As I enjoyed my dinner of margarita pizza and a coke, I watched the sun set over the beautiful lake at Pushkar. I begin to see people congregating at the lakeside Ghat near me. There seemed to be some “buzz” as more and more tourists came from the alleyways of town and walked down to the steps facing the water and took up positions facing the sunset.
Just then, a young woman wearing a blue dress appeared with a hand full of silver chains that she was selling. Each of the chains had small bells attached to them that made a jingling sound when they moved. The girl wore some on her ankles and as she walked up, the jingling sound drew the attention of all seated at the open air restaurant.
As she glanced up I noticed that her eyes were a most unusual yellow color. I had never seen yellow eyes on a person; they looked something like you might see on a cat. With her tanned skin, brightly colored clothes and her yellow eyes, this young girl had a very mysterious and exotic look.
Shortly, the girl was joined by her father. They both sat on the ground in front of me and the father began to play some local music on a stringed “guitar looking” instrument. I learn later that the instrument is called a Ranatar and is over a thousand years old in its design. It is constructed of a bamboo neck and has a coconut shell for its base. Tightly strung wire is used for the strings and while it has many, only one is played with the bow. The other strings ring in resonance only.
As the man played his Ranatar and sang along in harmony, it sounded to me like some traditional Mongolian, Kazakh, or Chinese music that I had heard before. The Raj Bedouins have long traded with and mixed with travellers and invaders from as far as Beijing and it is no surprise that their music should also be influenced by this contact. I remember hearing a Bedouin musician in Iraq as he played a single stringed instrument. I wonder if the two sound similar? I will have to pull that old video and make a comparison.
During the second chorus, the yellow eyed daughter began singing a duet with her father. The sound was truly hypnotic. I sat in wonderment and soaked up the atmosphere and sounds. I vowed to purchase their CD if they had one, but this was probably a long shot. I shot some photos and then some video on my camera to capture the moment to eternity. When they finished singing, I gave them a tip and shot some more photos of them, this time with the sun at my back. The father then offered to sell me their CD. Too funny. I agreed to the purchase and he even deducted my tip from the sales price.
Compare to the Chinese minstrel:
After I finished enjoying my Ranatar duet, I walked over to take my place with the rest of the tourists on the Ghat steps. A virtual “circus” began to take full form as dozens of tourists began to sit on the steps facing the setting sun and all sorts of characters came out to amuse and to profit from the captive audience. At least three sets of father & daughter Ranatar players were strumming their stringed instruments and singing along. Two men beat on drums nearby. The small Shiva god kid is laughing and collecting a King’s ransom in tips, “Ah-ha! Rupee – 10 Rupee photo!” A Japanese duet next to me are snapping photos and talking quickly (but quietly) in Japanese. I took photos and shot video and tried to make a mental snapshot of the moment so that I would always remember this experience.
A Jewish Rabbi walked around holding a small green fruit and a stalk of wheat. He stopped at each Israeli as he passed and offered them a blessing. I wonder if there is some high holiday this week? He blesses the two young Israeli men to my left and then walked right past me. “Hmm,” I wonder, “Why he didn’t offer me a blessing?” I asked the two men to my left, “Why didn’t he offer me a blessing? They replied, “Oh, he knows you’re not Jewish.” I was surprised and replied, “How do you know I’m not Jewish, wait, how does he know I’m not Jewish?” They looked at me in amusement and said, “Well, you aren’t Jewish are you?”
Well, they had a point; I wasn’t. But I wondered, was there some secret handshake or nod that I missed? Was there a certain haircut, piece of jewelry or clothing item that they had in common? I’ve seen varied looks in Jewish people; some are dark-skinned, some look like they are from Europe. Maybe they had an “expected” look on their face when the Rabbi approached and I had a blank, “What are you doing here,” look. Perhaps, because that’s what I was thinking; “What are all these Israelis doing here?” was going through my mind. I mean, really, I’m in India, one doesn’t expect to find half of Tel Aviv here…
After I responded that I was not Jewish, the two men added, “Well, the Rabbi probably recognized that you aren’t Jewish.” “Recognize, what do you mean recognize?” I asked in actual confoundedness. They replied, “Well, you don’t look Jewish.” “Hmm,” I wondered, “What does Jewish actually look like?”
… can you spot the Rabbi? …
… the highlight of the day in Pushkar is the end of it; everyone comes to see the beautiful sunset…
I turned my attention back to the circus that was unfolding around me; dogs chased each other, a cow mooed, tourists and locals juggled bean bags, tourists snapped photos, the sun dipped lower, and the cacophony of talk, laughter, Ranatar music and drum beats carried to the far side of the lake. I tried to soak up all that I saw and heard around me but it was really a sensory overload. I am finding this a trend in India – an overload to the 5 senses– even here in sleepy Pushkar.
I alternate between watching the sun set, the sky turning from yellow to orange and then red, and then my attention turned back to the circus swirling around me. A good-looking Spanish couple poses in front of the setting sun, and ask me to take their photo; they forgot their camera and I agree to email my photo to them. As it gets darker, the jugglers have switched from bean bags to flaming torches doused in kerosene. The lights around the lake have begun to light up and now sparkle on the water as its color turns from blue to sapphire and finally to black. The fiery red sky reflects off the black lake and I hear a group of Italian travelers chatting behind me. Despite the busy and festive atmosphere, it is a truly relaxing moment. The warm spirit of friendliness between the locals and the tourists, the warm air, the beautiful sunset – each a factor in making it a magical place.
As the sun generously gave its last rays to the view of the tourists, I spotted the little boy dressed up as Shiva. I beckoned him over and gave him his 10 rupee tip. I had not captured him in dark blue paint and thought that his costume made a beautiful photo in front of the fiery orange sunset.
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