Colours of Rajasthan

Colours of Rajasthan

Colours of Rajasthan

What could happen when two friends decide to give their professional life a break. No, they didn’t hit the bottle. They were sitting next to each other on a plane to Jaipur. Slipping in and out of sleep, I could see the muddy-brown terrain. John gave me a little nudge with his elbow and said, “Aravallis.” His geography lessons seems to have finally paid off. “We’re in Rajasthan,” he said.

There is a bit of history in every blink. On the way to Nahargarh Fort, we make small halts at the iconic Hawa Mahal and Jal Mahal. Jaipur, bathed in pink to welcome the Prince of Wales in the 19th century, remains more or less the same even today. Climbing the winding road uphill to the fort, the panoramic Man Sagar Lake would appear in the valley at every turn, with the disarmingly beautiful Jal Mahal at the centre. 

The narrow road cuts across a bushy forest and ends at the fort. The fort renders you speechless as you reach the highest point. Jaipur is spread out for you. From there we could hear a hum that Jaipur is. The evening sky is littered with kites, like confetti showered from up above. As the sun slowly sinks into the horizon, the warm yellow light soaks the city. A short drive away is Amber Fort towering beside a placid lake. The fort itself is a maze and has underground passages connecting it with other forts. Pulling our attention, the fort suddenly lights up, spilling an amber colour reflection into the lake. ‘Wow’ would just be an understatement.

A ride to remember

The next day, we board a bus to Pushkar. The ride is a pleasure. Miles of seamless road. Apart from being intrigued by places and people, at times you leave a few people intrigued. A young woman in a crimson embroidered saree, sitting next to me, asked if I was a Brahmin. I was taken aback. What a weird conversation starter, I thought. She pressed ahead with a torrent of questions about my profession, life in Bangalore, and why I am not married yet. And why else would someone go to Pushkar if not to visit the Brahma Temple? I was robbed of a convincing reply. She waxed eloquent about her village in Udaipur, and that she is on a pilgrimage with her husband. Further into conversation, she turned out to be as interesting as the wind that was tousling her hair. While parting our ways in Pushkar, she asked, so, you have come all the way just to see Rajasthan? I nodded. Visit Udaipur too, the lakes are very beautiful, she said with a smile.

We checked into Pink Floyd Cafe. A name too loud for a decades-old property in the sleepy temple town. Rooms are not numbered, rather they go by Pink Floyd numbers. Appu Singh, who runs the place, was on a sombre note. A visibly sloshed Singh was worried about the dwindling business. He too had a taste of the economic downturn. The annual Pushkar fair looks rosy on pictures, but where is the money, he asks. If the whitemen do not travel, Singh will be in trouble. After listening to his exploits in Europe and elsewhere, we slip away. 

Early morning, we amble to the lake. The narrow lanes that cut across the local market are lined with centuries-old buildings and dharamshalas. Every few yards you find a faded house with a large courtyard. And the sound of constant brushing of broom against the ground interrupted by splashing of water make for a background score. On the other side of the lane, there are several ghats leading to the lake. There is a small temple at every turn, until you reach the Brahma temple. We were coerced into buying flowers and dry fruits as offering at the temple in return for the safe keep of our shoes.

Town of plenty

Eventually, we find the most peaceful spot in Pushkar. The ghats at the lake. Soaking the morning sun, we sit on the steps of the ghat watching people offer prayer in the company of hundreds of pigeons. As the birds lift off with a flutter, we get back on the street. Sweetshops with large soot-coated cauldrons start cooking jalebis and malpuas early morning. Malpua, a pancake cooked in ghee and drenched in sugar syrup, is worth a try.  

The road back to Ajmer cuts through dark mountain rocks. The Pushkar valley disappears as the road zigzags through the hill to reveal the expansive Ana Sagar Lake of Ajmer. In reel life, there would be Sufi music playing in the background when you arrive in Ajmer. In real life, it is the clatter of a bustling town. The street leading to Dargah Sharif is packed with restaurants and trinket shops. Smell of kebabs and mutton curry will follow you till you surrender. Children mobbing you on the street, begging for money, seem all organised. From that point your wallet starts leaking, till you come out of the shrine. 

Yet again, at the entrance, we had to buy rose petals to keep our shoes safe. A man in white robes appears from nowhere and escorts us to another shop asking us to offer chadar at the shrine, which runs into a few thousand bucks. He says, “This is not just a piece of cloth, it’s your ticket to redemption. We politely decline the offer and walk to Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine. He was not yet done. He guides us to another man who dusted our heads with peacock feathers and opened a large book seeking monetary contribution. Scattering the rose petals on the shrine, we grab our shoes and blend with the crowd on the street. 

At last my eyeballs fish out what we were seeking. A small banner announcing Sufi music and dance festival. But not for the next two days. Starved and unsettled, we walk into a tiny restaurant panning out fumes of freshly cooked mutton. Dipping the last piece of roti in mutton curry, I taste contentment.

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