May 27, 2014 by lucyhames
We arrive into Pushkar Rajasthan which is one of the oldest cities in India. It is one of five sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus and it is said that every Hindu should visit once in their lifetime. The town surrounds a small lake which is thought to have been created by Lord Shiva’s tears when his wife Sati died…..swoon…..There are 52 ghats surrounding the lake where devout Hindus bathe. Our arrival into Pushkar isn’t quite so serene although I do think I might be meeting my maker soon. The tuk-tuk driver is completely insane and as we cling on to our packs he flies through the streets on whatever side he fancies until we find ourselves the filling of a lorry/ motorbike sandwich which leaves us screaming, the cyclist with no helmet or wing mirror, and scrapes down the side of the lorry. Our driver doesn’t even flinch. We arrive at our hostel miraculously unscathed but needing a drink. I am not sure of the legalities of alcohol in Rajasthan, it wasn’t easily accessible but we order our ‘special water’ (beer) and keep it hidden under the table whilst we eat.
It appears to be that the further south I go the more relaxed things become, the more friendly people are and the sweeter the vibe. Pushkar is a hippy town. It’s said that people come for a few days and end up staying weeks or even months. I am guessing pretty early on from the aroma of weed that this is down to the ‘alternative’ lifestyle so common here. We wake up at sunrise and four of us hike up to a temple for a view of the city. It’s not a difficult walk but of course the heat makes it feel tough. That and the being constantly alert for the monkeys that are everywhere. I used to love monkeys, not so much anymore, they are way too quick and way too cheeky. Anyway we reach the top and the view is lovely. You get a feel for the landscape up here. It’s much more desert like than I had imagined. There is also a breeze….
After a rewarding brekkie (tonnes of coffee for me) we head for a wander around the lake. It’s forbidden to take photos here although we do sneak a few in….sorry. I love watching the locals in the ghats, there is something so pure yet ceremonial about it. It’s a timeless scene and one that must have remained for centuries past and will remain for centuries to come. It’s like watching history.
I am trying to decide what to do next, where to go. The heat is without doubt getting me down. I had wanted to go to Jodpuhr and Jaisalmer but I hear its even hotter there 50 degrees. I am a fan of the heat, I trained in it a lot in Mexico and felt like I could cope with it, but this is something else. I am starting to feel rough and lethargic. I decide to head to Udaipur next instead, and with my Australian buddy head off the next day.
We are up early and walk the dusty streets to the public bus. It costs all of 10p to take the 30 min ride to the train station. The roads are winding and as we cling on, both of us start to feel green. We take the edge off at the station with some sweet sweet sweet chai (is there any other) and some pastry. Ajmer station is pretty horrible and we wait sweating for our aircon carriage in the next train. It’s bunks again, 3 high and I am in the middle. The guy above me is big and as the bed creaks I imagine a bunk bed fiasco, but miraculously it holds. I can’t sleep because the guy below me is the loudest snorer I ever heard in my life. It’s the middle of the day and he sleeps for the whole 6 hours snoring away like a 5 piece brass band.
We arrive in Udaipur and hop straight into a tuk-tuk, no haggling over the fare….my buddy and I look at each other confused. We arrive at our guesthouse on the lake and take a dorm bed for £1.50 a night. No aircon but we have individual fans above our beds and its fine. We head straight out to check out our surroundings and I am over the moon, it’s bloody gorgeous. Udaipur is said to be India’s most romantic city and I can see why. There is a huge lake with an island in the middle, containing a hugely expensive hotel. There are ghats where people bathe and do their laundry and clean pots and pans. Boys swim out and jump from ruins on small islands and the City Palace looms over the streets filled with the hum of shopping, tuk-tuks and bikes. The lighting here is beautiful. The sun shines reflections of beautiful buildings on the water, the night brings hundreds of lights bouncing off the lake….I think I am in love.
Udaipur is also where they filmed James Bond Octopussy. I did not know this before I arrived but it became pretty obvious when we realised that every single restaurant shows the film every single night. We head out on our first night to watch it over an amazing dinner, the food in India is off the chart. We recognise the streets and scenery easily enough and of course it’s such an incredible movie…seriously one of the worst ever. But it’s ridiculous Britishness, awful stereotypes and sleazy humour does make us giggle.
The next day we head over to the other side of the lake for lunch and eat at another hostel. I prefer the view from this side so decide to move for the next few nights. It’s a lot more expensive £6 a night but I get my own room which I quite fancy. I am not feeling great so think it would be nice to have my own space for a while. In the evening we head out for a sunset boat trip. We wait for ages watching all the boats on the lake and as the sun starts to set, we are still waiting..we eventually jump on a boat about 10 mins before sunset. If it wasn’t so lovely out there we would complain but…this is India.
