to meet with our botanist professor at 830am to get some interviews for our IFP.  Lucky for us, Cynthia decided to come with us.  Therefore, we waited for the man to arrive… waited… waited… finally at 11pm he arrived.  Apparently, he had gone to the WWOOFing organic farm that we had planned to visit with him together.  For some reason (actually, the reason is that he does not listen to anything), he thought that we were going to be waiting there to be picked up.  So, not only did we get a REALLY late start, but we also did not get to see the farm that we wanted to check out as a place to stay for our November break.  We were a bit annoyed.  But, we thought that we would get a good day of interviews in so that would make up for the late start… we were wrong.  Professor Musri had told his wife that he would be home for the 2pm lunch.  Grrr.  We only found this out after we visited a few fields off of the main road and then started driving back. 

This man is one of the most frustrating (but nice) man to be around.  I do not think he has ever listened to a woman in his life.  We started driving back to Jaipur and decided that it would be best if we were dropped off on the side of the road so that the group bus could pick us and take us to the last activity on the schedule.  The professor and taxi driver would not listen to us once again when we said that we wanted to be dropped off at a restaurant or any recognizable landmark.  For some reason they had it in their head to take us to the airport.  Eventually, we emerged from the taxi and found ourselves deserted on the side of the street with a candy shop behind us… so, after we dived into that shop, we took a rickshaw to industrial park to find the rest of the group.  Well, industrial park is the BIGGEST and most confusing industrial parks I have ever been to.  There was an attempt at organization through calling each block a different letter of the alphabet, but none of the building followed the alphabet.  You would pass by L 49-83 and then E 92-104, followed by G 33-22.  We were looking for F 159.  Eventually, we found it and walked up to the mess hall for a late lunch.  The building was particular because it was divided into two sections the “Female Wing” and the “Male Wing”.  I walked up the male wing by accident…  So, we rejoined the group who was having chai and debriefing the trip and then we loaded into our familiar blue bus. 

On the way, back we saw a motorcycle accident right in front of us.  One man bumped his head on the curb and was not wearing a seatbelt.  We were dropped off a little bit past my house and so I decided to walk the 20 minutes back home…  I actually beat Marissa who took a rickshaw... mwhahaha (I thank my impeccable sense of direction for that).  My walk back is very memorable because on the way I saw my first dead body.  (Please skip this section if it grosses you out).  The man was lying on the side of the road in a pile of garbage with flies all around him.  I did a double take thinking that he was just sleeping, but his face had started caving in.  I walked back the rest of the way in shock. 

            Well once I got back, Marissa and I had some bonding time with a little walk in the park.  We brainstormed a beautiful poem about one of our fellow group mates, Kim, since it was her 20th birthday:

For Kim, Our Love—

Once there was a girl from SLU

She was the krumpinest diva we ever knew.

Yes it’s true, her hips never lie.

On the dance floor, her moves be fly.

Don’t let her thug life stop you at the door,

She was also a member of Gryffindor.

Any song of R & B, the 90s, Hip Hop, and Rap

She’d know the words, be sure of that.

With a great sense of humor and vocabulary

She was a walking comedian-dictionary.

Though by night known to be a drinker,

By day she was a philosophy thinker.

Any opportunity she got, facebook she was on

And if she could, she’d have Mughal spawn.

She shared her laughter all over the place

Sometimes we laughed at her with dirt on her face.

Yes, her head out the window, half covered in dirt

She looked like a before-and-after Fair & Lovely ad-vert’

Dearest Kim, thanks for the laughs and all the good times

We hope you enjoy your 20th birthday rhymes.

