I then found myself in Orchha

Having just arrived in Jhansi (after leaving Bhopal) with no clue why I was back in a big, bustling, Real India city so soon, I went in search of putting internet on my phone so I could plan my next move.

Being told that internet is not possible because my SIM is from Madhya Pradesh and reminding me I was now in Uttarakhand, I would have to go back there for it. Lucky for me he explained, Madhya Pradesh is only a half hour, 10 rupee shared tuk tuk ride to a town called Orcha. I felt up to the challenge.

Yes! In Orchha I was able to get my internet easily activated and two seconds later I received an email from a friend I had contacted asking what to do in Jhansi; the email was telling me to go to Orchha instead! Perfect, I was already there.

Orchha Palace, the Jahangir Mahal, one of the finest and most vivid examples of classical Mughal architecture

What an amazing, lost-in-time world I had just discovered. Orchha was founded in 1501 by the Bundela chief, Rudra Pratap Singh who became the first King of Orchha. The Betwa river runs beside the beautiful town surrounded by a palace, temples, memorials built for earlier rulers, ancient cenotaphs, and an impressive fort.

Inside Orchha Palace

So many rooms and doorways…

View from the top of the Palace

Palace ceiling

Palace doorway

The Betwa River

Cenotaphs, on the banks of the Betwa River

Goats scaling the Chaturbhuj Temple

I walked around in awe for the next couple of hours and despite the heat managed to visit many of the temples and structures. I left Orchha wishing I wasn’t catching a train to Varinasi in just a few hours time so I could explore more of this amazing place.

Bustling bazaar and a magnificent mosque in Bhopal

I had the priviledge of visiting and volunteering at a clinic in Bhopal for a month where the inhabitants of this intriguing city kindly and generously opened their arms and houses to me to make me feel right at home.

Bhopal is located in Matar Pradesh, very near the centre of India and is probably most widely known for the worst industrial disaster having occurred in 1984.

My wish of being invited to an Indian wedding was granted not once, but twice in less than a week while in Bhopal. One ‘spur of the moment’ in a traditional village and the another just in time to find a sari and a completely glamorous affair; are two of the most memorable events of my life.

Chowk bazaar should only be attempted when extreme crowds and noisy and relentless horns are unlikely to do serious physcological damage. When shanti (relaxed) it’s possible to spend hours wandering around this unique market, gazing at the fabric, shoes, bags, spices, nuts and many other items on display.

The are two beautiful large lakes in the centre of Bhopal and is home to what is believed to both the largest and smallest mosque in Asia. I spent an afternoon with friends including a local Muslim girl exploring the largest and very impressive, Taj-ul-Masajid mosque.

mosque

magnificent architecture and detail

tree

extraordinary tree preservation pays off (inside the moqsue)

cricket

perfect for a game of cricket

tree

powerful Mother Nature

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curious face, Chowk Bazaar

chowk bazaar

bustling Chowk Bazaar

painting

work in progress…

Last minute Sunday afternoon pilgrimage to Sanchi

Sanchi is a Buddhist site containing monuments including monolithic pillars, palaces temples and monasteries in different states of conservation dating back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.

Sanchi is about 40 km’s from Bhopal and known as the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and a major Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century AD. 

buddha

One hot Sunday afternoon a friend and I made the pilgrimage to Sanchi, in the quite unusual style of air-conditioned comfort.

We spent several hours exploring the beautifully carved structures scattered around the impressive grounds with majestic trees; perfect for climbing and collecting the small, sweet, edible yellow fruits in the branches.  

 

arch

sunelephants

sanchi

arch

columns

golden shower tree

A Golden Shower tree

maze

chipmunk

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Small, sweet, yellow, edible fruits, still trying to find the name…

chipmunk

This is the coolest chipmunk ever!

Holy Holi, festival of colour

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is it safe to go inside?

It just so happened my current location was Pushkar where I experienced the Festival of Colour, Holi. The Hindu festival is said to celebrate the beginning of Spring and colour it brings, to bridge gaps and renew relationships and originally to celebrate good harvests as well as Hindu theological significances.

Two things worked in my favour for my first Holi; Pushkar being a holy city it is well celebrated and having a good group of friends around me I felt safer. I was told it’s not a good idea to go out alone, especially if you’re a woman as it can become intense with many hands smearing and throwing colour on you.  

