Day Fifteen: Pushkar’s Pretty Scapes and Potato Priest
I think there comes a point on a one-way trip when you’re mind, body and spirit naturally wander out of the tourist persona. Hitting up the sites becomes less interesting than just tuning into whatever experience is most comfortable in the moment. Plus, when you’re moving around all the time, no matter how much energy you have, the tourist agenda can burn you out rather quickly. Today was one of those days when we dropped into a healthier balance of being and doing.
The morning began with traditional Indian breakfast, a nice break from the continental breakfast we’ve been getting at hotels. My favorite was the quesadilla style delicacy, with Indian tortilla (japati) surrounding a curry-based potato filling. We slowly made our way over to Zostel just a few feet from the hotel to bunker down and hopefully find some workable wifi (have I mentioned that in the fifteen days, I’ve gotten semi-Wifi just once?). No luck, but the vibes were just right for some writing, reading and quiet time.
Soon enough, the hostel manager Anu appeared and told us that Wifi would be up and running soon – the new hotspot they installed was experiencing some technical difficulty. He seemed very laid back and wise, just like the hostel. While we only had one day in Pushkar to catch what we could of the 500 temples and 52 ghats surrounding the town’s main Pushkar Lake, the thought of pushing through a busy market and brace the desert heat seemed unappealing. His recommendation however to join the hostel’s rickshaw ride up the mountain with a small group to see a more obscure temple and visit the great Aloo Baba (aloo: potato baba: priest/saint) seemed much more up my alley. Surely the FOMO on my face prompted Anu to tell us to grab lunch next door at “Nature’s Blessings” and think about it. Apparently, this little hole in the wall was run by a man who sourced the food, ran the eatery, cooked the food, and maintained the kitchen – a proper one man show that attracted droves of foreigners, some even going to say the food was better than the food back at home.
And damn, was he right.
Siddhartha, the one man show, has been running this shop for 3 years – a clean, very homely spot with soft music, incense and spiritual books to keep you cozy for hours. I ordered a blueberry and almond lassi along with a wholewheat bread open sandwich with grilled eggplant, sweet peppers and caramelized onions surrounded by the freshest cucumbers, tomatoes and homemade sprouts. My belly completely surrendered. It was the happiest food moment I’ve had this whole trip. Everyone who came in and out were all young Israeli travelers, another noticeable distinction about Pushkar -- lots of Israelis, signs in Hebrew, and on the rare occasion, Indians speaking Hebrew.
As we paid out, we noticed a cow just waiting outside the screen door of the eatery. A few baby cows were waiting just behind her. We walked outside, giving them all gentle strokes on their third eye, the sweet spot that seems to keep them coming back for more.
Alittle after 3pm, we found ourselves back at Zostel on actual workable Wifi, holy cow (literally)! We took advantage of this rare phenomenon, and booked our hostels for a few cities coming up next week. Afterwards, Wylie and I decided we would spend our afternoons doing our own thing – he would research and book us spots at a Vipassana retreat (10 day silent meditation) as they fill up fast and I would join the Aloo Baba Tour with Zostel. We’d meet later on that evening at the Brahma temple at the other end of the city. Perfect plan.
I piled into the rickshaw with the group – an Israeli couple, a Glasgow couple, and Nepalese couple on motorbike following just shortly behind. Gallia, the Israeli girl told me right away that she felt like she knew me from somewhere. While we didn’t manage to figure out how or from where, our Jewish-Asian bond just hit the spot and we found ourselves chatting the whole way up the mountain, clutching onto the hood of the vehicle with our bodies facing the pothole filled dirt path. In just the 20 minute or so ride up, we had all spoken about our own unique Delhi belly experiences, talking about intricate details of our stomach problems and comparing hospital and healthcare experiences. What seemed like a traumatic experience only weeks ago now became a source of friendship and lighthearted conversation.
In this four-hour adventure, we made a few stops – first to buy India’s popular biscuit cookie from a little food stand on the side of the road while snacking alongside cute barefooted-Indian kids with zero language to communicate. Second, we stopped to feed corn kernels to India’s national bird, the elegant and regal peacock. They weren’t too social or keen on eating from us directly, so we left pretty shortly. The third stop was a hilltop temple where apparently the King of the mountains had frequented daily during his reign. He was known to come to the temple and share his teachings and wisdom with the people directly, with no separation or desire to keep himself apart from the everyday man or woman.
The temple was small and unassuming, not yet tainted from the wear and tear of tourism. Anu, the hostel manager and guide, brought us all small cups of hot chai made fresh from a small cart right next to the temple. “It’s always a good time for chai” is apparently a thing the locals say, which I couldn’t agree more with. A small part of me hesitated as I brought the boiling hot NON-mineral water to my mouth, but the aromatic spices and smiling faces surrounding me made me quickly cave in.
We then hiked up a short hill to soak in the sunset views. Anu came ready with some bananas, pomegranate and pocketknife for us to enjoy. He then told us the story of Pushkar and how it came to be – it wouldn’t be a true Indian experience without some Hindu mythology involving gods and goddesses and the dramas of their time. Legend has it that this little hippie village was created when Brahma, the Creator, dropped a lotus flower (pushpa) on to the Earth from his hand (kar). Three lakes emerged in the desert where the flowers were dropped, where later Brahma convened a gathering of 900,000 celestial beings. Today, 500 white temples and 52 ghats have developed around the biggest lake and attracts pilgrims from all over the country seeking the water’s cleansing properties, especially during the full moon months of October and November.
Good times up on the mountaintop with new Pushkar friends was followed by another short ride to Aloo Baba’s abode. The story goes that Aloo Baba gave up his worldly life at the young age of 14 to pursue the “sadhu” life of non-attached saints who spend the rest of their lives living off the land in search of spiritual wisdom and truths. We were warned there are many fake sadhus, but the true sadhus will come together and share their experiences, like what we were about to experience with Aloo Baba, the “baba” or “sadhu” (can be used interchangeably) who lives solely off potatoes. Aloo had the most tamed white beard I’ve ever seen (Wylie and other bearded faces, take note).
Aloo’s other baba friends sat in a circle, passing around a peace pipe that I’m pretty sure contained Indian weed. One of the guys in our group joined in on the ritual, a brave soul given you had to breathe right through a dirty looking cloth, perhaps acting as the pipe’s filter? When in India J
As the sky fell dark, we all rickshawed back into town and over to the Brahma Temple. We were given marigold flower offerings to bring inside the temple. While standing in front of the Goddess Durga’s altar, a priest dotted a dark red tikal on my third eye. Not a bad sign considering she's the Goddess of strength and protection – everyone can use a little Durga in their life.
We capped the night off with a lovely dinner at Sai Baba with our new Israeli friends. We shared this magical Israeli flaky bread with cheese, somewhere between a croissant and tortilla whose name I’m forgetting. According to them, it was the BEST they’ve ever had, rivaling what their moms make in Israel. Apparently, Pushkar is the land of young Israeli travelers who make their trip following time spent in the army. For them it’s paradise, as everything is cheap and people speak basic English across the board.
We also shared a dessert called “Hello to the Queen,” which was the creamiest, fudgiest, crunchiest concoction of delicious flavors and textures. Don’t even know what the recipe was (and probably best to keep it that way), but it was exactly the food coma I was looking for to cap the adventure.