I have been a picky eater ever since I was a kid. When I grew up and started chasing what I loved the most, my Mom had a new reason to chide me. “You want to roam around the world and see places. How will you survive if you don’t eat? You should at least try eating new things. You might just like them. ” Ma, you were right.
I had never travelled in a non AC train before. When one can afford ‘luxury’, these frivolous things do matter. But ever since I started blogging and travelling frequently, my parents left me on my own accord to fetch for this activity. And with that, my thirst to explore the side I had never seen before, also rose.
There are only so few differences in an AC and a non AC car when it comes to ‘facilities’. The seats are only just a tad bit narrow, something I didn’t see as a problem since I was only travelling for 10 hours. One doesn’t get served complimentary meals, but that only made me try the samosas and kachoris at various railway stations. And I made it alive! The only most striking thing was, well, that there was no air conditioning but that wasn’t too much of a hassle as well, in the beautiful month of February!
My favourite thing about the train journey was how lively it was. Just as we had started, a man with a daf instrument entered the train and played some classic old Bollywood songs and went around the coach asking for money. A few hours later, an old man entered, selling a unique orange and lemon juicer. He gave the coach a whole demo first and then went on to selling the little instruments for just 20 bucks a set, and made quite a sale! I tried to search for that thing online, but couldn’t find it. The entire train ride made me see unique things that I hadn’t ever seen before, in my protected bubbled life.
I reached Ajmer an hour later than scheduled, and then hired a taxi to reach Pushkar. The place I stayed in, ‘Ramta Jogi Guest House’ isn’t exactly in the Pushkar city. It is located in Surajkund village, about 9 kilometres from the main city. The only way to reach Surajkund is by a 20 minutes’ car ride. The other, less feasible option is the local buses that drop you off at another nearby village, 2 kilometres away.
‘Ramta Jogi, Pushkar’ is beautiful, to say the least. It is built on a total land of 11 bighas. Bigha is an informal land measuring unit in India. Interestingly, I learned that one bigha is not uniform in all of India, but converts to acres differently in UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. In Rajasthan, 11 bighas would roughly mean 9 acres. This piece of land is maintained by a local villager, Pappu Singh, who lives a short, 5 minutes’ walk away from the guest house. Pappu Singh has a wife, two sons, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters. The older son works in Ajmer while his wife, Pooja, stays with his parents in the house near Pushkar. It was a growing concern in the household that Pooja still hadn’t had a son. Pappu Singh Ji and his kind bunch live in a small little house, grow peas and rear cows for their milk for a living, apart from hosting guests at Ramta Jogi. Pooja made us some great chai- something I had for the very first time in my life, and absolutely loved! Pappu Ji also made sure to deliver us fresh cow milk every morning for breakfast. Another set of firsts, and would totally do it again! (Hi ma.)
The guesthouse also has a small hill right beside it, at the top of which a hotel is soon going to be built, as Pappu Singh Ji told me. After spending a good few hours with the family, I headed out to climb the soon-to-be-hotel hill. It was a short 20 minutes’ climb uphill through huge granite rocks.
All the mountains or hills I have ever seen have been a part of the Himalayan ranges. Once at the top, you can either hear the trees swaying or a nearby river crinkling. If not, the sound of the strong winds is sure to keep you company. But Rajasthan is different. The land is semi-arid and no winds blow during the day in hotter seasons. There are no trees and where I was, there were hardly any people too. That was perhaps the quietest I have witnessed nature be. The only sounds I could hear from up top were the stray claps of shepherds gathering their sheep and the chatter of the people from the guesthouse.
Later on in the evening, Pappu Ji left us at the bus stop in the nearby village, on his bike, for us to reach the city.
The evening aarti at the Pushkar Lake, near the Brahma Temple, is utterly peaceful and calming. After scouring through the market, my friends and I found ourselves at the famous Sonu Juice Shop. It has been up and running since 1980 and is known for an entire menu dedicated to ‘special items’. From cereal to Oreo shakes, everything is made with a ‘special’ green powder that is traditionally used for its medicinal properties, but can also set you in a happy mood! (No points for guessing.) We asked Sonu Ji what the best thing on the menu was, and he quickly answered lassi. So, lassi it was!
