India Part 7: The Holy City of Pushkar


My trek through India’s Golden Triangle continued with something extra… a stop to the holy city of Pushkar.  As with Jaipur, Pushkar is in the state of Rajasthan.  It’s one of the five sacred pilgrimage sites for devout hindus.  The legend goes that when Lord Shiva (one of the major gods of hinduism) lost his wife, he cried so much that it formed the holy pond all of the worshipers visit in Pushkar.  There’s also a temple to Brahma, another major hindu god located within Pushkar.  Such temples are rare, and I’m sure makes the city even more popular with hindus.  For some reason, non-hindu tourists are attracted to the area in relatively large numbers.  This was the first city in India where I saw almost as many westerners as Indians.

It’s kind of rare when one of the highlights of a city I visit is the place I stayed in, but this hotel is definitely worth a mention.  It was about 2 kilometeres from the city center with all the vendors, shops and cafes.  That meant it was far enough away from the noise, but still within walking distance when I wanted to be around everything.  There were these big hills surrounding the area as well, and made for some awesome views.

IMG_5639IMG_5685 Perhaps I’ve become so accustomed to low budget accommodations and dorm rooms to know any better.  But to me, this place was a palatial tropical paradise.  India doesn’t really have the dorm style hostel places I usually stay in.  It’s mostly guesthouses, and this was one of them.  At $10 a night, I couldn’t believe the price.  It was kind of warm in Pushkar, and the open air guesthouse with the evening breezes created a relaxing vibe.IMG_5687 IMG_5669 IMG_5683

Vicky (same guide from the other cities) warned me about a common scam I needed to be aware of in Pushkar.  There are a number of these guys called “babas” who pretend to be holy men.  They try to pass out flowers to passers by.  If you accept, then they want a donation.  You can’t just give them a few rupees either.  They apparently harass you for hundreds of rupees and can become extremely aggressive very quickly.  I learned to just ignore them completely and never take anything from them.  This worked, and I never had an issue.  On a related note, Vicky and I were also approached by a group of women in saris who I’m guessing were asking for money.  Vicky said something in hindi that made them leave us alone.  I asked him about it, and he told me that he told them I was a police officer from the US on assignment in India to protect American tourists.  I laughed, but Vicky told me they totally believed it.  I have a shaved head and a military style cap I usually wear, so I guess it’s plausible.  I never had anyone approach me after that little white lie, so perhaps it worked.  Vicky started referring to us as the “Crazy Cops”.  I loved it, and it became our perpetual inside joke.

Cosmic Head Massage

If you’re familiar with some of the viral videos on YouTube, you might have heard of the Baba Head Massage.  Here it is in case you haven’t seen it.  The video features an Indian man giving a “cosmic” head massage to a tourist.  Many commenters of the three minute clip claim the music, in combination with imagining getting the massage themselves, puts them in a relaxed state of mind.  I saw this clip years ago, and I thought about it while I was in India.  It turns out that Baba is actually in Pushkar.  Since it’s such a small city, I felt if I just walked around, I could find his shop.  I was right…IMG_5663I was kind of interested in experiencing this cosmic head massage for myself, but figured if Baba knew about his internet celebrity, he probably charged a huge sum to tourists.  Baba wasn’t there on my first day, but Vicky talked with the guy filling his place in the shop.  He said he was Baba’s brother, and that Baba was away cutting the hair of a man about to get married.  We were told to come back the next day, and Baba would be there.  I set a price in my head of 500 rupees ($10) as my max for one of these epic treatments, and was hoping Baba didn’t demand more.  Sadly, upon returning the next day, we were told Baba was still away, but we should come and wait anyway.  I got the feeling he wasn’t going to show, so we left.  So I didn’t get to meet Baba himself, but I did get his business card.  I also got confirmation that he’s well aware of his YouTube celebrity.IMG_5716

Pushkar is filled with little shops selling mostly stuff to tourists… pashminas, scarves, clothes, shoes and cheap jewelry.  Still, there’s a certain charm to it.  There are also a lot of very odd people walking around trying to handout flowers and begging for spare change.  One older, bearded Indian guy in particular was the strangest of all.  He was wearing nothing but a long suit jacket that just barely kept him from exposing himself.  He would march up and down the streets barefoot, his legs covered in sores.  He wouldn’t say a word or harass anyone, but just stop in the middle of his march, stare blankly into space, and then march on after a minute or so.  No, I didn’t get a photo of that dude.  But here are a bunch of photos of the streets of Pushkar.IMG_5661IMG_5656 Unfortunately, a very common site in India is rubbish all over the street.  There’s usually animals sifting through the larger piles looking for scraps of food.  It’s sad really.IMG_5689 IMG_5695 IMG_5697Holy Waters

Here are the holy waters that are the reason devout hindus make the pilgrimage to Pushkar for.  You have to remove your shoes before getting anywhere near the water’s edge.  As long as they abide by this rule, and show respect, non-hindus are welcome to visit the temples as well.  However, as with any temple in India, no photos are allowed inside.

