Morning sounds awakened me from my sleep. The clang of bells and cymbals rang from the various temples that surround the Pushkar Lake. Overhead monkeys screeched from their perches atop the temple cupolas. One large male barked his orders to underling monkeys who stripped green leaves for eating or scampered noisily across loose sheets of corrugated metal used in roofing. Monkeys are literally the top caste of Pushkar.
I dressed for walking. Early mornings are the only time to walk as the air is cool from a night of desert cooling. I headed out toward the perimeter of this small city of about 25,000, which during times of the most important festival can host upwards of a million souls seeking ceremonial cleansing in the sacred lake. I was greeted by both beggars and temple sweepers as I walked. Holy men stopped to touch the head of a sacred bull in a ceremonious gesture, moving the hand from the bull’s forehead to his own.
Motorcycles with their deep guttural sounds approached bearing cans of milk attached to each side. Small trucks entered the city loaded with fresh greens from the surrounding countryside, headed for the outdoor stands that would sell the day’s vegetables for cooking. A tower depicting the gods in powerful actions of triumph over evil foes guards the city. A benevolent Ghandi looks out from a pedestal of stone.
Out at the edge of the city runs a street bound on either side of sand deposited by thousands of years of wind. New houses are being built, but it is quiet this morning and others are out walking as well. Toward the end of it, a man counselled me to turn around to avoid the upcoming traffic of a busy street, but I was headed that way. I thanked him and walked beside the road as heavy trucks, motorbikes, and occasional cars sped past. I walked alongside the shrine to Ganesh, the elephant-faced god, as an elderly man swept the stone clean of debris. A couple of guys driving a camel cart called out to me to join them “no charge.” I wondered where I might have gone had I taken them up on their offer. Probably out to a camp where I would be offered chai.
Re-entering the city, the noise of traffic and vendors opening their shops filled the air. Dust was stirred as they swept the steps clean. On ahead, at the juncture of streets Suresh and his cousins called to me. I joined them and soon was drinkingchai. After chai, sitting on the steps of a nearby shop, we bantered. Then someone pointed up the street where an apparition of flowing scarves, broad-brimmed hat and walking stick floated toward us. It was Helen, a lady from Scotland of mature years. We greeted each other and went again for chai. She spends here fall and winter months here because the “cold of Scotland is not good for my joints. I can walk here,” she said. She’s always a delight and quite a confident traveller.
It was morning in Pushkar and my second day here has just begun.