Pushkar was impressively different from the moment we arrived.
We drove, or rather, carefully negotiated the seven hours from the national park at Ranthambore, heavily delayed, of course, by a road that was severely ‘damaged’. Surely an Indian euphemism for non-existent. We dodged crater after crater, mile after mile, as if travelling by ‘moon rover’, across the other worldly landscape. Through the dusty haze we saw hardly any signs of life, other than the odd village and a couple of camel farms.
Yet within the blink of a tiger’s eye, soon after arriving in the holy lake-town of Pushkar, nature exploded. In every form. Animals and humans existed with an obvious ease here. Side by flank. Hand to hoof.
The stunning Langur and the languorous stunning, strolling confidently through the painted alleyways. Hounds lay sunward, diverting the motorbikes with a dogged, canine sense, that told them it was safe to do so. The ubiquitous cow, nonchalantly parted everyday traffic. This was a town that definitely rubbed shoulders. And haunches!
We were fortunate that we had arrived for ‘Holi’, that most ecstatic of Hindu festivals. It was a colourful experience, that I knew, but little more. I turned to my cheap guidebook for enlightenment.
Apparently, Holi comes about because once upon a time, there was a wicked King, with an unpronounceable name, we’ll call him ‘King H’ for simplicity. He had, how shall I put it? A son that was rather light on his sandals, sensitive. You know the type! This son, known as Prahlad, had a terrible boy-crush on the God, Vishnu, thought of by Hindus as the ‘Greatest Lord Of All Times’. As well as fancying this pop star of a God, Prahlad, angers his daddy by disagreeing over a couple of other little things too.
(I should add, which should come as no surprise, I am no Hindu scholar. This is not, what one would call, an official version. More my take on things)
Not conforming completely. Whoops. Something a good son should never do, unless he is looking for paternal trouble! This was not a good move. The proud daddy couldn’t except such dissent, so set out to bump off his offspring!
After torturing his son, the king asks his wicked sister, Holita, (hence ‘Holi’), for help to complete his heinous task. She tries to trick her young nephew into sitting on her lap, whilst she nestles onto a bed of flames. ( As you do!)
But her evil plan backfires, when her magic fire-proof cloak, (very ‘Wonderwoman’!), flies from her to Prahlad, leaving her to burn and him to walk free. To Vishnu, I imagine, hopefully . The Indians just love a happy ending.
Talking of which, I was almost given one of those by a couple of over-excited young gentleman in the crowd during the ‘Holi” celebrations. As paint flew everywhere, so did inhibitions. I’m sure this tactility would not suit everyone’s palette, but I loved the unholy nature of the event, even if there were a couple of stiff brushes to contend with.
Piss artists everywhere created random works of art all over town. Their canvass being anything that came within reach. Indians, Hindus and otherwise, tourists and travellers, painted the town for hours, in the most joyous display of colourful anarchy. Andrew commented that this was probably the planet’s only paint-balling event at one time. Before the idea spilt westward. Whatever, we definitely had a paint ball!
There is such a playground innocence in spending a day throwing paint powder around. Wiping a rainbow of colour onto a rainbow of strangers. People you will never see again. Literally putting the colour into one another’s’ cheeks – and elsewhere!
Of course, being India, this wasn’t a day full of purity. Much off the frivolity was fuelled with a ‘special’ type of herbal yogurt drink, known as a ‘Bhang Lassi.’ I didn’t ask what was in the mucky brown beverage as I didn’t want to know – but let’s just say the afternoon certainly went with a bhang!
One of my favourite moments was watching two spirited young men holding what looked like a large bucket of water between them. They made towards their chosen victim, usually a westerner, with the intent of chucking it’s contents all over them. As the huge pail was raised above their heads and they made to throw it, the revellers would scatter in all directions so as to avoid a good soaking. However, the trick was on them. The container was empty. Each time the excitable Indians fooled another couple or other, they would scream madly. Laughing and pointing to the empty bucket. ‘Gotcha’, I’m sure they were saying in Hindi. I could have watched their antics all day, they were hilarious. I’m sure it ain’t the first time ‘Holi’ water has been faked, but it’s got to be the most amusing. Much more fun than a trip to Lourdes!
The playground games continued on, and we stood to spectate as a more rowdy group of lads made it their mission to strip the shirt from any man still silly enough to be wearing one. Unsurprisingly, tart that I am, I’d already lost mine early on in the revelry, during the first five minutes in fact!
But some gentlemen had somehow managed to hold on to their clothing. Mostly, I noticed, the chaps of the heavier variety. These poor guys looked most unhappy as their coverings were forcefully stripped from them and thrown onto washing lines hanging above, specially constructed for the purpose. This was a slightly uncomfortable show, with a definite edge. But as each of the heavier ‘Holi-day- makers’ accrued their own multicoloured coat of paint, they seemed to ease into their skin, and their initial discomfort waned. After all, they now looked just like everyone else. Perhaps that was the point this gang of democratic ruffians were making. We are, after all, all the same. Whatever colour we are painted.
This wasn’t the only edge. Some very serious looking coppers in khaki, gave some stick to many of the younger lads who were loitering once the festivities were deemed over. By stick, I mean just that. Some of the poor guys copped a good thwacking across the backs of the thighs, administered with very large knobbly canes. This had the desired result, and most of them legged it. Watching, it looked like a clear case of using a sledgehammer to crack a femur. But who am I to judge. They were, perhaps, very naughty boys.
