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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ajmer & Pushkar

We seem not to learn with mistakes and arrived to Ajmer early in the morning (3.30 am), sleepy and cold. We had nothing to do, and since it's a quite small train station we had to hang around the station with all the homeless and amusing ourselves with the people forcing their entrance into the trains.

When the darkness began to fade away, we headed on towards Ana Sagar, a lake north from the station. The 15 min walk in the cold and the 4 hours wait in the station to start actually doing some sightseeing were compensated by the fantastic scenery that we encountered once we reached the lake. Pink was the colour of the Snake Mountains as the sun rose in the horizon and the reflection of the mountains on the lake created a beautiful atmosphere. Around us there were a few dozens of people exercising, whether by running, doing yoga, meditation or even group laugh therapy.

As the city woke up, we went towards our next objective, which was the Old City and the Dargah,a Muslim pilgrimage site. I bought a hat to cover my head inside and went inside with Joao, while Tiago waited outside keeping an eye on our stuff. We had a guy that spontaneously offered himself to guide us through the temple. Of course in the end his objective was to ask us to make donation to the Trust they run at the temple. And of course our contribution was by far, lower than he wanted, but similar to the one most pilgrims offered. Inside the temple there is the Mausoleum where everyone is pushing each other in order to get as close as possible to it and pray and make the offerings they brought. The definition of sacred place is a bit different from mine, mostly due to the noise they make and the mess around it. I quickly step aside and look around the rest of the complex.

After giving Tiago some time to visit the place himself, we headed towards the ruins of the Adhai-Din-Ka-Jhonpra mosque, which according to the legend was built in two and a half days. Although it is a bit degraded it is still a beautiful monument and a very peaceful place (reminds me of the mosques I visited in Istambul, many years ago). It must have been an impressing place.

After wandering around the centre in the search for the palace of Akbar (without much success) we went to the Red temple (Nasiyano temple) which we had already passed by in the morning on the way to the lake. This time we entered and were simply astonished with what we saw. In front of us there is a huge room with the representation of the Jain Universe in gold. We slowly move around the golden room, trying to get a full image of it through the dirty windows. After that we try to visit the rest of the temple, but they don't allow us, although our objective was just to take a decent picture of the red temple, which is impossible from the street (it's quite a beautiful structure all built in sandstone).

Ajmer is not a big city, we could have stayed a bit longer and walk uphill to the fort and get a nice view over the city, but instead we decided to spend our time and money in a bus drive to Pushkar, a sacred site in the Hindu mythology. After a quiet 30 min trip across the snake mountains, we arrived in Pushkar. According to the legend, lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower in the lake Pushkar and Pushkar floated to the surface. We walked towards the lake, and then around it, through hordes of shops selling the same things. We visited some of the ghats, the places where people dive in the lake in order to clear away their sins. Besides this, Pushkar is famous for homing one of the only Brahma temples in the world. I walk up the stairs and go around the temple watching people praying and making offerings to the gods. I don't find it such a special place, but the views over the city are pretty nice (it's a pitty cameras are forbidden inside).

Taking the bus back to Ajmer was quite an adventure. The first one was already full when we arrived. When the next one arrived we saw people throwing their bags inside, entering through the windows, pushing each other to enter the bus in first place. Well I can just say that I was one of the first to enter the bus and couldn't find a place to sit. As I found my place on the back of the bus, I started talking to one of my travel companions. He was an astrophysics teacher (or something similar). The conversation goes from the differences between our cultures, to understanding the meaning of life. Given the circumstances it was actually a quite enjoyable ride, mostly due to his company.

Departure to Jaipur
First thing to do after we got back to Ajmer, was finding a way to get out of there and preferably to Jaipur, the next place on our "race" through Rajasthan. We managed to find a tourist bus for 90 rupees which departed within an hour. Enough time to grab our stuff from the station, buy some food and get on the bus. The bus trip was a nightmare to me... I hate travelling by bus, and I get extremely annoyed when around me there are people making a lot of noise, smoking pot and the driver seems to be more interested with speed than with safety and comfort. The journey took around three hours, plus 45 min that the rickshaw took searching for our hotel. But these 45 min were well worth it. 1000 rupees divided by three, and by far the best place we got in whole trip till now - Hotel Atithi Palace. Cleaner and more comfortable for such a price is impossible in India (and by clean I mean almost like western standards!).

We all felt that Ajmer and Pushkar were a small delusion. Maybe the comments from other people that had been there and recommeded us not to miss them (specially Pushkar) created some false expectations. Ajmer has a few nice places, I liked it better than Pushkar. Pushkar is mostly a place to learn and observe a bit more of the Hindu culture and traditions.

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