India Part Two Pushkar & Agra
Pushkar was not originally on our plan but was suggested to us by our guide Moin as a nice place to take a day trip and see a little out of Jaipur. Described to us a holy town surrounded by desert and full of temples and centered around an oasis like lake, of course we were keen to make a day trip there. Approximately an hour and a half from Jaipur city by car, it is a good opportunity to see the countryside and stop at some amazing local restaurants dotted along the highway that you wouldn’t usually think to stop at, and experience some culture out of the main city.
When you arrive in this small town your first sights are camels in colorful saddles adorned with beads and possibly one or two snake charmers, all who are very keen for you to take a ride or watch as they play a sweet tune to the snake sitting inside a small woven basket. Once you enter the city you walk straight into a market street, full of small stalls selling all sorts of colorful beads, bags and clothing.
There are cows and people everywhere and after a 5 minute walk you reach the mouth of the lake where you can make a prayer and an offering.
There are many “priests” who will try to assist you in this, they will show you how to make an offering and tell you some words to recite and then ask you to make a donation to their charity, this is optional, you can make an offering with out donating money, or simply observe and take photos, or if you would like to make a donation you can do this also.
Sitting on the white marble steps of this body of water, I took a quiet moment to just watch the children playing and splashing each other, the cow walking slowly past and tried to take a mental image of where I was right then. I like to do this often and it helps me to save memories in my mind, it's like you steal moments from time and keep them. I found this a little hard to do in India because its such a busy place but if you can try and do it, sit in a spot and think about where you are and try and take in the moment it's really quite special
Aside from markets and temples, camels and snakes, Pushkar is also a leather hub. If you are into leather - specifically camel leather - this is the place to buy. I am not into purchasing these kinds of items but I thought I'd include this tip as I know many people may be.
Pushkar was also the first place I experienced what I called the “selfie” this is where a group of Indian locals approach you and ask to have a photo with you, this was something I would soon realize is hugely common in India. Indian people are extremely friendly and also curious about westerners. So in Pushkar while walking down the street in awe of our surroundings we were approached by a group of young Indian guys and asked for a selfie, which then turned into one on one photos with each person from the group with me and then with my partner. I’m not 100% sure why this is a thing in India, the guys we spoke to were on holiday from their home town and just wanted to chat to us about where we were from and why we wanted to come to India, which was really sweet. This kind of openness to strangers is so characteristic of India, the people are so warm, so friendly and so helpful. This selfie experience it was strange for me to experience but I smile thinking back on this memory.
All in all, I really enjoyed our day trip to Pushkar as it’s a great opportunity to escape the manic bustle of the city and see a beautiful small town for the day.
Agra home of the Taj Mahal
If you are traveling to India one of the sights that is bound to be on every one list is the Taj Mahal, there are a few issues about this, the Taj is in a city that really isn’t worth exploring so it's more of a day trip destination or a one-night trip, and Agra was a little out of the way for us also, but we decided to make it work and catch the train from Agra to Varanasi so we could also have the experience of taking the train in India. It was a nice idea.
So we arrived in Agra with our guide Moin, he drooped us at the ticket office and we took out pass for 1500Rp to get into the Taj, outside the ticket office there are many rickshaws, horse drawn carts and shuttles to take you to the entrance of the Taj but it’s a short walk so we decide to walk it.
Just before the entrance to the palace there are a bunch of souvenir shops, they have a bunch of cute cliché touristy shops with t-shirts that say “TAJ MAHAL” and have a picture on the front for around 150-200rp and a lot of stone carved items like mini elephants and ashtrays.
Once you enter the Taj its extremely beautiful, its full of people but that just shows you how huge the grounds and scale of this place. Inside the palace your provided with shoe covers and you can also throw coins into a central pond for good luck.
Leaving the Taj we were dropped at the local train station by our guide Moin who had also arranged our tickets for us. Our first good friend in India, we said our good byes and promised to stay in touch.
We took some local food at the train station (150rp for two) and waited….and waited….and waited, our train was 3 hours late, this I found out from some friends we made at the station, is not unusual. When the train finally arrived, I’m not going to lie I was a little shocked that we would be stuck on board for 14 hours, it was late at night so many people were sleeping, there were bare feet, farts and smells everywhere.
One very nice guy showed us where our beds were, they were actually occupied by someone else when we arrived, but our new friend woke them up and asked them to move. Once we were settled we slept.
In the morning we woke to the smell of masala chia, as a man walked the hallways selling it in a huge silver pot, foggy I sat up and looked out the window, mixes of bright green and red went past the window.
Next came the man selling curry 100rp each for some rice curry and a roti, it was delicious food, and I didn’t get sick.
When we finally arrived and additional 6 hours late to Varanasi, we were in bad need of a shower and a soft bed, I think taking the train was a great experience looking back, I would recommend it to anyone going to India.