Food and Treats

I probably look silly taking photos of my food all the time, but it’s such a big part of my travel experience.  I had a familiar breakfast in Pushkar… Paratha with curd.  This is the same meal I had every morning in Shimla when I did my homestay.  It’s a flatbread cooked in oil, and is served with a yogurt curd, and spicy pickles.  It’s so filling, and a good way to start the day if you might not have time for lunch.

IMG_5681 Here was another foray into street food… the street sugar cane drink.  The raw sugar cane is fed through a press that is powered by foot.  The guy below would feed the cane through multiple times in order to squeeze out every last bit of liquid.  A touch of salt is added, and you get a nice sweet treat.  I’ll admit, the flies that were attracted to the machinery were a little off-putting.  As with a lot of things in India, you kind of just look the other way and pretend you didn’t see it.IMG_5649 IMG_5651Thali… this is a mix of different items served with chipati bread.  There’s usually a veggie, some daal (lentils), rice and curd.  Nothing particularly special, but pretty good.  By the way, 60 rupees is $1.20 for the meal.  Love prices in India.IMG_5707 IMG_5679 And, of couse, what visit to an Indian city would be complete without a stop to a sweet shop.  I really miss these places, but it’s probably best for my health.  I was unable to resist stopping whenever I saw one.  A small bag of treats would be around 75 cents, so hard to pass up.IMG_5703

There’s not much else to report as far as Pushkar goes.  It’s a really small city, mainly known for the pilgrimages Indians make there, as well as all the tourist trap shops and babas.  Pushkar was a great place to visit after dealing with all the hectic mess of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.  The place was basically like a vacation within my adventure.  The guesthouse was super relaxed and had a very chill feel.  I enjoyed cheap lassi’s, pots of chai, thali and treats.  After two nights there, our driver Victor got us back to Delhi safely.  That guy was an amazing driver.  I would have gone insane if I had to navigate the highways and busy urban streets of India.  Victor never seemed phased, and said he had been driving those streets for twenty years and it was just another day.  We finished the day back in Delhi with a final photo of the group.  Vicky is on the left with Victor in the middle.  Thanks guys, I had a great week doing the Golden Triangle with you.  It’s no exaggeration to say it was an experience I’ll be telling people about for the rest of my life.


India Part 6: More of Jaipur

IMG_5354I talked about the Amber Fort in Jaipur in my last update.  I actually spent three days in Jaipur, so I saw more of the famous palace/fortress complexes in Rajasthan.

Jaipur City Palace

City Palace was built by the Mughal ruler of the region almost 300 years ago.  As with Amber Fort, it contains a few palaces, courtyards and temples surrounded by walls that would have provided protection.  It’s actually still in use for some sort of ceremonial purpose, so I found it to be more preserved than Amber Fort.  However, it was much smaller.IMG_5508IMG_5514 IMG_5515 The photo below is of the largest object made out of silver in the world.  There are two of these in City Palace.  No joke, they’re actually in Guinness.  They’re jugs made from around 14,000 melted silver coins.  I didn’t see anything indicating what might have been put in the jars, but one story I found said they were once used to carry water from the Ganges River (very holy river in India).  You can see the reflection of me taking a photo in the one below.IMG_5519 IMG_5523IMG_5524 IMG_5525 IMG_5527 There was some kind of ceremony going on that day in City Palace.  Vicky said it looked like a foreign dignitary was in town and visiting the palace based on the various outfits and pageantry going on.IMG_5533IMG_5541 IMG_5543 IMG_5538

Jaigarh Fort

This fort rested on a hill even higher than the Amber Fort.  It wasn’t as elaborately decorated as Amber and City Palace, but a description of the place read that it was designed solely for defensive purposes, so lacked any aesthetically pleasing characteristics.  In all the centuries it was used as a fort, it was never taken by an invading army, so the design seems to have fulfilled its purpose.

