A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

Pushkar - India

Set by a lake and ringed by forest covered mountains, Pushkar is temple town of the highest order. Holy men, priests and cows meander through hot, dusty streets filled with touts and hippy trail tourists. Holy petals are offered up for the soul and marijuana for the mind. Alcohol is officially forbidden, as are kissing and eggs, but it's possible to get your hands on a beer in some places and, as we all know, where there is alcohol there's kissing...

Eggs however, are most definitely off the menu as the local council plug the chickens and employ various other anti-egg measures. The last sentence may not be entirely true but wouldn't it be a better world if it was? What the town elders actually do, is charge unsuspecting tourists a cheeky entry fee. For 5 princely rupees, a limp roadside barrier is hauled up by an underfed pensioner and you are granted access to Hinduism's holiest, and possibly dustiest, city.

Ten rupees lighter, we rolled under the midday sun into town, wound or way down a long dusty, egg-free track peppered with camels and cow shit, and were deposited in the tranquil gardens of the Prem Villas hotel. After a bit of banter with Pawan the manager and a promise to give his pranayam yoga a bash, we dumped our bags and headed to the markets for a wander.

Central Pushkar is a walking heaven compared to other Indian towns. For Indian town planners, the concept of a pavement is as abstract as the smell of unicorn shit. Pushkar however has a small centre where pedestrians have equal rights with the cows, motorbikes and scooters. We spent an hour in amongst the colourful stalls and stores selling everything from books to banana lhassis, before we found a little rooftop restaurant with a view over the lake. It was just what the travel doctor ordered and when we hit the streets again it was with full stomachs and a springy pedestrian step.

But Pushkar is also a place where you shouldn't get too ahead of yourself. Just because your feeling spritely, it doesn't mean everyone else is. A holy four-legged beef steak decided to teach me this when I failed to move out of his way with enough haste. Instead of politely mooing me out of the way, Billy Beef thought it best to headbutt me into a doorway before continuing with his holy plodding. No damage done but a valuable lesson learnt, never disturb the path of holy beef.

We spent what was left of the day, relaxing in the cow-free hotel garden and quaffing banana lhassis in the late afternoon heat. The next day continued in pretty much the same fashion but with occasional blasts of air-conditioning as the electricity connection was reestablished for brief 20 minute periods. It was lazyness personified but by sunset we were getting restless.

Thus, we hopped into the car just as the sky was turning a pinky orange and headed to an "English Wine Shop" (note: wine not sold) on the outskirts of town to buy some forbidden beers. Once laden with sweaty bottles of Kingfisher, we made tracks for the Pushkar Palace rooftop restaurant. There, we feasted on chapati, poppadoms, curry and beer and 5 hours later my backside was firmly planted upon the porcelain throne, with a bucket in front of me, as I experienced my first, violently sudden, case of Delhi belly. I won't go into detail but lets just say I didn't even have time to look for the lightswitch.

Eight o'clock the following morning, Lana, myself and a grumbling stomach were given a crash course in "pranayam," i.e. an "oooing" and "aaahhhhing" breathing thing. It's something between meditation and yoga and can apparantley cure thousands of diseases and prevent malaria or dengue fever. Under normal circumstances I would have been a keen listener but a nervousness brought about by the slightest abdominal pressure meant that angry stomach took all my attention.

We checked out of the Pushkar hotel that morning, but not before Lana had painted some flowers on the wall at reception and I'd packed the bags, ensuring the toilet paper was sitting ready in my pocket... It was a long road to Udaipur...


Posted by scotsman 22:35 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Bollywood Experience

"It is just like sitting in a big cake..." That was the clinching sentence that made me book tickets for "Dabangg" in Jaipur's "Cake Cinema." I just hoped Lucky, our driver, didn't mean Dundee cake.

Bollywood produces hundreds of films each year and draws in regular cinema audiences numbering millions. Most of the films follow the same love, violence, family problems, sing and dance genre in order to satisfy the majority of a 1.1 billion viewer market and in Jaipur, I began my Bollywood education with a standard Hindi comedy called "Dabangg."

Dabangg roughly translated is something like undefeatable, which made sense considering the main character, a cross between a beefed-up, Indian Freddy Mercury and the policeman from The Village People, was largely invincible. The main man also inspired whoops and cheers from the cinema audience when he first came onto the screen, including one guy next to me who let out a bizarre Mohican war cry to show his approval of the characters appearance.

I suppose any character who can bust the Bollywood dance moves, harmonise the Hindi hymns, battle with the bad guys matrix style, dodge bullets, laugh after being stabbed and rip off his shirt with his expanding hulk-esque muscles at the sight of his dead mothers inhaler, deserves to be cheered and applauded when he blesses the screen.

He was also able to woo any lady he thought worthy of his charms and was a perfect gentleman when, after falling through a roof into a bedroom, he was faced with a young damsel with her collarbones exposed. It's possible that lesser men feel certain urges at the sight of such a fine neckline, but not Mr Dabangg. His finest party piece however, which would only be possible in India, was to kill the main bad guy using tractor exhaust fumes. A moment of pure genius…

In Bollywood films there's also often an "item song." This song has absolutely nothing to do with the film and is instead just a chance for a bit of a singalong and for the men in the audience to continue the whooping and cheering as a sexy Bollyood bellydancer belts out a Hindi classic to the beats.

But despite the howling males, Indian cinema is a place for the whole family. There were grannies, toddlers, new born babies and even a couple of birds in the expansive auditorium enjoying the hero-led tale. And, halfway through the 3-hour odyssey, a 20 minute interval is provided where 500 numb bums can stock up on popcorn, coke, samosas and chai (Indian masala tea). Thus everyone is catered for.
As for the inside cake aspect, the cinema had an ornate 1920's feel about it, although the carpets may have been there since the British Raj, and the lighting was either a soft green or yellow which, I suppose, would be Indian cakey. We would probably be classified as the topping as, yet again, our white skinned glamour status meant that we were filmed by locals with their phones. And on that note, if the person who filmed me dribbling coke down my chin is reading this, I would like to see that video...


Posted by scotsman 02:40 Archived in India Tagged india bollywood Comments (0)

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