Ajmer; Sheryl is sick; Day trip to Pushkar's tourist hell; Monkeys and amorous cows

We hardly left the hotel for the two days that followed our arrival in Ajmer. Sheryl was feeling very sick - dangerously sick, I thought. Her stomach was upset all the time and she didn’t want food. We reckoned that she’d had some bad water when we’d been visiting everyone at Holi. Her stomach was bad enough that she decided to start taking a three-day course of the broad-spectrum antibiotics we’d brought with us from home. My stomach was fine, more or less - but that doesn’t mean anything. I could probably eat a bacteria sandwich without any trouble. She was in rough shape, though. She had terrible headaches and had to spend most of the two days in bed in the darkened room. I used the time to catch up on my writing, venturing out only for bananas, water and cookies - the only food Sheryl could stomach.

The hotel was incredibly noisy, which didn’t help matters. It’s been a complete asylum every night, with kids running up and down the halls screaming and smashing doors, and someone hammering metal on the top floor. The staff keep trying to open our room door, which makes me nervous - I’m glad we’ve been putting our own lock on the door when we’ve been going out. Oh, and the cops came hammering on every door at one point. As soon as they saw we weren’t Indian they grunted, nodded and left. I wonder who they were looking for? Too much to hope for that it would be the hammering guy.

After a couple of days of antibiotics Sheryl felt a little recovered - enough to make a day trip from Ajmer to Pushkar. It took another half an hour to walk to the bus stand in the morning, through heat and noise that was punishing even so early in the day. I’m rapidly getting very tired of the constant insane noise of India and am starting to think seriously about moving on. I was in no mood for bullshit today and am in very short temper with the gawkers, hustlers, rickshaw-drivers and oversexed, overaggressive young Rajasthani men (i.e. all of them). Most of them seemed to sense my mood and we weren’t as hassled as usual.

Pushkar was half an hour away by bus - eight rupees (about CAD$0.20) for a bone-rattling ride over a range of low hills. We arrived to see lots of narrow streets and tall buildings, many of which were painted a bright sky-blue. Oh, and lots of cows. I’d thought Ajmer had a lot, but I think they outnumbered the people here. They certainly outnumber the locals - almost everyone here is a tourist. Everyone local here is selling something - Pushkar is one big bazaar. All the Indians are desperately trying to flog whatever crap they have to sell at inflated prices to dirty white kids with dreadlocks. Six or seven hash-whisperers muttered in my ear every minute or so, and just as often some other guy trying on the “guide” routine, pushing “lake flower, lake flower” on us (Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage site, and the bathing ghats ring the little lake in the centre of town).

I’m glad we chose to stay in Ajmer, since Pushkar has been more or less ruined by tourism. There’s nothing genuine left here. I should have known when our guidebook called it “tourist-friendly” and said that the main street is “lined with absorbing little shops”. I’m becoming very angry and feeling betrayed by guidebooks at this point. I should be able to trust a guidebook for accurate, useful, unvarnished information, don’t you think? I shouldn’t have to wade through paragraphs of overblown gushing prose. I shouldn’t have to decode it. An evasive guidebook isn’t just useless, it becomes complicit with all the other scammers sucking you dry. It’s time to look away from Lonely Planet, I think. This is the second bad Lonely Planet book in a row. I’ve felt for some time that their focus has decidedly shifted away from budget travel anyway - any book that has the nerve to list ultra-luxury hotels at all, let alone choose one as “Our Pick” is a long way from being useful to me. I wouldn’t have bought the Lonely Planet India book, to be honest, but it came highly recommended by a couple of people.

We took a look at the lake, which was indisputably a lake, and examined the bathing ghats, reached by flights of marble steps down from the street, which were crowded with monkeys and cows. Who knew cows could climb stairs? These guys managed it just fine. Pushkar cows are an eccentric lot. One of them was chasing the monkeys on one of the bathing ghats and trying to lick them. Neither we nor the monkeys were quite sure why, and the monkeys seemed a little disturbed by it, as you would. My own turn came in the street when I was trying to take a photo and a cow ambled up beside me and began butting me with her head. I tried to tell her that Sheryl was carrying the bananas but she wasn’t interested in food - only in attention. She wouldn’t leave me alone until I gave her nose and forehead a good scratch. Even that wasn’t enough for her. She kept pestering me for scratches and bumping the arm holding my camera. Strange creatures.

There are a couple of points of interest in Pushkar. One is the lake, of course, and the other is one of the only temples in the world dedicated to Brahma, the Hindu creator deity. I’ve seen a lot of temples in India and didn’t feel like I really had to see the Brahma temple. We were there in Pushkar, though, and so we went to take a look. The tourist schtick was too bad for us, though, and the crowd of hustlers and beggars too thick, so we retreated to the back-streets. I was afraid of a repeat of the Jaipur rock-throwing experiences, but everybody here was friendly and nice - and surprisingly genuine for a tourist town. Our walk led us back toward the bus stand and past a temple to Hanuman, the monkey god. That explained the monkeys, at least. I wonder if the temple was built because of the monkeys, or the other way around?

Back in Ajmer we made arrangements for our onward travel to Jodhpur. I booked a reservation over the internet for a nice hotel - the photos looked beautiful and relaxing, with a courtyard billowing with bright-coloured fabric, a terrace, and bright clean rooms. The booking website said there were vacancies, and the room tariff was only Rs350. I paid a deposit and got a confirmation number, even (these things become important the next day). We thought of taking the train, but it didn’t leave until the late afternoon and didn’t arrive in Jodhpur until 9 - and I didn’t want to spend another day in Ajmer for no reason. We booked a so-called “deluxe” private bus instead, which left at 9 the next morning. I was happy to have all this taken care of. I felt confident, relaxed, and in control. It felt good - I felt like we were on the ball for once, instead of flying by the seat of our pants. I really should learn to beware of that feeling - it’s always a sign that the universe is waiting around the corner to flush your head down the toilet.

Flourish

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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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