Monday, May 28, 2012

INDIA - Rajasthan

sunset on the dune
We said goodbye to Delhi and headed to Rajasthan. We jumped into the first train to Jaipur, where we had arrangement with local couchsurfers to celebrate Diwali - the festival of lights - one of the most popular festival of the thousands of festivals in India. Because of this all the trains were crowded, but still we managed to catch our favorite places on the second floor – the luggage shelves.

in one of the temples in Jaipur
 temple in Jaipur

flowers for Diwali
the family of Sultana
Sultana's family hosted us in the pink city of Jaipur. They proved to be Muslims and they didn’t celebrate Diwali traditionally as Hindus did, but everybody celebrated. Festive atmosphere was carried through the streets, everywhere was decorated like Christmas and everyone cheerfully was shouting to us "Happy Diwali!". Jaipur is one of the richest cities in India and is known for selling and processing of jem stones. Locals were proudly saying that we are really lucky to be here for Diwali. Fireworks and decorations were spectacular. Jaipur was the royal capital the Maharaja in the 17th century, and today is the capital of Rajasthan. Palaces, fortresses and old pink buildings reminded us оf the Maharajah time.
the night of Diwali in Jaipur
Actually Diwali is celebrated five consecutive days, but we do don’t know why the most celebrated is the day of Lakshmi - the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Many small clay lamps with oil are being lit to symbolize the triumph of good over evil. On this day the central streets are closed in the evening and the whole city comes out, throwing fire-crackers and there was huge fireworks all night - just like New Year. Unfortunately we weren’t so fascinated by this crowd, the people were not very holy  and all the guys that went past us were trying to catch my ass. Rather than spiritual experience finally it turned almost into fight. We got away from the horrible rabble and observed the festival peacefully from the roof-top of our house. On the roofs all children fly kites and even compete who will cut the cord of the other. They glue broken glass to their rope. The trees around were decorated with shredded kites.

shops in Jaipur
the streets of Jaipur
in a small temple

one of the ashrams in Jaipur on Diwali

Hawa Mahal - built by the Maharajah to enable women from the royal court to watch the world from here without being seen from outside, hidden behind the small windows.
windows of Hawa Mahal
windows of Hawa Mahal
the train station at night
Otherwise, Jaipur is a big, noisy city and we didn’t feel like staying long there. Immediately after the festival we headed to Jaislemer - back to the desert and the Pakistan border. The madness on the trains, however, continued and we couldn’t even enter the first train. We jumped in the next train somehow - Evgeni hanging outside the door with his backpack, and I was crushed between thousands of people inside. There was no moving anywhere. Some desperately begged to go to the toilet, but they were not allowed and it seemed not possible. And yet people were happy, asking us questions and making us pictures across the crowd. And they even paid tickets for this! Tickets are not really expensive, but general-class queues are huge and you are never sure that you will be able to get on the train. We had eight hours to Jaislemer and we decided that we could not survive it. We got down on the second station and stayed there to sleep until the morning train. In the morning, however, the situation was the same. We could not even get on because people were blocking the doors and not letting any more people inside. Then suddenly a policeman came. He asked us if we have tickets and we said "No". Instead of kicking us out he made the people open the doors and we sat in the female compartment as he explained to women that the guest is god and he had to help us. Absurdities in India did not cease to amaze us. Police helping irregular passengers to find place! That’s how we finally arrived in Jaislemer after a two-day trip. Because of the festival, the city was crowded with local tourists who were making photos of us all the time. We went to the desert with camels -  a tourist attraction which we do not recommend to anyone. But that’s how we met Bengal – the camel guy, who was an interesting local character. He lived in a village in the desert, where there was literally nothing - only small clay houses with small doors that reminded us a lot about Africa. With the help of generous tourists he had managed to buy three camels and after years of working with the camels he was now collecting money for a bride. Bengal is Muslim, but in general people in the villages here are gypsies (as they call themselves). Rajasthani gypsies resample a lot our Bulgarian gypsies, and obviously some of them have come to Bulgaria from here. Next year Bengal would marry a girl chosen by his father. He has collected € 1,500 with years of labor to buy a woman he has not even seen. He was dreaming to have a son, whom he wanted to send to school. Bengal had not had this opportunity and could not read and write.