I later feasted on Mars pancakes, that wouldn’t have ever tasted that good, from ‘Laffa&Falafel’, an open food stall in the city market. By the time we were done, it was well past sunset and all the local buses had stopped plying. The only way for us to go back was in a tempo rickshaw. Things started to get a little shaky when it started drizzling, and we lost our way to the guesthouse since the roads were pitch dark, devoid of any street lamps. Thankfully, a man heard us go by in the distance and quickly signalled us with a torchlight to wait for him. He walked all the way from his house towards us, just to ask if we were okay. We asked him if he knew where Pappu Singh Ji lived, and we were soon back safe and sound, thanks to community living. That night I realized how genuinely kind the people of Rajasthan are. Little did I know, I was going to be further baffled by their warm hospitality the following day.
There was a huge hill with a small temple at its top that had caught my attention the moment I stepped in Pushkar. Be it from the main city, or from my guesthouse, I could see it wherever I went. That next day, I decided to climb it. I had no idea which village it was located in, or how I was supposed to get there, so I just started out on foot from the guesthouse, towards it. I soon passed a shepherd with his herd sitting under the shade of a tree in the middle of the desert. He asked me where I was from and where I was headed. With a kind smile, he told me which trail to follow and I set out.
Next, I passed a small hut. The woman of the house cracked open a part of her fencing to let me pass and sent her son on a motorcycle to make sure I reach the main road leading to the hill! Then I met an old man in a hut who insisted that I have some of the fresh ghada water he had just procured. Next came a woman who plucked fresh peas from her farm and gave them to me as a snack for my journey. All this happened in a span of an hour, without me asking for the littlest of help. These people came up to me to offer food and help, on their own accord. I felt like I was walking through a fairy-tale. I felt so unfortunately alien in this kind of land.
Once I finished my 9 kilometres’ hike and reached the hill, I made a pit stop and ate the fresh, juicy sweet peas. (Hi again, ma.) Just as I had started climbing, I met the priest of the temple on his way down. He was carrying a huge jug containing tea, that he had been distributing to the people in the temple and to the municipal workers who were laying a water pipeline on the hill. He told me, “thori hi bachi hai. Tumhare naseeb mein likhi thi.” (Just a little is left. It was written in your stars) and proceeded to pour a small cup for me, and then another as he saw me relish it with my heart. He told me I was in Nand village and the temple I was headed to is called the Nandray Mata Mandir. He gave me his blessings, I thanked him for the chai, and we then parted our ways. I soon reached the top, to 2500 feet above sea level, and the view left me stunned.
The cool marble floor of the temple was such relief against the scorching desert sun. I felt like I could see the whole of Ajmer district. The uninterrupted landscape of golden sand and brown thorny trees was nothing like I had ever seen before. The Aravallis were scattered here and there, and I could even see the little hill I had climbed the previous day, which looked like an anthill from up there!
I sat there for about two hours and only left after catching the sunset in the distant horizon, leaving the sky a brilliant deep orange.
Upon reaching downhill, I realized I was getting late for dinner with my friends at Pushkar, from where we had to head on to Ajmer to catch our train back to Delhi. Pushkar was 12 kilometres from where I was and the next local bus was scheduled to arrive 20 minutes later. Instead of waiting, I got on a truck headed to Pushkar. The driver struck a friendly conversation and told me his name was Rajendra.
He hailed from a small town called Govindgarh and owns a construction business in Ajmer with his friend, Islam. We talked about politics and how even though the population of his town was 40% Muslim, everybody lived in harmony. He told me about the various areas that come on the stretch from Govindgarh to Pushkar, and how a small village is known for its notoriety, “kyuki yaha gujjaron ne badnami kardi hai.” (Because the Gujjar here have created a bad name). Finally, he dropped me right at the beginning of the Pushkar market and asked to click a picture with me. He then gave me his business card and requested me to send him the pictures. Before leaving, I offered him 100 bucks for his help but he held his ears and refused to accept it. He told me he had the fortune of meeting strangers like me who he could have good conversations with, and that is all he needed. So if any of you ever needs to build things in or around Ajmer, be sure to hit my boy up!
Funnily, Rajendra wasn’t the last of the good Rajasthani folks I was supposed to meet that day. Soon enough, I had to run in search of a public toilet, but there wasn’t any in sight. A group of women approached me and oldest of them took me to an isolated parking lot and asked me to go there. I was reluctant and asked for assurance that nobody would come. “Aake dikhaye, aankhein na noch du”, she told me (Let him come, I’ll gouge his eyeballs out.) And with that, I fell in love with this beautiful place of beautiful people. Later that night I boarded my train back to Delhi with a silent promise to myself that I will come back here again one day, just to get away from the rat race of Delhi and indulge in the sweet hospitality of the Rajasthanis again. Padharo mhare desh, indeed!
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A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.