We also find the most amazing place for dinner, an organic restaurant where the food is different class. Things are most definitely in the up, I love this city and I am starting to fall in love with India. The people here are friendly and kind and there is a sense of community which I had found less visible in previous cities. I imagine I will be here for some time whilst I drink in the views, the people, the food, the wildlife. When I am walking through the streets a number of men call out that I have ‘lovely lookers’ or a ‘lovely pair of lookers’ it takes me a couple of days of this for it to click that they mean my sunglasses. I am equally relieved and disappointed. I treat myself to a massage with a kind of Indian witch doctor type with long white hair. As soon as he starts on my shoulders there are the standard exclamations of how tense I am, he tells me he needs 5 hours on my back alone, but I tell him to stick to an hour and hope he tells me something I don’t already know. He tells me I have one leg longer than the other. This I know, it’s why I spend my life running in circles and he also tells me that I am a very emotional woman and that I cry a lot from my stomach…..perhaps, but mainly after curry. Anyway he puts me right, he actually makes my legs the same length and when I stand up I almost fall over it feels so weird. I do feel strange though. I have had this with massages before when I feel like all that manipulation sets something off…
After skyping my bezzies I decide to book a flight to Goa for 4 days time. No one appears to be heading there as it’s too hot and too quiet, but I am thinking I have to see for myself. I don’t want to give up my plan of heading South as far as Kerala.
I wake up after my first night in my new abode and I feel like death. My chest is wheezing, my head is splitting, I am burning up, my stomach is in bits. I drink loads of water and try to sit it out but over the next few days it gets a whole lot worse. I can’t leave my room. My migraine is so bad I am vomiting. I feel like I can’t breathe. My mind does the thing it only does to this extreme when I am sick and on my own in a foreign country. I start to completely and utterly lose the plot. It’s 48 degrees and for an eternity I lie in my bed as the fan above me shifts the hot air around. I feel like this is the end of the world. I lie there in panic wondering what on earth I am going to do. I need to fly home but I can’t make it to the airport. I need to be somewhere else, a different city, a different country, but I can’t make it out of my room. I start to send panic SOS messages to those unlucky enough to be my life lines. It’s incredible to me and seriously scary how a set of circumstances can have such a huge effect on my mental state. I remember this from Vietnam, the days sobbing down Skype to my sister, feeling so utterly broken and so utterly alone, dark days for both of us. Thankfully I have a few people on my SOS list (including aforementioned sis) who know me and know what my mind is capable of and are so patient with me that it must be love. A few replies to my emails and I start to regain my senses. Reality is brought back into the picture and I have enough clarity to make a plan…. I need a doctor. I am diagnosed with bronchitis and dehydration and stumble back to my room with antibiotics and as much water as I can carry. I collapse back into bed and know that I absolutely have to get into something cooler than 48 degrees. I grab my passport, money and water, it’s all I can carry, and head to a gorgeous hotel on the lake WITH AIRCON. The receptionist sees I am in trouble and bless him gives me a free upgrade to a room with a lake view (hotel below). I could kiss him. It’s £20 a night which is big bucks here but I need it. My room has movies and room service so I don’t have to move. Unfortunately my bags are still at the hostel so I am paying for both rooms but the next day the lovely hotel guys collect them with me.
I stay in my room for a few days and start to feel a bit better, but this is not how I was hoping to see India, through a window. I miss my flight to Goa, there is just no way I can make it. I’m gutted and feeling pretty down. I watch the lake all day and from 5.30am hear the beating of the clothes against the stone steps, then the laughter of the boys washing, the boats floating by and the hundreds of monkeys that are everywhere in this city.
I try to venture out just to cheer myself up and in my sweaty miserable state I meet two of my fave people of the trip, Akib and Adnan. Two boys, 11 and 13 years old, super bright, entrepreneurs, charmers, sweethearts and chancers. I spend an hour or two sitting in their aircon fabric shop (which Adnan runs on his own) and have some of the most hilarious chat I have had this trip. They are fascinated by my relationship status and Adnan is determined to make me his wife. He is deadly serious. He asks me to go to his home to meet his mum who is the worlds best cook and who upon meeting me will forget all orthodox views and fall in love with me too. Apparently age is irrelevant when it comes to love, they both nod earnestly…..I politely decline.
We run through my photos on my phone and I introduce them to all my family, including my nephew whose 10th birthday it is today. They think he is the coolest boy in the world (as do I), with his blond hair and surfboard. They ask if we can Skype to talk to him but the time difference is too off. Instead we hold up a sign for him. The boys offer me chai (standard and you can’t say no) and Akib runs to fetch it. On return he runs behind the counter and crouches down so that I can’t see him. I know that the chai is in a bag and that he is distributing it into a suitable vessel and he really doesn’t want me to see the process. He pops up later with 3 china cups of sweet chai. His politeness is so cute it kills me. I cannot believe how young these boys are, they seem so much older, their English is amazing and they seem so much wiser than their years. It’s fascinating and I am having such a great time in their company. I am still sick though and feel shattered so I say bye to the boys and stagger back to my hotel. I also meet with my Aussie buddy a few times, which is a welcomed relief from the sheer loneliness I have been suffering. I rebook my flight to Goa for a few days time, go back for a second dose of antibiotics and hope for the best. I also get my malaria tablets here and pay less than £3 for 40, they would be around £80 back home….. On my last night I am feeling much better and head out to meet my buddy for a last supper in our fave place. There we bump into a friend of his, an English girl who just so happens to be on the same early morning flight as me, yay!!
