Udaipur to Pushkar

Hans shifted his backside out of bed at a reasonable hour for once. I was actually impressed.

Breakfast was gulped down, minimal packing done, bills paid and a car loaded up. We left the hotel shortly after 9am and got on the road to Pushkar. The road in question is a good one by Indian standards, fully tarmacced and quite wide. As a result, it’s used by a lot of trucks ferrying goods back and forth so the traffic can be pretty bad.

This is where our driver came into his own, making full use of the road’s width and convincing us we were going to die on several occasions. I took the only course of action I could think of and fell asleep.

During my waking phases, I saw two rather nasty accidents but as far as I could tell there were no casualties. In one, a truck had driven off the side of a road and rolled. The cab was still complete and the driver sat there looking rather embarassed about how he was going to get his truck back on the road, never mind reload the several hundred bags of gravel that were buried under it.

The other looked like two trucks had encountered each other as one was overtaking. Both had veered to avoid a collision, gone the same direction and ended up crushed against each other, on their sides and off the road again. Thankfully, once more, no casualties seemed to have been involved. Tata (a major motor manufacturer here – our car is made by them) seem to build sturdy trucks.

After almost five hours, we pulled into Pushkar and we settled on the first place our driver took us. Looking at the key-pegs, there were only two rooms left and we didn’t want to go running in circles like the previous day.

This place has a pool – with water in. And leaves. And I don’t know what else. Tempting, but I think I’ll skip it.

Veg fried rice was had for lunch and then we walked into town. As we left the hotel, a small boy handed us some rose petals and told us we were to throw them into the lake as it was a festival day. Amazingly, he didn’t want any money from us so we took him to be genuine and carried our petals with us.

As we neared the lake, we were instructed to take our shoes off and were alloted a Brahman (holy man) each. I sat cross-legged facing mine and he instructed me to wash my hands in the water, sprinkle some in my face (to represent showering) and take a handful of petals and some other things he dropped into my cupped hands. Next followed some chanting during which he asked me how many family members I had and so on.

Now this is where Lonely Planet warn you to watch out. Basically, they want a donation and they often try to make it per family member that you’re getting good fortune for. My guy’s face dropped when he found out I had no brothers and sisters, and I only agreed to give 50 Rupees (fair, I thought, for a charitable donation I wasn’t expecting to give in the first place). He had other ideas. It rose to 100Rp. Per person. I noticed that “five hundred” was appearing a few times in the mantra and thought this was a little odd.

Finally, he wrapped a piece of string around my wrist and told me this would get me into any temple in the city. Without it, no entry. People in Pushkar know how this works. Or something. Apparently.

Then he asked for my 500 Rupees. I told him I didn’t have 500 Rupees. No problem, he tells me, as his friend behind me can take me to an ATM on his bike. Ah, joy. The old situation of religion being more about money than people – an old bugbear of mine.

Hans stepped in as things got a little heated – he’d managed to talk his Brahman down to 35 Rupees, just the spare change from his wallet basically. Then, because, Hans wouldn’t lend me the money despite not having any more he was yelled at by the supposed holy man for “being funny in a holy place”.

Oh dear.

The upshot was we both had our bits of string removed again. And… erm… that was it. Oh, we got yelled at by a priest. Or someone pretending to be one. I’m just glad he wasn’t a gypsy as they apparently do really good curses. This guy just accused us of being homosexual. I’ve heard worse from schoolkids.

Back in the market area, walking along the streets, two girls approached us and started with the usual “where are you from”, “when you get to Pushkar” and so on. They wanted to shake hands and one of them grabbed mine and wouldn’t let go. Then she started dribbling some kind of gunk out of a tube into the palm of my hand, drawing a really crappy flower. Every time I wriggled, she gripped tighter and squeezed more gunk out.

Of course, for the resultant masterpiece, she wanted Rupees as it was her job to draw henna patterns on people. Of course, if you do a job, you get paid. That’s logical enough, but so is asking someone if they want the job done first. This bit of logic seemed to escape her, as did we after about a hundred yards or bickering.

We went online for a while to sort out hotels and more flight details, during which time I eventually found a scrap of paper to wipe the gunk off my hand. It looks like I got drunk and passed out in the same room as a 3 year-old with an orange felt tip who took a fancy to my hand. Ah well, it could have been worse. Maybe.

After the internet, we walked back to the hotel during which time I was targetted by a small boy who did the whole “I’m starving” routine and asked me to buy him chocolate, or “just one biscuit”. I’ll give him this – he was persistent. He kept a hand on one or other of my shoulders for a good ten minutes as we walked back, telling me it would be “good karma” until we reached the end of the food shops and he latched onto someone going the other direction with a cry that I was a “bad man”.

Now I can see why some people don’t like India. I can let this all wash over me like water off a duck’s back, but I guess the couple I met in Australia couldn’t. This is all just so much “stuff” to me, but it’s bound to affect different people different ways.

Don’t get me wrong – I care about children starving on the street. I care a lot. But how do I know I’m giving to the right one? How do I know he’s not getting a kickback from a shopkeeper who’ll overcharge me for stuff? How do I know he’s not just greedy?

This is why I only give to organised charities, or to those individuals who are obviously making an effort to help themselves long term. It’s also why I’m more prepare to give to animal charities than those helping people. Most people, if they try, can make something of themselves. They can get out of any situation they find themselves in. There is help there if they seek it out. Animals aren’t so lucky, and don’t have an option – so they get my sympathy more.

Just for the record, I also tend not to donate to charities with a large religious influence either. Far too many horror stories of priests in Africa telling the locals not to use condoms as they cause AIDS… People should help people because they want to, not because they have some hidden agenda.

I guess I may as well plug an old favourite again – Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is run just how charities should be, by the kind of people that should be running them and for people who really need and appreciate that help.

Where on earth did that soapbox come from?

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