                        Love,                 Marissa and Ka-Ka-Katrina

Deepoli and Mirdula were happy to see us again (at least I hope they were).  We had our usual 830pm dinner together, but this time Mridula’s younger sister who was living in England was here.  She had come for a wedding and so was going to be staying for a few weeks.  She was nice and we enjoyed her company (especially because she spoke English well).   While Marissa stayed up (til 330, apparently) to finish up a paper that she was having difficulty with, I enjoyed the stiffness of my good ole mattress and dreamt about Pushkar…


Oct. 29th: Ajmer, Pushkar Fair

            We left promptly at 830 and made our way to Ajmer.  This place is known for many things, including the Sikh dargah.  Jarring experience with a sassy rickshaw driver who had apparently put his hand up my dress-shirtt when I got out the rickshaw… he was told that if he ever did that again he would be killed by Cynthia. We then made our way into the really small, crowded and smelly streets of Ajmer.  The old part of the city had a very colorful ambiance and reminded me of how a quintessential indian city would look like, There were many disabled beggers in this area (most of them with missing limbs, which reflects the quality of health care—nonexistent). 

            Pilgrims and sufis come from all over the world to visit this durgah in Ajmer, especially on during Urs, which is a six day long festival celebrating the saint’s death (he had retired to hiscloister for a long meditation and when it was opened six days later he was dead).  The dargah that we visited is one India’s most important Muslim pilgrimmages sites and because we were here on a Thursday, which is considered a weekend day for Muslims (along with Friday), the place was packed.  At one point, when we were trying to get our shoes to the shoewala outside of the dargah, we couldn’t reach down to get our feet because we were so squished in the crowd.  Once we got through the Nizam Gatewe were given a tour from a very interesting man who was a khadim (servant of God).  He wore all white and was very adiment about telling us that he was indeed a slave of God, out of the 4,000 that Ajmer has.  He said that he would be honored for someone to address him as such.  He also said that he had direct descendence from the Sufi saint, Khwaja Muin-ud-din Chishti, who came to Ajmer from Persia in 1192 and lived here until 1233.  This saint’s tomb was in the inner courtyard as distinguished by the marble dome and the railings outside of it that were covered in notes and holy strings.  Pilgrims believe that the saint’s spirit will intercede in matter on their behalf, so the notes and strings are personal requests for help.  A small group of us pushed our way into the tomb room and tried to get through without being totally squashed to death.  I have never felt so close to so many people in my life… the nice thing was that the place was intensely air conditioned.  So, while I was being “vertical humped”from male pilgrims, I had to try not to crush the little kids and crying women wedged between the wall and crowds.  Then, there were the imans (priests) who were behind the gates that seperated the crowd from the tomb and would put a cloth on top of your head and try to make you give them money.  As soon as I could breathe clean air again, I sneak out the back entrance and appreciated my pretty crowded, but not as crowded, surroundings.  Most people were bent down in prayer around me, the men in a carpeted section and the women in a gated section in the back.  

In addition to the tomb, we were shown these two HUGE bowls (ten steps were needed to reach the top) that soup would be cooked in, but are now used for money donations.  There was also lots of sand at the bottom of these bowls, so it reminded me of a big treasure chest.  Our guide also pointed out the  tiny body of water that used to be a lake where the dargah

            After our little tour and while we were waiting for chai, we had a little question and answereing section where we learned that this man was against abortion, deforestation, western wear, disrespectful women and he believed that his generation’s problems were alcoholism and womanizing (his definition of womanizing is questionable because some people interpreted it as men taking advantage of women, while others, namely Marissa, interpreted it as women dressing Western and not covering their wrists or head).  He late chastised certain people in the group for not being properly covered and talking with the a beggar boy… this khadim also spoke of the dancing and singing of his culture and when he was asked more about the dancing he stated that it was only his soul that danced. 

            After waiting around for Shiela to get malaria medication, apparently it costs $4 here instead of $200 for a month’s dosage, we all hopped in the controversial rickshaws and headed back to the bus.  The bus ride to Pushkar went by quickly because I entertained everyone with my vast knowledge on the legend of Pushkar and background of the Pushkar Mela (fair):

 Historically, during the month of Kartika, which is the winter month between growing seasons, the famous Pushkar festival takes place.  This festival has two components to it:  Pushkar Mahatmya and Pushkar Mela (cattle fair).  People come from different parts of Rajasthan to worship Lord Brahma and take bath in the holy lake.  From the early morning of the 11th day, pilgrims sing songs dedicated to Hindu gods while bathing in the Pushkar Lake.  Traditionally, three days before the moon, the women, who are all gregariously attired, will come to bath.  The process continues throughout the week and turns into a deepan ceremony in the evening.  The entire atmosphere reverberates with the ringing of bells.  At night, hundreds of small oil lamps placed on green leaves set the lake alight (Verma, 2007).  Shopkeepers keep their shops open during the day and night for the last three days to accentuate the light affect. 