IMG_5551The langur monkeys were all over the grounds of Jaigarh Fort.   I mentioned in my last post how these guys are more friendly and safer to be around then the rhesus or red faced monkeys.  They also had more humanlike body language and facial expressions which made them a little more creepy to me.IMG_5557IMG_5559 IMG_5549Random Jaipur Sites

When I was in France, I visited a city called Toulouse that was nicknamed the Pink City.  Jaipur is also referred to the Pink City as you can see from the photos below why this is.

IMG_5351 IMG_5357 IMG_5360 IMG_5495 IMG_5571 IMG_5575 IMG_5577 IMG_5585

Sun Temple

At one end of the main road in Jaipur was this other big hill with an active hindu temple situated at the top called the Sun Temple.  Here was the main gate at the bottom of the hill.


The hike up the hill was kind of funny.  There were tons of red face monkeys everywhere.  They were climbing the walls, walking along the path, sitting on the backs of goats.  It was hilarious.  Vicky warned me to be very careful with so many monkeys around, and not to have my phone out or carry anything else in my hands.  At one point, this older western couple in front of us stopped to take photos.  The monkeys began to gather around them thinking they had food.  There was a commotion of some kind, and then the monkeys went a little crazy.  The monkeys started screaming and attacking each other.  I thought to myself, “crap, I’m getting rabies today”.  I was honestly a little freaked out.  They were running all around us, but seemed to be avoiding us as well which was a relief.  We calmly just walked out of there, and Vicky warned the couple not to stop for too long and take photos since it made the monkeys believe they had food for them.  I wish I had some photos of that scene, but it’s probably better I didn’t have my phone out.

We finally reached the top of the hill, and here’s what awaited us.

IMG_5602IMG_5611We were rewarded with some great views of Jaipur from the Sun Temple area.IMG_5607Jaipur Eats

I loved the food in India, and Jaipur was no exception.  One side benefit of having a guide was that I worried less about trying street food.  I really didn’t want to miss out on the Indian street food despite all the warnings I read about.  I trusted Vicky to guide me through the options, and he didn’t steer me wrong.  He and Victor had been to these cities we were visiting numerous times, and between them, they knew of all the good spots to eat.  Vicky also said he could tell by the smell of the oil being used to cook the food if it was going to make him sick.  I think the main key is just to make sure the street food you’re eating is at a place with high turnover, and looks popular with locals.  I think most Americans with our Western sensabilities would have a problem eating at some of the places in the photos below.  But in India, they’re all pretty normal and standard.  Check them out:

Street lassi… A lot of people in the States have probably tried mango lassi.  In India, you can find lassi being served in these tiny ceramic clay cups on the side of the road.  They’re a nice refreshing treat on a warm day.  The downside to them is that everyone throws the cups away when done.  Seems like a huge waste.

IMG_5347 One of the things that I noticed early on in our week long trek through the Golden Triangle was that Victor, our driver, would stop at these restaurants where I would go in one door and eat.  Then he and Vicky would go through another door to a different part of the same building to eat.  I soon realized I was going into the tourist part of the restaurant with the nice clean floor, surfaces, well dressed servers, and overpriced food.  They thought I would want a more Western style restaurant, and not be able to handle a typical hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant just off the street.  Seriously, the prices in these tourist places were near what I would pay in the States for the same food.  Grant it, still relatively cheap, something like $6-$7 for a meal.  But in India, you should be getting meals for around $1.50.  I complained, and Victor started taking me to the real places where we could all eat together, and still get the traditional Indian food.  It wasn’t about the money for me.  I wanted to eat the same food as everyone else.  Honestly, despite the warnings I had about how spicy the food could be, I was totally fine.  I also never got the infamous Delhi belly 🙂IMG_5499IMG_5497More street lassi, although, this time in a bag.IMG_5613

IMG_5620I wish I could remember the name of the dish below.  It was like a potato cake with chic peas and spices.  Really, really, good.  Wow, India had the best street food of any place I’ve ever been on my whole trip.IMG_5619The stainless steel plates and bowls you see in Indian restaurants in the States are the norm here as well.
IMG_5628Jaipur Textiles

This next part is going to seem like I’m losing my mind, but one of the items on my India agenda was to buy a nice rug.  Jaipur is known for its textiles, and I was kind of curious to see what might be available for a cheap price.  I don’t have a place to call home at the moment.  I sold my house last June before I left for my trip.  I also went through a lot to unload most of my possessions.  I would never spend thousands of dollars back home for a hand sewn rug, but in India, such goods can be purchased for hundreds of dollars.  I liked the idea of having something in my future home decor to remind me of my travels, and a cool Indian rug seemed appropriate.

