(2) A brown goat with its ears painted with pink pigment and two cows meandering down the road – one with horns painted red and the other bright blue.
(3) A family of four on a motorcycle driving full tilt down the highway. Mum’s at the back, a toddler is sandwiched between Mum and driver Dad, and a little one in front of Dad, head resting on the handlebars, fast asleep.
(4) A white dog with a red bindi spot between its eyes.
(5) All the locals coming out to proffer advice and direct traffic – people, motorbikes, cows, whatever – when our tour bus is reversing out of a tight spot. (All credit here to our cool under pressure driver, Davindra and his trusty co-pilot, Manu.) We love providing some light entertainment to passers by in India. It seems only fair when India serves up so many spectacles every minute of the day, faster than you can say ‘snapshot’.
We arrive in Pushkar at dusk to settle into the mind-blowingly ‘days of the Raj’ Jagat Palace, a place of imposing terracotta turrets, marble staircases and terraces, ornate furnishings and lush green gardens. We are greeted with a garland made from the most heavenly scented roses you can imagine.
Pushkar is a holy place with the town set around a lake said to have been created by the Hindu high-God, Brahma, when he placed a lotus flower between the surrounding hills. Pilgrims and ordinary folk come to Pushkar to be cleansed in the holy lake water and to receive blessings for themselves, their families and ancestors. The first full moon after Diwali is a very popular time for pilgrimages to Pushkar. Our guide, Kamlesh, arranged for us to have individual blessings with a holy man at the gaht, the main part of the lake where this activity takes place. Here I am receiving said blessing which turned out to be quite an emotional moment, even when the priest took a mobile phone call while sprinkling holy lake water on my head.
While others in our group are receiving their blessings, many families are dipping in the lake in various states of undress and some fully clothed (except for shoes). There’s an indelible image in my mind of a woman in a drenched sari wrestling with two naked, slippery-wet toddlers, one on her hip but still putting up a fight while she holds onto the other by the wrist, legs swinging out. Somehow it all ends well. Janet’s emotional blessing moment was punctuated with the priest’s question about how much she intended to offer for the service, suggesting a figure way higher than Kamlesh had recommended. And therein lies the juxtaposition that is Pushkar – a holy town teeming with spiritual travellers of all walks of life, cheek by jowl with touts, market stalls and shops where bargaining is expected. If you choose not to participate in bargaining you might as well replace the bindi spot on your forehead with a target!