Since the bathing pilgrims remain for five full days, from the 11th day to the full moon day, this assemblage offers an opportunity for considerable trading by herders and agriculturists.  The cattle fair has been noted to be the largest of its kind for centuries.  Even in the records of Emperor Jahangir (c. 1605-1627) can one find the Pushkar fair as being mentioned as the largest cattle fair in northwestern India.  In this Mela, which translates to “mix” and “meet”, the mixing and meeting occurs on a truly grand scale.  The small town swells up from 14,000 people to fifteen times its size.  It is a meeting place for people from different villages, towns, and regions and brings together a large variety of social groups, including devotees, priests, medical practitioners, artisans, musicians, traders, dancers, vendors, as well as the sellers of camels, horses, or cattle.  The temporary market created for the fair fills the small desert town with colorful camel/horse saddles, agriculture goods, ready-made cloths, sweets, magicians, and in recent years, a circus.    

Historically, the timing made it possible to transport livestock to Pushkar for the inevitable buying and selling of animals, which follows its own procedures of bargaining, registration, taxation, and transportation of the animals that are sold.  The pricing of the animals itself depends on land related issues; for example, if there has been a good rainfall that year, but insufficient grass for grazing then the cattle are likely to be priced at lower rate.  In recent years, the lack of water and grass for grazing has posed difficulties for the herders.  So, while the number of cattle, goats, and sheep traded has risen, the number of camels sold has decreased over the years.  Even so, about 50,000 camels are sold, decorated, shaved and raced.  The camel competitions, such as the "Matka Phod", "moustache", and "bridal competition", attract over 200,000 tourists annually (35,000 internationally).  Both the religious fair and the cattle fair are now internationally renowned tourist attractions.

While driving to our accomodation we passed by many herders, who were taking their newly purchased camels and horses back home, as well as the hustle-bustle of the fair itself.  It was amazing!  There were women and men from all different tribes, as seen by their bright attire, as well as hundreds of cattle, horses, and camel (17,000 to be exact).  There were hundreds of tents, which were used as sleeping tents and as food vending and chai tents.  This year, however, participation in the fair was down almost 50% due to the lack of water, threat of the swine flu, the recession, and for tourists, terrorism threats. 

Around 4pm we arrived at our tent hotel, “Cournel Camp”, and was amazed at the facilities that were all located in heavy-duty tents.  I went to the bathroom for the first time with no structure over my head.  It felt amazing to be back in a natural setting…

While Tonk was a Muslim dominated city, Pushkar is an intense Hindu pilgrimmage site. This year the water from the holy lake of Pushkar had been drained by the government so that it could be deepened and cleaned; however, the drought of the area, among other things, contributed to no water in the lake.  So, for the first time the fair went on with no water for people to bathe in and so the government created kiddy pools for devout pilgrims to bathe in. 

After a fulling and beautiful lunch with fries, we were off to the mela grounds to explore what Pushkar had to offer for the American tourist.  It was exactly what I had expected:  the typical circus rides, expensive crafts fair with commercilized goods, a stage with classical indian performances that had a section in the audience reserved for white people, etc.  I ventured around the crowded streets with Martha, Anna, and Milly to see what snacks were offered and what goods were being sold.  While we were in a formal section of the fair, also known as the “native craft” section, Milly felt the urge to go get some money out so that she could buy some gifts.  So, I went with her to find the ATM.  We went through the saddle and camel rein dukans and then through the main town of Pushkar to find this ATM.  Eventually, we found one and waited in line for it.  There were many other tourists among us while we waited.  After 20 minutes, Milly came out with a frustrated look on her face since her card was not being accepted at, as we found out late, the only ATM in Pushkar.  So, we wandered about town trying to find a way she could get some cash.  First, we asked some hotels if they could run her card with a purchase and give her some cash back.  Nope.  We couldn’t find anywhere to do that either.  Then, we found a little internet café with a guy sitting surfing the net.  We asked him if we could get some cash and see said “maybe, let me call me people”.  So, long story short Milly needed a copy of her passport to get her debit rung and she had to exchange a minimum (he kept saying maximum, which confused us) of 5,000 Rs.  We ended up not exchanging money, but we found out that this year because of the recession, threat of a terrorist attack and swine flu, there were not as many tourists as there normally are.  Also, due to the severe drought many herders and camel traders also did not make the trek to the fair.  It was still pretty crowded, though.  The place was covered in colorful lights and tacky things to buy decorated every roadside. 


