Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Day 157: Climbing Everest (04/07/2011)

The train from Jaipur to Ajmer was uneventful. To make up for this though, we had a white knuckle ride from Ajmer to Pushkar, over the mountains and through a rock strewn pass. As we descended, pink Bougainvillea lined the road side and monkeys sat in the shade to escape the midday sun.

The taxi eventually became wedged between two buildings and is probably still there, disappearing slowly under a deepening pile of donk droppings.

The driver refused to admit defeat as the streets of Pushkar narrowed to the point that the marginally obese had to think twice about their route. We walked the last half mile up to the snow-capped peaks of an increasingly steep incline where we found our guest house, fittingly named Everest.

I am not normally one to boast about my mountaineering exploits but strictly speaking, on this occassion it is entirely true that we reached the summit of Everest without oxygen, gasping for breath in the Pushkar Death Zone.

“You are at home” was the mantra of Bunty and his father, an entrepreneur, hotelier and teacher. True to their word, they were extremely hospitable, even to the point that our room was fitted with buttons to activate the ‘Red Light’ and the ‘Disco Light’. At least that is what the switches said but I never had the courage to flick them for fear of offending our clearly devout Brahmin hosts with acts of lewdness that would inevitably follow.

Pushkar is a Brahmin town of 10,000, built around a sacred lake. Brahmin devotees paint their houses blue and the view from a distance is like an explosion in a powder blue paint factory. At sunset the blues merge with the pinks to create a sea of lilac, accentuated by the dusk of purples.

We wandered the bazaar. As usual the streets were thronged with cows and calves. Turbans the colours of high-lighter pens crowded the chai stalls and the wearers engaged in animated chatter between the hoots of scooters and the barking dogs. Pushkar has, until now held the line against cars and particularly, aggressive auto-rickshaws that make life for the two or four legged pedestrian a daily lottery.

Pappu, a peripatetic sitar player held an impromptu street performance for us (and for 50 rupees) and spent the rest of our time there, seeking an opportunity to reprise his role.

We circled the sacred lake, walking between ghats which are small steps descending to the water, used for ritual bathing - and washing if the temple staff are turning a blind eye. The year before last, the lake dried out completely after three years of failed rains and children played cricket on the lake bed. What the religious significance of this is taken to be is not clear as the lake was summoned by the staff of Brahma, the creator of the world in the Hindu faith, and the patron of the town.

Street cooking is everywhere. Chappati and dosa cook on hotplates. Every imaginable batter based consumable bubbles away in giant woks, inherited from the time of the Maharajas and blackened after two hundred years over the same flame.

As motor vehicles are notably absent, donkeys take up the slack and Pushkar favours to smallest breed you will ever see. The pygmy donks totter about the streets in packs of five or six, struggling under the weight of a shopping bag or two of gravel, tomatoes or whatever the cargo of the day is.

At the end of our explorations we retired back to the top of Everest.

Thankfully there was no need for mittens on this ascent.

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