Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2005 10:27:37 -0800 (PST)
From: Send an Instant Message "Michael Tselman"
Subject: Note 8 - India

Dear friends,

In my previous message (Note 7) I left off promising to tell you about the traditional indian wedding I was invited to attend by some total strangers. The guy who invited me was from the groom's side and so that was the side of the wedding I've seen the most. We first drove out of the city to the groom's house, and found him on a very decorated horse going to a local temple. After a really brief visit to the temple he disappeared somewhere and then everyone from the groom's side was loaded on buses and cars (about 6-8 people per really tiny car) and driven back to the outskirts of the city, where groom on the horse was ready to go in the weding procession. The procession consisted of: an autoricksha trailer with bright projectors pointing backwards to light up the procession; a sundar music band playing pretty badly but with a great enthusiasm some energetic traditional themes; little boys and girls carrying really heavy contrptions with highly decorated greenish halogen lights on both sides of the procession to define its boundaries; friends of the groom dancing to the band's music followed by relatives and finally by the groom on the horse. The tail of the procession was a disel generator pushed/pulled on the cart by a really poor looking guy and the wires from the generator were dragging on both sides of the procession powering the greenish lights carried by the boys and girls on the sides. The procession was to go a couple of kilometers through the city streets waking up everyone who was already asleep and pretty much making the small roads unpassable. Every 5 minutes the music would stop for half a minute so that musicians and public could catch a breath and then would start again even more energetically. The dancing was pretty much a modern kind of dancing with preference to certain positions of hands and bodies (fingers/hands up, body arched back, almost jumping on each other). Besides me there was one more non-indian guy at the wedding invited the same way as me. We both were immediately dragged into the dancung scene and pretty much had to endure the dancing for 2-3 hours with just brief stops. Luckily except for one person no one was drunk and there were no incidents. The groom did not look happy at all and most of the time was talking on the cellphone while being led on a horse in the procession. Finally, around midnignht we arrived into a large enclosed open air area, with some buffet tables with food set up along the sides and some small podium with two nice chairs in the middle and some benches facing it. That's where the groom met the bride which was pretty uneventful - some exchange of symbols, flower necklases, etc.. After that all the relatives one family after the other were getting "photos with the married couple". That was taking very long time and we grabbed some pretty decent food meanwhile. That pretty much ended the ceremony. So, besides being very tired from dancing on the streets for a couple of hours , I was not very impressed by the "traditional" wedding. Next day I packed my things early in the morning and left for little town called Pushkar, which is known for its holy lake, and relaxing atmosphere. The two bus rides that took me to Pushkar were uneventful and by the evening I found myself in a very strange place. I liked it from the first sight, but it was not what I expected from the descriptions. The town is indeed beautiful with the lake in the middle completely surrounded by white buildings and steps of ghats (bathing areas) descending down to the water. The bathing areas, as well as the lake are considered holy, and you cannot take photographs or wear shoes in those areas. There are a lot of truly spiritual people there, but there are also a lot of those who try to make money on the crowds of tourists who come here for spiritual or other types of relaxation. The town is really small and the interesting areas go right around the lake which you can walk around in under an hour. There a hundreds of small and large temples, but a lot of hindu temples are just a room in which a statue of one or a couple of related gods stand behind inscence and gifts and donations area.

The tourists in this area are of a slightly different kind than those you see in "sightseeing" places. Here it is more of a laid back scene with people hanging around for days, weeks, months, doing pretty much nothing. Well... there is always shopping and all the streets are lined with displays of clothes, gemstones, copperware, silverware, music, books, interspersed with varieties of street food vendors, small cafes, restaurants, hotels and guest houses. Lots of cows and dogs walking on the streets mixing up well into the colorful local crowd.

This city has some strict rules and there is no alcohol, no meat, not even eggs - everything is vegetarian and all autorickshas are not allowed in the city either which makes for a little bit less polluted atmosphere. There are still motorcycles on which locals drive like mad through the narrow streets shared with pedestrians, cows and food barrows. I got a nice room in a hotel just 5 minute walk from the center, at the foot of a small hill with a footpath to a rugged temple on the top of the hill running right out of the doors of my hotel. For about $4 (four)US I have a room with a private bathroom, hot water (sometimes), private balcony and even a TV in the room. People come to Pushkar for a couple of days and end up spending weeks - that's what the hotel owner told me and pointed to a couple of Irish guys who were staying for the third week, while they planned to stay only on 3 days.

There must be a lot of things to do and see around here - was my thought. Not really, as I have discovered, when by the end of the first day I looked at every temple and circled around the lake about 3 times as well as climbed up to both temples on the nearby hills. Yet, this town has a magical touch and despite all the tourists it has that quiet feel that just makes you not want to leave especially when you are afraid to get another Delhi-like experience in some other town. I've been here for almost 3 days now. I'm becoming one of the "locals". I already know a lot of longtimers and they know me. Most of the time we spend playing chess and drinking chay near what can be called the main intersection in the town. We sit in the outdor cafe and watch the life passing by while excersising our minds with game after game of chess. There are some fine players here, but I manage to keep up even though the overall score is probably not in my favor.

I would say that about half of the foreigners in the town are israelis. I tried to find out why this is the case, but still have no idea. Maybe this relaxed atmosphere, the surrounding semi-desert and chay and chess and "smoke" create some home away from home for them. But there are a lot of others - swiss, german, dutch, italian, britis, etc... Have not seen any Russians, but met a few americans. Made a few friends here who I would love to keep the connection with after the trip is over.

Getting to the temple on the hill outside of my hotel involves about 20 minute climb up a steep footpath and every morning I go there to see the sunrise. It is quite a show, when the sun gets up above the mountain and first casts light on the higher grounds and finally lights up the buildings and the lake below in soft shades of yellow and pink and blue. The monk in the temple has a couple of monkeys who listen to him and follow his orders. He does not seem to speak properly, but he just makes sounds that monkeys seem to understand. Dressed in all white, with a long grey beard and a monkey on his shoulder he looks amazing in the doors of his little blue colored temple. I do not dare to ask him to pose for a photograph and I do not feel like taking a candid picture. Sometimes taking picture just does not feel right even though no official prohibition is posted.

There is probably much more to tell you about Pushkar and my life here, but I should just say that it is really a place to relax and stop sightseeing for a while. But soon I;ll become restless again and I'm already strating to think where to go from here.

Will write to you once I decide.

Till later,