road to Pushkar

… Cliff and Tamella…

After we finally settled on the bus, we sat back for the long road ahead.  I mentally prepared myself for a lot of honking, lane cutting, passing, and overall danger.  To my surprise and pleasure, we were now on a 6 lane highway that was very smooth.  We traveled along at about 60 miles per hour without traffic and hassle.  The fast speed of the bus blew a nice breeze throughout taking away the various smells and the hot stale air.

Cliff and Tamella and I soon began talking about all subjects related to travel and eventually our conversation turned to other subjects.  Without fail, the subject of international politics came up – as it often does when talking to people from other countries.  They asked about the sentiment in the US regarding the war in Iraq.  They asked about Bush’s popularity, etc.  I do discuss the subject of the war carefully as many have very strong opinions about it and it can sometimes become “uncomfortable.”

Eventually, the conversation turned and Tamella asked what the latest child naming trends where in the US:

Tamella:  What sort of names are popular in the US these days?

Me:  Well, we had a biblical resurgence a decade  to fifteen years ago.  Names like Sarah, Joshua, Jacob,  and similar names were very popular (as I say this I realize that I’ve named off ½ of my nephews and nieces J )

Tamella:  Oh really?

Me:  And, in the late 80’s and early 90’s capitalistic names were very popular; Mercedes, Paris, Porsche, etc.

Tamella:  What have the trends been like lately?

Me:  Nature names seem to be popular as of late; Lark, Meadow, Hunter, Sky, etc.

Cliff:  We should name the kids like the Native Americans did; if you saw something at the time of the child’s birth, that became his name; Soaring Eagle, Two Deers, Screaming Elk, something like that.

Tamella:  (In a strong Australian accent) Yaya Clayff, but thay didn’t hahv highways back thayen.  What would you nayem ‘yer kid now?  “Flat dayd dawg, or two squirrel rawd keeyl?”

We all enjoyed a good laugh as the bus zoomed down the smooth road.  And with the good conversation and cool breeze, the 4 hour trip felt like 45 minutes.  By the time we arrive in Pushkar I feel refreshed without all of the swerving and horn blaring.

We climbed off the bus to collect our bags and we are immediately swamped by a wave of hotel agents, restaurant solicitors, beggars, and vendors selling anything and everything Indian.  I saw one man on a wheeled sled and offered him some Rupees.  As he had no legs, I had pity on him.  But, he also had a certain sense of pinache; he was funny, charismatic, and always had a genuine smile.

We push through the crowd and work our way towards town.  The vendors are relentless.  Most of the travelers have a copy of the LP Guidebook and have in their minds a certain desire of self exploration.  The vendors do not share their sense of independence and exploration.  To them, this is merely a life and death struggle for a share of the tourist trade that will put food on their tables and clothing on their children.  Rainer has the LP guide out and begins to orient himself to the map and the town land marks.  He and his girlfriend have selected 3 of the most recommended hotels and are determined to get to those hotels – hotel hawks or not.

As we push into Pushkar, I stare ahead with a blank look on my face.  I refuse to even acknowledge the vendors.  This seems to work, after one or two attempts, they leave me alone.  One of the German tourists, with his proper German manners, simply finds himself unable to ignore them.  He continually repeats, “No thank you,” and “Please leave us alone.”  His responses seem to encourage them and they hound him all the way through Pushkar.  He begins to grow frustrated with them and raises his voice.  But this encourages them even more.  They plead with him to visit their hotel, to just take a quick look.  They all guarantee the lowest price, the cleanest rooms, and the coldest fan.  The word “clean” in a budget hotel in India is a figurative description.  And regardless of the vendor’s claims, a fan is a fan and does not compare to air conditioning.

We walk along in the hot sun.  The venodors beg.  the German pleads.  I look along into empty space thinking the whole way, “Doesn’t he get it?”  His “I’m not interested,” is heard as, “I want to be sold, you’re not trying hard enough.”  Maybe the German has never had a sales job before.  If he had, he would better understand the rules of sales and jungle capitalism.  As my mind wanders I begin to think that the US Fortune 500 companies are recruiting in the wrong places.  Instead of going to US colleges for their talent, they should come to India.  These guys could sell circles around most US sales execs.

Right then, it all comes rushing back.  My first experience with an Indian in America while working at a sales job.  After I was laid off from my job in the great recession that hit Los Angeles and California in the early 90’s, I took a sales job to pay the rent and to keep the phone turned on.  It was a horrible job.  It was stressful and hard work.  I couldn’t stand it and only lasted one summer.  Those 6 months were some of the longest time I’ve ever experienced.  To this day, I can still hear my sales manager’s voice, “If I ever see you talking to a Patel again, you’re fired!”

I was talking to a large Indian family.  They were pleasant and polite.  I explained the company’s product line and then went to the office to get some forms.  My Sales Manager ambushed me at the office door:

SM:  What are you doing?

ME:  I’m making a sale.

SM:  (With a tone of disbelief and disgust) With them?  Not to them you’re not!

ME:  Why not?  I don’t understand.

SM:  They’ll never buy from you.  They’ll waste your time haggling over price for hours.  And in the end, they will NEVER buy from you.

ME:  Well, they have to buy from someone.

SM:  They ALL buy from Indian wholesalers.  They are only here to toy with you.

ME:  (I couldn’t really believe him, it made no sense)  Then why are they here?  Why would they spend hours talking to me if they aren’t going to buy?

SM:  It’s a sport for them.  It makes them feel like they are at home.  There is no where else in America where they can haggle.  The movie theater, the grocery store, the mall, they all have fixed prices.  These people have no where to go and haggle.  They dream about a new and inexperienced salesman that they can chew up for 6 or 8 hours.  When he said “these people,” I could hear a certain amount of hate in his voice.