the streets of Jaislemer
children in Jaislemer
sharpening scissors
хлапе в пустинята пробва Етиопската шапка на Гената
green desert
watermelons for seed
the dune on which we slept
scarab - there were a lot in the dunes
Otherwise, the Thar Desert did not impress us, after having crossed the Sahara. After the rainy season it was green and even watermelons grew in some places. There's some sand dunes for the tourists. Jaislemer was too expensive and touristic city for us and we didn’t stay there long. We headed to another festival – the camel festival in Pushkar.
Pushkar is a holy city with a sacred lake where pilgrims come to bathe and purify. Meat and eggs are forbidden here and even dogs are vegetarians. On the other hand marijuana is officially permitted in most places in Rajasthan and there is even official government bhang-shop, where you can buy bhang-lassi, bhang-tea, bhang-cookies and even a bag of weed or a joint. Something like the coffee-shops in Amsterdam, but far more cheap.
The biggest camel festival was starting in a few days and the city was full. - a strange mix of tourists, pilgrims, photographers, camel drivers and camels. You could hardly walk on the streets. However, Pushkar had this irresistible charm and spirit that made us stay longer here. We met surprisingly two Bulgarians and some old friends from Kashmir. By chance or by fate, we don’t know, but our paths crossed with some people again and again. In our guesthouse we met one Bulgarian girl - Marina and Pavel – the other Bulgarian chose to sit exactly at our table from all the tables in Pushkar :)

Sunset in the Thar Desert
Bengal's house
the nephews Bengal with their only toy
the nephews of Bengal
Bengal’s nephews at the little door of the house
Eye-line is put on children against "evil eye"

with Bengal and his camels
sunset in the desert
Jaislemer - the lake with the palace and the fortress in the background
гледай, гледай какво става долу
The main purpose of the festival is trading camels and camel drivers from all regions gathered in a huge camp on the stadium outside the city. Except all the events and competitions there were enthusiastic negotiations all the time. Camel shit were carefully collected and dried for fire. Delicious small breads were cooked directly on camel shit on the ground. We called them "shit bread" and they were served with hot lentils. There were different races with camels and horses that seems to us pure torture of the animals and we avoided looking at them. More interesting were the spiritual walks across the city with songs and dances depicting various Hindu stories, masked people like Shiva, Krishna, Brahma and thousands of happy people. Thousands of flowers were falling from the sky and we all were walking on an aromatic carpet of flowers. People gave us wreaths and fruits, positive energy flowed everywhere and we felt much more spiritual than on the Diwali festival.
Here we also visited another gurdwara where we were treated with food and tea and we washed the dishes this time with water and ashes. Again we met good people in the Sikh temple and in the Hindu temple nearby they made delicious prasad every day. The economic theory "no free lunch" is not implied in India. There was not only free lunch every day, but even a free breakfast and dinner for all hungry people. As a sign at a temple giving Prasad said: "God will satisfy all your needs." What more could you want ...

the holy waters of Pushkar
ducks and people take a holy bath


they were hitting the poor camels to make them run

Hair-cut on the fest
Sunset at the camel camp

typical Indian snacks

the streets of Pushkar
Shiva, Brahma and Krishna at the start of the spiritual walk
don’t be fooled, these are not women

flowers rained from the sky and the excitement was contagious

baba with chilum

fruits and amusement park
food for the camels

at the market


the neighbor on the second floor in the train
It was time to continue south before our visa has expired. Again we took our favorite train general class, which this time was empty. Traveling in general class is always an unforgettable experience. Nowhere can you can be closer to ordinary people in India and they are so different in every place. From station to station people with different clothes, religion and appearance were changing. But they always seemed happy, no matter how crowded the train was. This time we were in a carriage full of women who were very curious about us, but of course nobody spoke English. By now we had not seen another foreigner in the general class and we always attracted all the attention. People gathered around and stared at us and smiling. After a long consultation with the neighboring compartments they were able to ask us: "Country?" But our response Bulgaria is confused them even more and they asked us again and again: “country?”. Finally we said “Europe” and they were content. Finally the women started to sing religious songs. English was not needed to understand the language of music. They were so nice ... smiling, singing, dancing and finally happily hugging and kissing eachother.
At each station, countless people went begging, selling snacks, screaming "Chai! Chai! Chai!" But the most profitable of all were the transvestites. They were dressed in women's clothes and took money from every man on the train. Sometimes if the amount is too small, they returned it angrily and demanded more. Here is a superstition that transvestites bring bad luck and you need to give them money to get rid of it. All, without exception, gave something with a sigh, and only from our crowded wagon transvestites gathered thousands of rupees. We laughed and could not believe our eyes.
In Mumbai we were checked for tickets for the first time, but in a typical Indian way, nothing happened. After three days of traveling with several trains we arrived in Goa. Finally after so many months of mountains and desert we are on beach again!

the women who were singing in the train...sooo happy!
singing and dancing in the train