Fri, Oct. 30th:

            I woke up peacefully in my nice-smelling, cool and dark tent at the Cournel’s camp.  I feel like I am living in paradise… in the middle of the desert with readily available water.  The camp that we are at is not really a camp… rather, it is a really nice hotel with all of the rooms on nice cement platforms and luxorious, heavy tents covering the concrete.  Everyone has a bathroom in the back of the tent and these bathrooms use running water for the showers, sinks, and toilets.  We were told not to feel guilty using this water in the desert because all of the used water is recycled into the organic farm that the cournel owns. 

 Anywho, after a hearty breakfast and lots of coffee I was off to see the daytime delights of the Pushkar fair.   I first wandered through a little village section of Pushkar to hike up to a Sikh temple that was built on top of a steep hill.  The day was muggy, but the view was worth it since I could see the dried out lake.  It really pops out because there are so many builidngs surrounding it and then just an empty pile of dirt.  I came down and wandered the shopping streets taking in all the sights and smells of Pushkar goods.  I attempted to see the turbine tying contest at the mela grounds with Lisa and Jori, but we were turned off by the large amount of tourists at the event.  So, we searched for typical tourist gifts for our families at home.  We wandered the quaint streets of Pushkar that were filled with international tourists like myself.  We also went to the dry lake and walked around the 52 ghats (sections of stairs) that surrounded the dry lake.  There were kiddie pools for the devout pilgrims and I bathed with Jori in the pee infested waters.  It felt amazing on the hot day.  My clothes dried in a matter of minutes.  I went back to the camp for lunch and took a little siesta. 

When I went out again I ran into Milly, Anna, and Martha who had just come off of a vegetable cart that had escorted them to the camp.  They were a little frazzled from the experience and needed a little lie down…  I headed for the Savatri temple, which was located on the highest point of Pushkar.  As I was trying to find my way to the Savatri temple, which could be seen from pretty much anywhere in Pushkar, I got a little lost in the desert fair grounds.  I ended up passing someone pooping, a newly formed camel carcass, and a family living in tents with no money and somesor tof sickness.  The head of the family was very nice in giving me directions and saving me from his wacky dog, so I gave him some money to buy medications or whatever he needed.  It gets so confusing to determine who is telling the truth and who it not when they are asking for money.  I always assume everyone if lying, but that makes donating very difficult. 

Well, I got onto the main path to the temple and happily hike up.  It felt good to be climbing a hill.  Even though there were many other tourists (domestic and international), I felt so much free and relaxed climbing up this hill.  This is definitely a form of therapy for me.  While the sun was setting, I skipped back down the hill and walked to the only Brahma temple in India.   As I approached the temple, I noticed large crowds of people sitting and standing around televisions playing promiscuous Indian music videos.  The crowd didn’t even notice me because they were all sucked into the visual and audio treats of the music videos. 

