Saturday, January 30, 2010


We arrived in Ajmer, India around noon on the 7th. We did our usual tuk-tuk song and dance and ended up at the hotel without much problem. The hotel ended up being a bit problematic because they booked us into the 2100-rupee-per-night room which was much more than we wanted to pay. They reluctantly switched us into the 1200 rupee room when we said something though. The bed in the room was incredibly hard. It was basically a wooden platform with a thin straw mattress on top, all covered by bed sheets. I actually developed a bruise on my hip from sleeping on my side the first night, because it was so hard. The food was just mediocre and it turned out they had no internet, contrary to their claims online. We were told we could go to the internet cafe next door though, so that's what we did. The owner - or whoever he was - seemed to think we were hardly worth spitting on and just said "No" without a glance in our direction when we asked if we could use our own laptop. We tried to offer more money if he would just let us use our own laptops, but all he said was "No" as he read the paper. I certainly wasn't willing to use his computers to check my email and other personal sites since our experience had shown that pretty much all internet shops use key loggers and steal your passwords and info. So we frustratedly went back to the hotel to ask if there were any other internet shops in town. We were directed down the street to a place about a kilometer away. After the 10 minute walk we discovered that they were completely busy and there was no room for us. So we left in annoyance at not getting our internet fix for the day!

We woke early to the sounds of the lovely "hotel alarm clock" on the 8th. There was an insistent hammering going on, accompanied by an occasional slamming door and a phone that rang constantly down the hall. We tried to just sleep through it but eventually we gave in and just got up. I suppose it was a good thing because it enabled us to get out and do our sightseeing while the day was still young. The plan for the day was to go to the nearby town of Pushkar. It's a town of many temples and many backpackers. We decided to go the cheap route and try to take the bus there instead of hiring a taxi. We certainly didn't see any bus stops where we were told they were supposed to be - I suspect you just wave your arm and hope the bus sees you. But we didn't even know what bus number we would need to look for and were too nervous to just wave down every bus that came by. So we kept walking, and by luck happened up a bus station of sorts. It looked more like a dirt lot where buses went to die, but a local guy grudgingly told us that one of the buses did indeed go to Pushkar. He threw a rock at the bus to show us which one. We stood around next to bus for a bit feeling extremely nervous about getting on a bus where we would be the only white people in a crowd of people who just might never have seen a white person in their life. Or maybe we were nervous about not being able to know when we were in Pushkar. Or maybe we were afraid of making some inexcusable faux pas. Looking back I'm not exactly sure why we were so afraid to get on the bus, but we were! Finally, we took a deep breath and climbed on. We were stared at, of course, but once we were seated everyone went back about their business. Taking that first step of just getting on and sitting down alleviated quite a bit of our nerves. There was still the matter of getting off at the right stop though. We'd handle that one later. Once the bus pulled out of the lot 20 minutes later we paid our 10 rupees per ticket to the ticket collector and tried to keep our shocked delight contained. We would have paid over 600 rupees if we had hired a car to take us! We were getting there for 10 rupees! Amazing. We drove by a group of languar monkeys who were lounging on the road-side in the mountains which I thought was fantastic. Before we knew it they were calling out "Pushkar" and we found ourselves standing in the middle of a dirt road wondering where the best temples were. Actually, the first thought was about where to get some food. That was pretty easy though, seeing as there were a bunch of fruit vendors right across the road. We got a couple of bananas and I gave Chuck a withering look when he threw his peel on the ground. A cow wandered over and sucked it right up though, so I decided it would be better for the cows if I littered my banana peel as well. Those poor things will eat anything. We did end up in a dark, empty restaurant-shack 10 minutes later though. It was an interesting experience because when we walked up to the place and asked the guy sitting out front if it was open he told us "Yeah, ok." Then he went to one of the back tables and woke up the cook! I felt a badly that we had ruined the guys sleep, but he was cheery as anything. He happily read us the small menu since it was only written in Hindi, and got to work warming up the stove and prepping vegetables. When we were finished he told us how to get to the popular Brahma Temple and off we went. It wasn't long before an old, disheveled man caught pace with us. He slurred out something along the lines of "Do you want to smoke with me?" to Chuck. He was rather creepy so Chuck declined, not to mention that it might not be a good idea to accept smokes from random people who are obviously quite out of it. This did nothing to dissuade the old man though and he continued to shuffle along just behind us mumbling and slurring about smoking and god knows what else. Chuck told him "No thanks" a few more times but he just wouldn't get a clue. It wasn't until I turned to him and said loudly "No thank you" that he shambled off in another direction. Then we got to fight off the camel-ride sellers, but they weren't nearly as much of a pain as the old man. I suppose I can't blame them though - that's how they make their money. It's a tough life out there in India so being pushy is sometimes a necessity. When we finally made it to the Brahma Temple the town had changed from shacks to tourist shops, complete with the stereotypical swarm of "backpackers." For some reason we find this phenomenon mildly annoying. While we were walking around the other, more dilapidated parts of town we were the only white people around. As soon as we hit the tourist oasis we're suddenly surrounded by those hippie-bohemian backpackers who seem have an air of superiority because of their low-maintenance, adventure-seeking style of travel, when in reality they all go to the same places and do the same things and stick to the safety and comfort of the well-known "backpacker" locations. However, I know this probably isn't the case at all and that just because we suddenly saw 10 times more of this style of traveler in Pushkar than we did in all of India combined it doesn't mean they are really all just cookie-cutters. Maybe I'm just jealous of their flowing, comfortable-looking bohemian designer clothes. Okay, okay - I'm just being a butt-head. Just like with any other "group," I know there are kind and genuine travelers who fall into that style as well as some not-so-genuine people. It's just that I somehow managed to develop a pet peeve for the hippie backpacker. But let's move on with our day in Pushkar! So! After a delicious fresh pineapple juice and a few snacks at a nearby restaurant, we ventured over to the entrance to the Brahma Temple. We're told "No cameras" and "No bags." There are a few stands around offering oh-so-graciously to watch our belongings while we go inside though. We didn't like that idea though, so Chuck volunteered to stay outside while I scoped it out. If it was worth it then we would trade so he could see inside. Unfortunately, it was so not worth it. It wasn't even worth the short climb up the stairs to get in. The famous blue colors were faded and chipped and there were peddlers of all kinds scattered about. I wasn't up there more than five minutes before I decided I was done. Chuck decided that he didn't need to see it for himself and we moved on. We walked through the tourist areas and past all the shops which gave me lots of chances to buy new bangles! I ended up getting a couple from three different shops and was quite happy with my little collection. We also stopped into a couple of other, smaller temples that were covered in mirrors. I thought they were much nicer than the Brahma Temple, not to mention that the peaceful atmosphere of the mirrored temples was much more enjoyable. We walked past a lot of temple actually. Pushkar is, after all, one of the most sacred towns in India. We made kissy noises at one of the stray dogs and he got very excited, so this time we actually bought the animal some food. Chuck got a pakora or something and gave it to the him. He sniffed it for a moment, decided he didn't know what to do with it, and looked back up at us with a curious stare. We thought that perhaps he didn't realize it was tasty food, so Chuck picked it up and broke a piece off. Once again the dog sniffed and turned his nose up at it. Ungrateful beast! We paid a good $0.30 for him to have a snack and he wouldn't have anything to do with it! We were patient though and with a bit of cajoling and convincing we managed to get him to down a couple pieces of it. After that we just tossed the rest on the ground and let him figure out what he wanted to do with it. Silly dogs. It was at about this time that we decided we'd better find out where the bus back to Ajmer was since the sun was getting ready to go into it's final death throes. How convenient that the bus stand happened to be just down the road from us! And when we found the bus waiting there we asked a respectable looking man if it was indeed the bus to Ajmer. Why yes, it certainly was. His English was very good and he seemed to be an educated man. When he asked where we were from we told him "Canada" just for fun. For some reason we had decided that morning that we would tell everyone we met that we were from Canada - don't ask why cause I don't really know. So, from Canada we were. We rode next to him on the bus and chatted for the length of the ride. We even chatted through the traffic jam that was caused by a large group of languar monkeys who didn't want to move out of the way (oh those crazy monkeys). He was in the textile industry and frequently traveled to north-western Africa which I found interesting. And the best part was that he never tried to sell us anything - he was just a genuinely nice guy who was interested in us. Back in Ajmer we tried to find internet again, but the place we went to would not allow us to use our own laptops. It was very frustrating! We went to bed internet-less, but at least we had a good day in Pushkar behind us.

