Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Day 158: Bull Run (05/07/2011)

We rose early to visit Sivistri’s temple at the top of the peak on the outskirts of town.

Braving families of sleepy wild boar that roam the streets and sewers, the barely awake dogs and the fearsome chipmunks that populate every turn, we climbed and climbed in the air that was cool at 5am but Gas Mark five by 7am. The temple was lack lustre and the story of its consecration probably explains why. Synth heavy tunes more in keeping with Ministry of Sound’s Café Del Mar Volume III fired up as we were leaving but not until after the furious five minute beating of Sivistri’s drum had echoed from the hill top.

We stopped for a ‘magic pinch’ at the bottom. Not, as you might at first think, a nipple tweak from a passing shaman, but a cup of chai tea made from a masala or mixture of a dozen different herbs and spices, concocted for us by Sandeep over his patented blow torch. The story of Brahma’s connection with Pushkar (see Day 156) is thanks to Sandeep who entertained us for over an hour and two glasses of chai while our pulses returned to respectable double digits and our shirts dried in the now blazing morning sun.

Sivistri’s temple shares a characteristic with most of Rajasthan’s temples, palaces and forts. Low parapets on every viewing platform, hall of audience and Imperial pagoda must have spelled doom for many an inattentive tourist but also for the victims of countless jealous wives and scheming siblings. Presumably, despite the long and honourable tradition of carpet making in these regions, the Maharajas opted to encase everything in gleaming marble rather than more comfortable woven fabrics; not for any aesthetic reason but because it was just easier to mop up the blood.

Local history is replete with tales of rivals for succession, stabbing, strangling and poisoning each other. Perhaps the choice of blood red sand stone for many of the buildings around here was just a convenient ploy to disguise the crimes that could later be attributed to misfortune.

Later in the day as we meandered further into the bazaar, the much anticipated but rarely seen event occurred. Cows and bulls wander freely in their hundreds in Pushkar as elsewhere. Universally docile, the most one can expect to see is the occasional locking of horns between the adolescents. Not so today.

Having inconveniently left my bull fighting costume at base camp, I was entirely unprepared to be chased down the street, not once but twice, by the same middle aged malcontent, preceded by sixteen inches of pointy horns. The first time, I didn’t see him coming until his bulk loomed into my peripheral vision and I instinctively pushed Clare into his path and nipped behind a lamp post. Entirely disinterested in her fleshy parts, he followed me round in an elegant figure of eight before a quick thinking local whacked him on the nose with a stick – entirely as an expression of divine reverence, of course – and he relented.

Fore-warned being for-armed, I kept a close eye on him. Sure enough his inexplicable vendetta was not sated and as soon as I ventured out from behind the protective enclosure of the lamp post and a pair of wheeled stalls, he was rampaging after me down the street. What was clearly a case of mistaken identity, escalated to a dash for survival as he gathered momentum and I scratched around for something to express my divine reverence with.

Luck being the reward for a prepared mind, I spied a shop selling Pushkar’s traditional china-ware. Relieving myself of my red check shirt and flinging into the doorway, El Toro lumbered after it and the rest, as they say, is entirely made up.

I thanked the 33 billion gods Hindu gods individually on the spot before re-joining Clare, once her fit of giggles had passed and the crowds that gathered to watch the spectacle had dispersed. Only a short way up the road, we were confronted with an even larger crowd coming toward us. At the head of it was Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood legend and only a new pair of sunglasses away from the divine himself. Here to take the waters, he had witnessed the bull debacle and, over chai, asked me to star alongside him in his next production. Demurring that my Hindi was a little rusty, I declined, much to his disappointment and we parted friends.

Amitabh made a significant donation to the Brahmin temple as is customary but today of all days, perhaps his largesse was a little less appreciated. The temple officials were digging up the floor as he pushed the thick wad into the collection box, searching for hidden treasure.

The reason is that today’s papers reported the discovery of twenty previously forgotten subteranean chambers in a Keralan temple in South India. Six had so far been opened and inventoried, revealing a horde of gold and jewels hidden from the rapacious grasp of the East India Company, three hundred years ago.

The value so far, I hear you ask?

A cool $22 billion and counting.

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