February 11, 2000
Pushing past Jaipur and heading just south to Pushkar I landed at the Kanahia Guesthouse. My friend Denis and I walked into the hotel late on a Sunday and each landed rooms for 80 rupees (about 2$ US) a night. They were nice rooms with hot showers and Western-style toilets. A nice, comfortable place to stay in one of Hinduism's most sacred cities. Pushkar is the Eden of the Hindu religion; it's the place where the world began. When the creator Lord Brahma threw out his lotus flower of creation it landed, splat, in Pushkar -- the beginning of the world.
Now Pushkar is a Western paradise. You want pizza? Got it. You want chocolate cake? Got that too. 20-somethings from all over Europe and Israel flock to the evening tea houses in the small one-square-mile sized town to grab some of the only mind-altering substance allowed--a bang lassi, called "special lassi" on restaurant menus. The "special" in these yogurt shakes, commonly made with bananas, mangos and papayas, is Indian marijuana. All over Pushkar tourists stumble around the 1.5-km lake where alcohol and meat are forbidden.
With these tourists come their dollars. The Brahmins--the highest caste in the Hindu religion, in charge of transporting offerings from pilgrims to the lake--have turned businessmen. New tourists are taken in hand to the lake's edge, given flowers to offer, said prayers for, receive a red string around their wrist and a forehead dolloped with red paste and rice. How nice it all seems with the lapping of the lake, the seabird's calls and Cat Stevens wafting by. Then the priest asks for a small donation.
You think 5, 10 rupees will be enough. After all you give only 1 rupee to the bucket-totting sadus and the crippled. So you pull out a 10 rupee note (about 0.25$ US) like my friend Denis and hand it to the fellow. This fellow, a priest, refuses the money and asks for 50 or 100 rupees. You can then do what Denis did which was to take back the 10 rupees, go buy a kilo of bananas and bring them back to the lake to feed the monkeys in front of the greedy priest.
Pushkar, the place I met three university professors from Bombay whom had traveled a day to come pray in this holy place. They arrived at 8 p.m. like me and were heading straight for the main temple.
"Where are you staying?" I asked them. I had also just arrived and thought it would be nice to stay out of the Western hotel scene. They shook their heads and told me they would be at the temple the entire night, bathe in the lake in the morning and then go back to Bombay. "We gave our students only one day of holiday."
I asked them if they wanted to have some tea. They shook their heads no, again; they had things to do. And they moved off into the crowd past "Hotel Rooftop-You sleep sweat here!" and "24 hour dry cleners-Cheap Ad fast!"
Pushkar, also the place I met two Dutch women while browsing through a box of old saris in a clothing stand on the main street. 10 yards of fabric strung round my head and they asked if I wanted to get some juice at the shop across the way.
"This is such a crazy place." I said sitting down with fresh squeezed carrot juice, not sure if I was talking about Pushkar or India in general. Sacred cows and red-faced tourists ambled by.
"Yeah." Said one of the women holding up a pair of the silk pants she just bought. "I really like your pants much better." They were here buying goods for their import shop in Amsterdam. "Will you trade? I'll buy your juice." I gave her my plastic bag.
They had been coming to Pushkar every other year for the past 23 years, first as a holiday and now "as a holiday!" One giggled and the other lit a bidi, an Indian-made cigarette. They weren't really serious about exporting things; they explained that they stuck to shipping small amounts of goods from the places they stayed--Pushkar, Varanasi, and throughout Goa, with an occasional visit to a village or two. The bigger cities were too serious and money hungry for them. "We come to relax."
Further into the conversation I asked the women about Pushkar and how it had changed over the years. They told me it was much the same but back in the '80s you could still drink liquor. They liked it better now. They liked the fact that there were more tourists here and that they could get anything thy wanted.
As we said good-bye I told them to enjoy the rest of their stay in the place where the world began. "Yeah, Ram. Ram. [God. God.] To you too!" one said.
So Pushkar, as I was discussing one night over a glass of illegal rum and coke with the owner of the Kanahia Guesthouse, has lost its meaning. "No," said Manu. "You go out in the morning when all the tourists are still asleep, you will see Pushkar." Pushkar is said to contain the only temple dedicated to Lord Brahma and it is still one of the most popular sites to pilgrimage to for devout Hindus. "Then you will see. Then you will want to stay." He paused and took a sip of his drink. "Then you will see if you can finance me for 1,000,000 rupees. I can have television in my rooms. Everything you want."
-Sarah Reed Bargren