I’ve been so caught up in anecdotal topics that I’ve completely ignored my journal entries on the places and things I’ve seen. You can stop reading now if you’re not into the logistics of cities and sights (I do this part as much to aid my own memory more than anything else). Without further ado, here’s the nutshell of places I’ve been and/or things I’ve seen since leaving Jodhpur:
Ranakpur: In Ranakpur we went to the Jain Temple, which was built in the 15th century and took 1500 workers 75 years to build. The temple is an absolute wonder to behold both architecturally and artistically. Every inch of wall, ceiling, and pillar is intricately carved with floral motifs, vines, and figures—and all in white marble. Incidentally, the Jains are an offshoot of the Hindu religion and are most known for their strict adherence to the doctrine of “ahimsa,” or non-violence. While Hindus also follow ahimsa, Jains are unique in that they extend this to every living thing—from humans to the smallest of insects. Jains will go to great lengths to avoid inadvertently killing a living being. Some ultra-strict Jains even extend the doctrine to include bacteria, so will not eat cultured milk products or take antibiotics.
Udaipur: Between Ranakpur and Udaipur is Kumbhalghar Fort, which was built in the 15th century and is known as the “Great Wall of India” because of its 22 miles of ramparts. Udaipur itself is known as the “Jewel of Rajasthan,” partly because of its extraordinary palaces, a few of which are in the middle of Lake Pichola. I was able to catch a few of the sights in Udaipur, namely City Palace and the Vishnu Temple, but I’m sorry to say that my stay in Udaipur was marred by the onset of—you guessed it—the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly.’ I blame it on the paneer I had at dinner one night. Ah well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
Jojawar: Jojawar is a village so small (pop. 5000), that it isn’t even in the guidebook. We stopped in this little village primarily because it’s on the way to Pushkar, and partly because this village has a beautiful hotel that was originally built as a small palace in the 18th century. The hotel has a natural aged, “cracked” look to it that makes it absolutely charming—like an old, unearthed treasure that is carefully cleaned of its grime to reveal a glimmer of its former lustre.
Walking through Jojawar was an interesting experience. When the local children discovered that a few of the foreigners were giving away sweets and pens, we became surrounded by what seemed like every child in the village. Although some of the children stayed a respectful distance away, several of them were quite aggressive, relentlessly pawing at our bags and pockets and grabbing at our arms. Needless to say, it made me extremely uncomfortable. Still, it was fascinating to see the workings of a small Indian village.
Pushkar: This now brings me to the present day. I am in Pushkar, home of the annual camel market and the only Brahma temple in India. Pushkar is just as dingy, dirty, and dilapidated as any Indian city I’ve seen thus far, and like every other city I’ve seen, there is a certain charm in all of that ‘rawness.’ Pushkar is a site of pilgrimage for many Hindus because of Pushkar Lake, which is believed to have existed since the beginning of creation. There are 52 ghats (sacred baths) along the perimeter of the lake where Hindus go to cleanse themselves of their sins.
The Brahman priests at the ghat entrances are as relentless in Pushkar as the children can be. I was cornered by a priest and although I told him I had no money, he insisted that I go to the lake to make an offering. He said “you don’t need money, you need to cleanse your karma.” I couldn’t argue with that, so I gave up and dutifully followed him down to the lake. He proceeded to lead me through a ceremony that included offerings of flowers, saffron, turmeric, and rice. The ceremony absolved me of my karma and bestowed blessings upon my family. When I was done, just as I suspected, he wouldn’t let me leave without paying something. He very generously offered to accompany me to the bank, even. In the end, I offered him a few US dollars. His “partner” took the dollars, and then the priest insisted I give more. Apparently my first donation was to charity, the second one is payment to the priest ;). I didn’t give any more money. I wonder if my karma is now in jeopardy…