‘Hey Fanthome’ a familiar voice welcomed me as I struggled to find change to pay the rickshaw, it was Rohit. Rohit had introduced me to Hotel Hill View where I was to spend the next few days while in Pushkar. Some three years ago sipping tea at a stall on the last dune of the cattle fair Rohit and I met, we got talking and our cameras clicked. (Inspired by San who was trying to take a jab at us.)
Pushkar seems to be a permanent fixture in both our calendars and I am always glad to sit and discuss everything from Religion, Politics, and other things that don't sound as profound like cameras, photography and food in the evenings when I stop shooting. Being a professions traveler Rohit has introduced me to many things in Pushkar that I would never have found on my own, the Tibetan restaurant being one of them.
And now the trip to Pushkar and back to Delhi.
Our trip from Mangle ki Beri (25°20'47.96"N 71°40'54.65"E) to Pushkar (it’s on the map) 500 km by road started late. (I hope you are not surprised.) When Anna Ram had told me the camels came in a truck I of course visualized 12 camels standing in 3 neat rows. Once the truck arrived and got into place I realized just how different things really were. The truck had to be filled with sand and then the hesitant animals were made to sit (not stand) one next to the other with their fore-limbs tied so that they would not stand up. The entire process of loading the 11 camels that we took to the fair lasted a good 3 hrs, it was dark by the time we were ready to leave.
As a child traveling inside a train or bus I had always envied those who traveled on the roof and was adamant that I was not going to sit inside the cabin this time round. Folding a huge tarpaulin to form a comfortable mattress of sorts I placed my bags in one corner making room for three others who preferred the wind and stars to the cramped confines of the cabin. A short stop at the local temple some Prasad for good luck and carefully ducking the power lines stretched across the road we began the journey.
Sindari was our first stop, dinner at a dhabha where we had Bajre ki roti, Kadhi, and Dal. Sitting cross legged on the khatia I proudly had my dinner. And now when I say proudly there is a reason for it: firstly sitting cross legged is an accomplishment for me, something I was not sure of doing post surgery, but it was more about the comment the driver made about the way ate my dinner. Seeing me crumble the roti as the locals did rather than tear pieces as we do in UP, he complimented Anna Ram for teaching me to eat properly.
So with Dinner done and the cold wind getting to my bones I pulled out the blanket, shawl and sweater and …. (well that's all I had at the time) some how trying to stay warm. When I woke next we were about 11 km from Pushkar. The hints of the rising sun behind the hills gave me courage to venture from my blanket and face the icy cold morning as the truck took to the winding roads as we approached our destination.
By the time we reached Pushkar the sun was peeping over the eastern hill making the town blush in reds and yellows. The silent night that was only disturbed by the rumbling engine was now chased away by the grunting of camels, neighing of horses, honking of horns, blaring of loudspeakers, and shouting people, Pushkar was awake.
After watching the camels leave the truck I told Anna I was leaving for the Hotel, “Not going to sleep with us on the dunes” he asked, “Now way” I quickly answered. Later in the evening having tea he was quick to understand why, “yes this is not the village, any one could walk off with your camera at night” he said and I was glad he was not offended. (In the days that I spent at his place my wallet with all the cash for the trip, cameras, phones and everything else just lay on a cot out in the open and never did I worry about a thing.)
I spent the next few days walking the dunes, meeting with old friends debating stories about why the lake had no water, eating one Falafel after the other and at the end of each day I had my glass of sweet milk, without cream and walked back to hotel to crash for the night.
I left Pushkar early this time, before the Horse dance, before the Camel race, both happy and sad. I was happy (not just for the ride on the top of the truck but,) because I had taken a journey I had always wanted to and also because after last years lackluster attendance this year the fair was full of cattle. Anna Ram had already sold 2 of his 5 camels. And yet in my happiness there was the regret that I had to leave early and also the humbling learning that the fair was packed because people wanted to get rid of their cattle after the drought being unable to afford keeping them any longer.
My last evening when I sat at a dabha with Rohit and San eating ‘Dal Bati’ our host an old friend told me that once the fair was over they could be close to 500 or even more cattle just abandoned on the dunes because taking them back was an option few could afford.
Another year and I know I will be back, there seems to be little constant in my life, seldom knowing where I’ll be at any given time of the year but Pushkar has always remained a milestone of another year gone by and another year to look forward to.