The taxi ride to the airport is in the dark but I do see the aftermath of a horrendous road crash including a lorry and a bus, it’s another reminder of the craziness of the roads here and if there were seat belts in this car I would be clipping mine in about now. The flight is non-eventful but the views coming Into Mumbai are pretty awesome. We fly over the biggest slums I have ever seen and I immediately think of Shantaram (which everyone seems to be reading). One more flight and we hit Goa. My new lovely friend and I get in a taxi to Vagator beach where I know that my fave buddy from Delhi is, and I am excited about catching up and swapping our stories. It feels like a month since I saw him last when actually it’s about 10 days! Everyone was right, it’s so bloody hot here and it’s not the dry heat of Rajasthan it’s a wet wet sweaty heat that knows no bounds.
We settle into our room with aircon and contact the boys, we are both tired but decide its been way too long since we have relaxed and had a proper drink. We head out to Anjuna beach for rum and meet up with my buddy and 3 of his mates. It’s great to catch up but before you know it I find myself in the boot of a car heading to a party on the beach. I get proper drunk, Hames drunk, in this crazy club where there are dance off and drinks thrown in my face and…..well it was just one of those nights..I obviously needed to let my hair down. It’s great to be with a group again, my loneliness long forgotten and good times are a plenty. I like the vibe here, it’s super relaxed but fun.
I absolutely love the Indian head wobble that is so evident here. It makes me giggle when the response to a question is a ‘yes’ but it’s given with the head wobble you assume would mean ‘no’. I really am starting to love this place. There are cows and dogs roaming on the beach. It’s crazy cheap here, you can get a litre of spirits for less than £2 and if the change is a small value sometimes you get given it in sweets…that’s my kind of currency. Our second room in Anjuna also has aircon and at night we are so cold we get in our sleeping bags and jumpers but there is absolutely no way we are changing this setting. We feel smug as the boys swelter in their rooms although I swear they are too drunk to notice. It’s 46 degrees outside and 16 in our room. I enjoy my time here with the group but there is something niggling away at me. I haven’t felt right this whole trip. I can’t put my finger on what it is, that its too short, that the timing is wrong, that I wasn’t ready, that I have a job to return too, whatever it is I am not my usual travel self and its disconcerting.
Whilst the gang decide on their next steps I have a decision to make. I want to go south with them, it was my original plan but everything seems difficult, the transport is shutting down due to the off season and the heat is literally unbearable for me. I just can’t enjoy it. With a very heavy heavy heart I make the decision to bail on India. I don’t want to see it under these circumstances. I know that as much as I have struggled here, I want to conquer it. I want to see as much of India as I can, I want the challenge of being in this country but more than anything I want to be able to enjoy it. I can’t explain the battle that goes on inside my head and heart but I know that I need something that India can’t give me and that I can’t give India what I need to to be happy here. The group splits and I head to the cities of Panjim and Old Goa, with my English and Delhi buddies. On my last night in India we head to the cinema. When we get to the ticket office the guys says ‘Spiderman’? And we say ‘no 2 States please’ the locals laugh as we collect our tickets for the Bollywood film entirely in Hindi. It’s amazing! We get the gist even with the language barrier and the music and dancing is awesome. It’s 3 hours long and the 3 of us dance our way out to the theme tune which I love and still can’t get out of my head. It is a great way to spend my last night with 2 of my favourite people from this trip.
I feel like I have broken up with my boyfriend. As I pack my bags I feel like I am walking out on something that I wanted so badly but that just couldn’t work out. My heart is heavy and I am sad. There is so much that I have hated and loved about India and strangely they are the very same things. The people, the strangeness, the chaos, the challenge, the cities, the beaches, the transport, the difficulties, the heat, the lack of backpackers and hostels, the being alone. What I do know though is that I have seen something that I want. When I know what I want (happens rarely), I know I have to have it. So I will say now with 100% certainty, that I will be back, at the right time in the right place to see this incredible country. I have lugged my Lonely Planet around for way too long post India not to put it to use again. I really don’t know how to sign off this one except to say, it’s been a roller coaster, I have met some awesome people and as always on my journeys I have made discoveries about myself that I just wouldn’t have made at home. I thought that I was thrown into the deep end in Delhi but I really only ever dipped one toe in the water.
Until next time India. I am off to Thailand to ‘recover’.