He walked back to the window and looked out.  He had a 1,000 yard stare much like a grizzled veteran that had served 2 tours in Iraq or Vietnam.  He muttered to himself, “Chinese.  It’s good when we have Chinese.  They have more money than Las Vegas.  It’s always a good day when the Chinese are shopping.  Not the Indians, they never buy anything.  I started back out to let the Indian family know that I wouldn’t be helping them.  The Sales Manager stopped me, “Where are you going?”  I replied, “I’m going to tell them.”  “No,” he said, “Let them stew.  I catch you talking to a Patel again and you’re fired.”

Patel, that’s the nickname for the Indians that I hear over and over again in the workplace.  Later, I am told that Patel is a common name in the caste of hotel owners.  It makes sense as so many Indians come to America and open or buy hotels…

At that job I heard every Indian joke in the book and learned to perfect my Indian accent.  It would not be until over 10 years later that I would learn more than just the stereotypes and prejudices of my own country.  I think Mark Twain said it best:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.


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the Jaipur Observatory

… the Armilliar sphere instrument…

I had heard about the exotic observatory in Jaipur and it was on my “to do” list before I departed.  But with my short visit time to this wonderful city, I only had a small window to make a visit.  My bus to Pushkar was departing at just after noon so I would have to make my visit after breakfast.

… the Large Sundial…

I pre-arranged with my “regular” driver Lucky to take me to the observatory and wait for me outside to take me back to the hotel.  Lucky had proven to be a reliable driver and this made me confident that I would be able to see the observatory despite my limited time.

… the Hemispherical Sundials…

The Observatory was quite interesting.  The ancient Indians were able to track the time exactly, even allowing for geographical error based on where the observatory is compared to the longitudinal lines of the earth.  They plot the date(s), eclipses, and track the movement of the sun and moon through the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Not only where there many Indians at the observatory, but I also saw Germans, Dutch, and even some Chinese.  Regardless of the language spoken, there were tour guides who seemed to speak any language so that no tourist was without a speaking tour guide.  Above, some Indians listened to their tour guid as he described the Hemispherical Sundials that tracked the time of day between the autumnal and vernal equinoxes.  Below, the Amilliar Spherical Instrument counts one hour for each white band of marble as the sun passes overhead.

Like the large sundial (second photo on this page), the small sundial (below) casts a shadow from the staired tower to curved dial below.

The first observatory was built in Delhi and later moved to Jaipur.  Its construction was directed by the Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II in the early 18th Century.

… my tour guide explains how the sun moves across the arc of the dial…

… the Small and Large Sundials…

The Ram Yantra device is used for finding the azimuth of the sun, moon and stars on the horizon.

The Hemispherical Ball Instrument tracks the suns position as it moves not only daily, but its movement throughout the year.  The shadow of the ball is cast into a large bowl; its movement can be measured through the grid of marks inside the bowl face.


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Amber Fort

The following morning I asked around for Lucky and he was happy to take us to the Amber Fort (pronounced Amher) and back for 125 Rupees, about $3.  As it is early in the morning, the traffic isn’t too bad and we were able to have a relaxing ride to the fort.

As we near the mountain pass where the fort sits, Carol notices elephants on the side of the road.  She’s a real sucker for all animals, and the bigger the better.  She convinced the driver and I to pull over to feed them.  We negotiated with the banana vendor, bought a few bananas, and then fed the huge grey creatures.

I remember a joke that I heard in the 3rd grade.  She’s from England so I’m sure she’s never heard it:

Why do Elephants have so many wrinkles?

I don’t know, why?

Have you ever tried to iron one?

She laughs heartily, probably because she didn’t expect such a corny punch line.  The elephants are very gentle with their trunks, delicately taking the bananas and then guiding them to their mouths.

Further up the road, we pull over at the base of the mountain to take pictures of the fort we are approached by a junior magician.  This little boy is able to make a rock disappear before our eyes.  We ask him to do the trick again and again and I was still not able to figure out where he put the rock.  He certainly has crafted his trade.  We tip him 20 Rupees and continue down the road.

At Amber Fort, the tourists pay a few dollars to ride the elephants to the top of the hill.  I don’t like the idea of keeping these majestic creatures around as taxis and Carol agrees so we decided to head up the trail on foot.

The hills around Rajastan are covered in forts and hilltop castles.  It reminds me of the coast of Oman and Yemen where every hilltop is covered by a Portuguese fort from the 16th or 15th Century.  These forts were built by the Raj, known for their fierce warrior tradition.

The Raj were rarely subdued by the Muslim Moguls or later, by the British rulers.  Most of the Raj princes were allowed autonomy within a confederation of states in India.  To this day the Raj princes exist in some form while their castles and forts serve as museums.  The photo above is shot above the main Palace complex but is still part of the Fort’s defenses.  Further down the hill along the hill ridge I could see fortifications that reminded me of the Great Wall of China (below).

At the top of the hill we were able to tour the palace and its gardens.  The cool breeze blew through the palace as we enjoyed the view from the top of the hill.  Below we could see down into the town and I imagined the Raj Prince as he looked down on his subjects during his reign.

The Palace was decorated in a similar style as the White Palace inside of the Red Fort; small pieces of glass and mirror were embedded into the plaster.  This decorative effect is quite beautiful and I imagined what it must look like when it is illuminated by hundreds of candles.  Inside the courtyard near the Palace stood lush gardens.  The weather was dry and warm and with the brown hills, it reminded me of the hills in California.


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