Calm Before the Fair
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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Stay: Hotel Akash, 400 Rp ($7.50) / non-fair days / double with private bath
Hard Way to Pushkar
The bus is full?
When we first arrived in Jaipur, the man on the Atithi Hotel desk told us NOT to worry about getting tickets for the direct private bus to Pushar. It would be easy to walk up and buy, he assured us. I insisted he call anyway and reserve a seat for us and he agreed. Now today, I asked which seats we had reserved and he confessed he had not called. He danced and said he hadn't been able to get a hold of the bus company because of Diwali. I asked him to call again as I waited. He got through and was told that tickets were all sold out! That left us no choice but to take the local bus to Ajmer and take other bus from there for 22 km to Pushkar.
On our way to the bus station, a tour agent sitting at a table on the sidewalk stopped us to ask where we were headed. "Pushkar. No problem. A private bus will be leaving in 30 minutes." “Great!” He handed us a handwritten ticket of sorts charging us more than triple the normal rate, the rate our hotel said was normal. We walked off and he called after us that another bus was also leaving to Ajmer and he'd give us a real good price. Indeed, the 150 Rs ($3) was not much higher than the local bus and much more comfortable with reclining seats and sleeping compartments above us.
Our bus rode on a smooth surfaced 4-lane toll road with blooming oleander and bougainvillea on the center divider. Such roads and landscaping is a big change from 20 years ago. It was not a particular scenic ride alongside the mostly green desert brush and trees....
What made it most interesting for me were the people; goat and cattle herders wearing the Rajasthani red turbans and white loose pajamas. Then I spotted the sparkling glitters in the sunlight before I saw her; a woman standing between two haystacks, her veil flapping in the breeze. I wish I could take a picture and capture these scenes forever. The windows were too dirty.
Dumped Under the Overpass
Suddenly, we were told to get ready to leave the bus. I asked if is this was Ajmer station, no one else was getting off. Next thing we knew we stood outside and were pointed down a road by the bus conductor "Pushkar", he said without any further explanation. We saw no sign of the bus station we expected. It was 12:30 and the sun cast almost no shadows.
We started walking as directed and soon we were surrounded by Oto taxies who all would be more than happy to "take us for a ride" to the station for a small ransom. They skipped quoting in rupees and simplified things in dollars. $120, an outrageous amount for here, would get us 22 km down the road to Pushkar. We were bewildered but not that desperate yet.
While these situations are always a bit tense for me, getting our packs off the bus, the pesky touts, people stopping to stare at us, and where tf are we? Dave on the contrary, stays sooo cool. I just follow him and get pissed that he is so cool.
Dave popped into a place to recharge the minutes on his phone and found out from the sales clerk, who spoke decent English, that there is a bus going to Pushkar and it will come by and stop by the pipes stacked at the side of the road on the corner. It should arrive in about 30 minutes, he said.
Near the corner, the guy selling cheap wallets and belts from a cart offered me his stool in the shade. He spoke almost no English but he got his point across with gestures and a few words. He said he would keep his eyes open for the bus. The writing on all buses in India is in undecipherable Hindi. Occasionally there will be a number and very infrequently, English too. Overflowing buses and oto taxis went by with people hanging out of doors and backs. We hoped our bus would be different. Finally, the locals alerted us to the approaching Pushkar bus.
Riding an overcrowded bus
OH-NO! FILLED TO THE RAFTERS!. We threw ourselves in the crowd of people and just leaned. Dave hung halfway out of the door way and I watched him clobber someone, unintentionally, with his pack. No one batted an eye. It's all par for the course. Dave was hanging more out the door than in. The sweetheart had his pack on his back and mine in his hand. There was no way I could have managed getting on the bus while wearing that pack. I had the striped overflow bag and my day pack. About 5 km further, at the city center Bus station where we had counted on being dropped off in the first place, a few people got off and I managed to nab a seat by the open window. Eventually Dave even got a seat too and as we went along, people piled on again. It took a good hour and a half to ride the 22 km to Pushkar. There we jumped in oto taxi for the 2 km ride to hotel Akash.
Now, for the easy part of the day
Akash Guesthouse and the Chillout Café.
The owner, Deepak, greeted us at the door with "Dave?" At last, we had arrived. Our small pastel green room looked inviting and clean. The bathroom is very simple with bucket flush but sit-down toilet. We had a bite to eat on the roof before walking 200 meters over to the camel fairgrounds.
Full of Anticipation
We had heard that much trading begins early, well before the tourists activities. And we also planned to arrive before the official start of the fair. We saw the camel traders arriving from far and near, slowly transforming the monotone dunes into a spectacle of color - all full of anticipation; trading, camel races, bazaars. It's a fantastic experience.
We took a stroll to the fairground to watch the early arrivals. Food and souvenir tents were being set up, stalls with nothing but camel and horse straps, stirrups, saddles etc. and many small chai stalls set up inside tents on the grounds.
Sachi & Papu
We walked among the makeshift campsites and watched dinners being prepared over open fires. It is strictly a man's affair. They make the dough for chapatti right there in the sandy desert, prepped veggies, and cooked rice and used pressure cookers on little wood fires. At each of the camp sites we walked by, we were given a tastes of what was being prepared and they offered to share their meal with us. Tempting, but we declined. Pushkar is also a vegetarian only town. No meat, eggs no alcohol, etc. allowed.
Then a young man approached Dave and suggested a stop at a tea stall. “Maybe later”, Dave deferred. Sachu, undeterred, tagged along. Sachu said he was a musician. Then we were joined by Papu another musician who turned out to be Sachu’s mentor….
The pair insisted we come over to their camp for tea. “Sure, why not?” We crossed toward the back of the fairground and through a thorn bush fence. “This is my home,” Papu announced as we got into his camp site.
Papu and his family live here year round and move only when the government comes and asks them to. We don’t own the land or pay rent, he explained. The oldest daughter is his only child that can attend school and she can only because of funding from a foreigner. His wife walks to the mountain an hour away to gather fire wood. “Sometimes she brings 100kg at a time”, Papu bragged. I told him 100kg at a time is impossible but more importantly, do you help? Papu explained, matter of factually, that he goes into town to play for money while she goes to the mountain. Of course he doesn't help.
It was an interesting transition from the Diwali celebrations in Jaipur, to the festivities of the Camel Fare in Pushkar in the afternoon.