It’s all been terrible fun here actually. A quite unexpected treat, as I was expecting the place to hum with a little more reverence. Of course it does during certain moments, and the locals are more than ready to point out one’s social faux-pas. For instance, wearing footwear anywhere near the ghats, the revered steps heading down to the lake, is stepped upon in an instant. The local shoe brigade brings one to heel immediately. But this religious tone mixes, almost imperceptibly, with the carnival atmosphere here. Religious men in white robes, sporting strange facial markings, stroll piously along the bazaar, carrying their two hundred fags beneath their arms.
Obviously a religious brand like ‘St Moritz’, but even so, no-one seems to be holier than though here.
We’d heard it was a dry city, so were prepared to forego a little libation for a little liberation. But on first arriving, we were immediately asked if we’d like a brew in a teapot. Or more correctly, a brewery in a teapot! Indian prohibition is alive and definitely, with a kick!
There have been a couple of annoyances. Two or three incidents, usually involving the younger nomad, dull and dreadlocked, and without even a quarter of an ounce of consideration.
As Andrew and I thought it wise to take a short break from the proceedings, I’d spotted a small table on a balcony which overlooked the ongoing party. Perfect for two forty-something artistes to rest their weary limbs. A spot to hang up their easels and enjoy another Lassi with a bang!
Unfortunately, a youthful, hippy chick, with a barnet the size of a wasps’ nest and a face to match, had sighted the seats too. As we climbed the stairs ahead of her and her friend, they attempted to push past us. Andrew stupidly allowed them to take the lead, ladies first and all that! Almost shoving me over the bannister, they hurtled up the steps at break-neck speed, nearly breaking mine. As we arrived at the summit, they were already seated, and loudly ordering from the menu. Doubtless two tofu salads and a goat urine tea with wheatgrass. Highly spiritual! I looked over and shot them one of my best Bette Davis looks. The one with the wasp nest on her head looked slightly afraid, but didn’t move, and proceeded to light a huge joint. I didn’t think this wise. Not whilst sitting on such a precarious balcony. I mean, she’d need her wits about her perched so high, and so high! Especially if some bitter cabaret singer, with a green and pink face, lost his footing whilst searching for the loo, and just happened to knock her over the side. It was at least twenty feet above the now luminescent floor. If she fell, she’d most certainly get the grounding she’d come here for. I’d be doing her a favour surely. I restrained myself, and merely fantasized about her getting fatally tangled amongst her dreadlocks on route down. Michael Hutchence style! Sick I know.
I blamed it on the Bhang!
Most of the other travellers have gotten right into the spirit and appear in possession of the right spirit. There are a few though, mostly that new bright breed of ‘gappers’, who disappoint. Many could do with having their gaps filled. Their heads seem full of falafel at times, and their manners nowhere to be seen. All utterly lovely individually, but with the charm of a pack of hyenas when grouped! It’s nice to not be the nation that is singled out for bad behaviour for once. It doesn’t happen often.
I’ve watched waiter after waiter deal with these groups, shouting demands whilst strumming a ukulele or swinging a couple of balls around their bonce. Circus acts, that in my opinion, should be left to ‘Cirque De Soleil’. At least then, the seated diner can be confident he’s not gonna get hula’d in the gob, when a stoned, fat bird,from Tel Aviv, loses control of her hoop! There is a time and a place love – and it’s not in public!
The Indians take this all in their stride, dealing with these graceless creatures with such an amazing grace. So much so, that I thought these artless antics went beyond them. But I have been made aware, by the few Rajasthanis, with whom I have engaged in the most interesting conversation, that the locals are more than aware of this inconsiderate behaviour. It does, most definitely, displease them, but they refuse to show it – that would be ill mannered.
‘We’ve learnt that from The British’, one particularly charming restauranteur informed me. I hadn’t the heart to explain that a short trip to Benidorm could have burst that particular bubble. And he wouldn’t have believed me anyway.
Pushkar is a wonderful dichotomy. A ‘Mocktail’ of the pious and the pissed. Of hugs and drugs. Of the cultured and just plain culture. Some of it, I’m sure, growing in the unkempt manes of the malignant ‘Marley’ wannabees.
Still, we may require a push to leave perfect Pushkar. Perhaps even a healthy shove. The place has won our hearts, and we’ve enjoyed painting the town pink. Fittingly it’s that rosy hue that all of the pigments seem to become as they dry on the sizzling streets.
The tribal drums continue to beat their own rhythm, alongside the electro beats that now pervade the place. It’s a complete anachronism at times. To watch respectable young Indian families, dressed in their finest, rubbing sarees with European, party-loving pot-heads, has been delightfully unexpected. But I do hope the balance stays just that – balanced. It seems fairly precarious at present, as there is a definite lurch towards hedonism here, and the risk of some losing their heads.
Absolutely, this is what ‘Holi’ is all about.
A festival of spring. Of colour. Of love and new beginnings. A celebration of good conquering evil. An ecstatic version of Easter perhaps. But let’s not forget why we crack out the egg-nog in the first place.
It is meant to be ‘Holi’ after all.
I fear, that should the colour of the festival grow too garish and the overall picture, become too irreverent, the evil Holita may return. Wearing her invisible cloak she’ll,once again, go into the fire.
And this time, it might not be her that goes up in flames.
Burn, hippy, burn.
It’s a disco inferno!