The high-end rugs in Jaipur are hand sewn by two rug makers over a period of six months.  Another person then spends a month trimming the rug fibers down by hand to produce the finished pattern you see.  I fourth person then burns the bottom of the rug in a very delicate way to rough up the bottom.  The effect of this is that you don’t need a rug pad underneath to keep it in place.  The rug shops even have slick marble floors and challenge you to pull the rug.  The weight of the hand sewn material and the roughed up bottom make it very difficult.IMG_5501

I ended up getting a hand sewn camel wool rug for $800.  It cost another $100 to ship home.  I admit, I regretted buying it the next day. In the end, I rationalized it by telling myself that I was buying it for future-me.  Present-me thinks it’s stupid to buy something for a home you don’t have.  But future-me will enjoy it someday when he’s done being a vagabond and has an awesome rug that will remind him of his travels abroad.  Check it out…


So that wraps up Jaipur.  Although not as crowded or noisy as Delhi, Jaipur is still pretty huge and can get crazy.  It’s home to three million people which is more than the population of Chicago.  Jaipur is only the 10th largest city in India too, which is staggering to think of.  Our group spent three nights there, the longest of any city on our trek through the Golden Triangle.  The palaces, fortress complexes, good food and textiles made there make it a must stop for any tourist in Northern India.

India Part 5: Jaipur and the Amber Fort


After just one night in Agra, and a day exploring the Taj Mahal and Agra Gate, our group of three (myself, driver and guide) headed to the state of Rajasthan and its capital, Jaipur.

Rajasthan is a state in the Northwest region of India.  In Hindi, Raj means the rule or king, and “sthan” means land.  So Rajasthan is the land of the rulers or kings.  It’s where all the great palaces of the old rulers are located.  The region is really popular with foreign and domestic tourists, so wherever you go, you’ll find guides speaking English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Japanese.  It occurred to me that I don’t really know anything about the history of this part of the world.  I don’t recall learning anything I might have been taught about the Mughal Empire or any of the numerous tribes that helped found what is present day Rajasthan.  Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and has some of the best of the palace fortress complexes in the region.

It was in Jaipur that I visited my favorite site in all of India… the Amber Fort.  I actually liked exploring this more than the Taj Mahal.  The fort was built by a general of the Mughal empire in the early 1600’s.  It contains several courtyards, palaces, temples and living quarters for the ruling class.  Although left in a state of disrepair for over a century, preservation efforts in the last couple decades are working to keep the fort open to the public.

IMG_5374IMG_5384IMG_5387There were animals just roaming around the former palace grounds.IMG_5371I can’t recall every being so close to an elephant before.  Perhaps in a zoo?  But this was different as it was right in front of me.  I didn’t notice the sign saying “no photos of elephants” until after I had taken a few.  No one said anything.  You could ride an elephant down the hill for 900 rupees which is $18.  It’s a short ride, and honestly didn’t appeal to me, so I didn’t do it.  $18 is a lot in India.  You can get a hotel room for less than that price.IMG_5389This place is just massive.  I think I like walking around places like this more than the Taj since you get more of a sense of daily life of the people.IMG_5392IMG_5398There were langur monkey’s just hanging out in the window ledges.  Vicky, my guide, told me the black face monkeys are safer to be around and are natural enemies of the red face monkeys… the rhesus macaques.  They’re seen as being an important control tactic in India to keeping the red face monkeys in check.  IMG_5401IMG_5403IMG_5407IMG_5408 IMG_5410 IMG_5413It was a little warm that day, and the marbled floors of these giant rooms were nice and cool in the shade.  Marble has that effect of staying cool, and I’d imagine lounging there on a hot summer day was an ideal place to be a few hundred years ago. IMG_5415 IMG_5419 IMG_5426 IMG_5438 IMG_5446 IMG_5458IMG_5449 IMG_5393

I had a really good day exploring the Amber Fort.  That place is something I would definitely go back to.  If I do, I would hire a guide who specializes in that location, as I was really curious as to what all the halls, rooms and courtyards would have been used for.  At this point, it was starting to hit me that I can’t recall ever learning the history of this part of the world.  I remember Ghengis Khan, but I don’t remember the Gergers, the Rajput, or the Mughals.  It would become a common theme that popped up in my Asian travels.