On the 9th we were again woken by the ridiculous ringing of the phone, slamming of doors, and some sort of hammering. We went out for lunch to a place a ways down the road and it turned out to be quite delicious. We were mainly bored all day and just wanted to go back to Delhi. Later in the afternoon we got to listen to loud gun-shot-like noises and dracula music that was emanating from somewhere in our hotel. One can only imagine what that was all about...

On the 10th we were excited to pack everything up and check out. We got some snacks and walked to the same restaurant from the day before for lunch, backpacks strapped to our backs. I always feel so conspicuous walking around with my big backpack on, let alone plopping it down on the seat next to me like an extra little person in a restaurant. However, reality is never as bad as you make it in your head and no one gawked more than usual. After lunch we were off to the train station to wait for our train back to New Delhi. I practiced my drawing skills by sketching out the waiting room we were sitting in in my journal. It was more decent than I expected! The train ride itself was also quite an eventful one. Besides being stuffed to the brim with snacks, tea, soup, dinner, and ice cream (all included in the price of the ticket), there was a life and death scare. At about the time the soup was being served we suddenly heard a woman a few rows ahead of us saying her husbands name in an insistent manner. After a short moment her tone turned from insistent to panicked as she stood up and shook him. He wasn't waking up and it was, understandably, freaking her the hell out. It's heartbreaking and scary to hear that sense of panic in someone's voice - you can't help but imagine having to shout the name of someone you love in the same tone. The couple was traveling with a large group of their family and everyone immediately became concerned and rose to help her. Water was brought and the shaking continued and after a few moments he woke up in a sort of daze. I have no idea what was wrong with him, but everyone was immensely relieved. He was well taken care of by the family as they brought cold compresses and food. In fact, I couldn't help but notice that he was only taken care of by his family and friends. The train staff completely ignored the situation and went about doing their business of serving soups. They would squeeze themselves past the family members who were crowding the aisle trying to help the man, without stopping to offer help or do anything. I mean, they didn't need to really. He had more than enough people to care for him as it was, and I imagine that stopping the train and taking him to a hospital just wasn't an option. It was such a different reaction than you would see on a train in Europe or America though! There was a good end to the train ride though because we got to talk to the woman sitting next to us about her children in New Delhi and we got to play tic tac toe (or "zero koss" as he called it) with the incredibly intelligent eight year old boy who was sitting in front of us. He knew who the president and prime minister of India were, who the president of the US was, and could write our names in English, Hindi, and Chinese. We were flabbergasted! He shyly talked with us all the way to New Delhi.

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