By Pushkar I’d already been in India two weeks, but I’d learnt a lot; not to be cliched. India pushes you to the edge of your tolerances from the moment you step out of the airport and then dares you to jump over the edge without snapping. The smells challenge you not to gag, the street children and injured dogs not to close your eyes, th e food not to throw up and the crowds not to cower away in your hotel room.
Roses, Blessings and Dawn Hikes – Pushkar
Our attention was drawn to a list of rules as we clambered sweatily out of the jeeps into the hotel. Desperate to shower after the non-air con, leather seated ride I wasn’t paying much attention as the rules of the holy city were reiterated; no smoking, drinking, PDA’s or bare skin. I remembered just enough to be vaguely surprised as cigarettes were pushed on me left, right and center as I wandered the winding streets later on, searching for Brahmas temple. Pushkar is the site of the world’s only temple to the Hindu god Brahma the Creator and is the site of one of the ultimate pilgrimages for Hindus. The legend goes that Brahma was performing a yajna – fire-sacrifice – at the lake in Pushkar however he required his wife to be present at a certain time and place for the sacrifice to be successful. His wife, Savitri, couldn’t be present, so in her absence Brahma married a young girl, Gayatri, to complete the yajin. When Savitri found out she cursed Brahma to never be worshiped by those of Hindu faith, but in a moment of compassion reduced the curse to permit worship in a single temple nestled within the mountain encompassed city of Pushkar.
After probably an hour of dodging papaya stealing cows, tourists wobbling unpracticed on mopeds and pushy street vendors we stumbled upon the steep and imposing steps up to the temple. Our eyes had missed them, preoccupied with scouting a route through the spattered shits of the numerous and messy sacred cows. Four of us had embarked on this (for us) short pilgrimage and as no bags or shoes were allowed into the temple we went in in pairs. The temple itself was much like the myriad of other temples we had and were to see in India, what really was to stand out about Pushkar would be the mountain top view we would climb for the next morning. Undeterred we squeezed past the tat vendors and beggars, mounted the top step and entered the white washed calm of the temple. Numerous bees had been attracted to the sweet offerings left in the shrines and were a nuisance as we meandered from shrine to shrine, circling Brahmas central shrine. We were waiting and watching to see if any other tourists entered this central shrine, not wanting to be denied entry as embarrassingly we had at the Karni Mata rat temple. We didn’t see anyone enter and quickly lost interest when we noticed four deep stairwells that looked just like public toilets. Toilets were an unlikely feature of a 14th century temple so we descended one at random. In a dark alcove at the bottom we were ushered in by a candle lit, wrinkled man to receive the crimson blessing of Shiva the Destroyer. We each knelt on the freezing stone that hadn’t seen sun in hundreds of years, besides a menacing snake representation of the angry god and were anointed with the paste of crushed flowers that leaves little red pores on your forehead long after the blessing has been washed or sweated off. Without our bags we had nothing to offer the priest who sat all day in this dingy hovel so we ducked out with a nervous ‘namaste’, hoping not to incur so quickly the wrath of the God who had just blessed us.
We hurried back down the stairs, away from the judging presence of the gods and into the anonymity of the crowded street. I was sitting on the edge of a stall waiting for the other two to return when I was approached by a man who offered me a single, beautiful rose. Although we had all been warned that flower offerings are a common scam in Pushkar that lead to being violently forced to pay thousands of rupees as ‘offerings’, I thought at some point you have to trust someone. He promised me it was a gift for my smile and nothing more so I took him for his word and he melted back into the crowd without another word. I was left with a lingering smile for the rest of the day and the strong scent of rosewater that lifted from the petals which was truly gorgeous. 5 months later it still emanates from the pages of my moleskine that it is pressed between.
My alarm woke me at 5AM the next morning for the mountain climb top the Savitri temple. I stumbled around the room trying to tie my laces and find my jumper for the chilly tuk tuk ride to the base of the mountain. The 650 steps to the top passed in pretty much uneventful silence as we were lost in our own thoughts and half asleep dreams, our eyes pinned to the flickering torch light of each step. As we reached the top the sun wasn’t yet visible but our view point had begun to be bleached by the first rays which began dripping back down the stairs we had just ascended, edging towards the town below. The sleeping buildings still had some drowsy moments before dawn got its grip on them.
A very committed man had arrived well before us, or slept in his shop atop the mountain, and already had a huge pot of steaming chai brewing. Ginger and cinnamon scents curled temptingly into my nostrils calling me over. I didn’t resist for long and he poured us each a proper English mug full of the chai. We retired to the concrete platform to dangle our legs and watch as the city was washed with morning light. I don’t think it was purely how deserved the chai felt after the climb, but it was the most delicious chai I tasted in India; absolutely packed with awakening spices. We all sipped it slowly, preferring the quiet company of the equally sleepy monkeys to the hectic jeep ride to the next city that we knew awaited us below.