The Brahma temple was crowded and I was forced to hand my shoes and camera over to a CD store nearby.  I headed into the temple and was followed by a “priest” who had given me flowers and wanted to teach me how to properly go through the temple.  It was a little frustrating because I knew how to act properly in the temple, but he ensured that I did everything perfectly.  First, we gave puja to Brahma, the three-headed red statue in the center of the open building, then we went down to the two Shiva langas on the sides of the temple.  There were police men just hanging out on the stairs of one of the Shiva shrines.  Next, this “priest” gave me a coconut (that had been donated to the temple by someone else) and told me that I must go give this for the lake puja.  So, I was quickly shown the mural that depicted why Brahma only had one temple and the swan statue that was Brahma’s vehicle.  I then was ushered down the temple’s steps and as I gave my donation to the priest for taking me around and keeping my shoes and camera safe, the guru-ji of the temple walked into the temple.  He was surrounded by a few women wearing orange robes and some men wearing white robes.  There was a mob of people all around him pushing and making sure he was safe in the middle of the crowd.  After that bizarre scene, the “priest friend of mine” tapped me on my shoulder and told me to follow him.  I was confused but curious so I took off after him.  He was walking quite fast (I realize later this is because he is a producing machine and must pump out as many tourists as possible) and I had difficulty catching up.  We arrived at the empty lake, which was a few blocks from the Brahma temple.  He told me to take my shoes off again. 

At the lake, I was told on numeruous occasions that there were 52 ghats and 1,000 temples in Pushkar.  I was given a plate of puja goodies, namely sugar (for sweetness in my life), red tumeric (blessings for me and my family), gold tumeric (wealth and prosperity), red and yellow string, orange flowers, and rice.  I was told by the “priest” to go sit on the steps where I was transferred over to another priest.  This man was wearing a white kurtta with jeans.  He told me to repeat the mantra that he was reciting and then I blessed the whole family.  He also told me that I had three options for donating food to the poor and children of Pushkar.  I got the impression that I was supposed to donate arounf 1,000RS for rice, hot food, and cold food for the temple.  This second priest kept saying that the temple and priests don’t ask for any money or anything, but there is this oppurtunity now to give money… I was a little annoyed at these pushy priests and so I got out of there as soon as I could.      I went back to the camp, ate my din din and hit the sack.  


Sat, Oct. 31st: Halloween night out, Sunday explore city

Even though today was Halloween, there was little celebration.  This morning, I talked with the owner of the hotel about his property that we had been staying on.  He was a coronel and had served the military for 20 years (one of his missions in the 1960s was to save a pilgrimage site up in the Himalayans from the Chinese, who they thought was going to try to take over their sacred site).  I had wanted to talk to him about his organic rose farm, but he got very distracted with military stories and his relationship with his employees.  He seems to have a good head on his shoulders since he was very appreciative of his employees and the work that they do for him.  He even sympathized with the women when he told us how early they must get up in the morning to feed their kids and send them to school before going to work.  And so, he, as an enlightened employer, tried to ease the burden by allowing them to eat breakfast at his hotel in the mornings.  He even asked two women to come over and sit next to us to explain how difficulty it is to get a divorce and how the Cournel has eased the transition.  The women had real appreciation for his generosity (in fact, the relationship that the cournel had with with his employees ressembled one that would have occurred in the historic past in villages, a jajmani interdependence).  So, even though there was not much organic farm talk, the cournel did expand upon his dairy section, where he would use cow urine for insecticide and then spray dung with a sprinkler system to fertilize the area. Gas that he created from the cows was used for his tractors and machines.  He had essentially converted a sand dune into a green oasis because he also was growing arid berry trees. 


Everyone headed out again for the day.  I admired the size of the camel and uniqueness of its build for the last time.  Camels resemble a species from the Star Wars.  They bent their foot legs back and their back legs forward, which makes for an awkward trot.  I noticed that many camels stood in a pliée stance.  The camel is essentially the cow of the desert.  In fact, many vendors sold camel ice cream, since camel milk is rich in vitamin C and highly nutritious.    


            Today, I noticed that even though the fair was really crowded with lots of white tourists and vendors, I felt like I could fit in here because the other tourists stuck out much more.   I wandered about with Rebecca and Adele and hit up some clothing stores.  We wanted a little snack before we got on the bus to head back to Jaipur, so we hit up the Doctor’s café.  We had heard about this place from various sources, so we decided to check it out and it succeeded our expectations.  Even though I am lactose intolerant, I could not resist the banana shake that was on the menu.  So, after Adele and I enjoyed that little treat, we loaded the bus and headed off back home.  The bus ride went by pretty slowly and when we finally got home I was pretty pooped.  I just relaxed and went to bed.


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