The main square outside the chai shop is where the celebrations take place. An incredible sound system is set up and booms psychedelic trance; appropriate music for surreality blended with rainbow clouds of colour amidst the dancing. 

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in full swing

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the aftermath

Holi is a full power celebration and for locals (and foreigners) can lead to drinking, bountiful bhang (marijuana) lassi followed by the expected aftermath of fun, chaos and being covered head to toe in bright colour leaving you barely recognisable. Even though we were already half-coloured before leaving the guest house it didn’t take long to have remaining areas coloured in.

Warning: Holi takes at least six washes of hard scrubbing before skin and hair beings to look human again; however more washes are required for light coloured hair and clothing.

As I said before, the people of Pushkar need no excuse to have a celebration. Below are just a few I captured while there.

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barely coloured, yet…

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festival2

festival

drum

hanuman

An incarnation of the Indian monkey god Hanuman

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hanuman3

Around Pushkar and the eating habits of a few resident turtles

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A small temple on top of the hill

pushkar view

View of Pushkar at sunset from a nearby hill

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Temple

temple hill

Distant hills

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There was no restaurant, just a temple, some ruins and a beautiful view

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I learnt that turtles like to eat cucumber…

turtle

…tomatoes and aloo (potato)

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Exploring the desert like terrain, the hills and temples around Pushkar

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Wild flowering red cactus

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Enormous, majestic and magical banyan tree

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View from the hill

monkey

The thinker

monkey closeup

Curious

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The left out monkey?

mountains

Monkeys and peacocks in the distance

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Paalash – the flame of the desert – important symbols of Holi, Shivratri; Hindu festivals and theology

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Walking through a metal detector to enter a mosque, Ajmer

What a place called Pushkar!

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Pushkar street art and a well posed cow

Pushkar is definately a special place and for a wonderful month while it was home I realised two things: 1. I could have stayed longer and 2. I will eventually be back. In the end I didn’t make it to Jaipur (where I was headed), instead I made a last minute decision and stayed on the train until Ajmer.

After taking a local bus for a quick 20 minutes I reached Pushkar, nothing compared to the last 32 hour train ride from Gokarna! Lucky I had good company and a good night sleep on the very adequate, well stocked with chai and other Indian culinary delights, non-a/c sleeper train (in my opinion the best travel choice).

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Lake view

Pushkar is located in the state of Rajasthan and a holy place; one of the five sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus. The town of Pushkar surrounds a central lake where there are numerous ghats used for bathing (apparently 52 however I didn’t count them) and even more temples (I have heard anywhere from 500 to 2000).

Pushkar has a theological connection to Lord Shiva as the lake was believed to be formed by Shiva’s tears; mourning the death of his wife Sati. Due to the large number of temples it is almost impossible to avoid offering pooja; a ceremony held by a holy man where you (and your family) are blessed, an offering of flowers and rice placed into the lake then a red and white coloured string tied around your wrist (your Pushkar VIP band) and a donation given (used for the upkeep of the temples).

ghats

Jaipur ghat

Pushkar is an animal lovers paradise. Every morning offerings of grain is given to the animals surrounding the lake and walking around it’s impossible to not encounter cows, swans, monkeys, pigeons and dogs (usually sleeping during the day after a long night of noisy territorial disputes).

cowPushkar has the most beautiful scented roses my nose has ever had the pleasure of smelling and there are many people selling flowers for pooja offerings. The perfumed oils and incense sticks come highly recommended and for just a few dollars you can purchase a bottle of absolutely divine Pushkar rose perfume oil and take a piece of Pushkar home with you. 

bridge

Pushkar is well known for its clothing and many foreigners visit each year to buy clothing, jewellery and other unique items to take with them to sell overseas. Even if you’re not doing business (many people start after visiting and I am no exception) Pushkar is a shoppers paradise.

man

I came to learn that Pushkar is a popular next stop after Gokarna and for the next few weeks I enjoyed seeing familiar faces from Kudle beach. Much time was spent exploring Pushkar and surrounding areas, learning the clothing business and some wire jewellery making, eating, drinking chai at the central square (a great place to meet people) and place to watch the festivities (every night there was different celebration). 

market

Note: Pushkar is a holy place where alcohol and meat (including eggs) are not allowed. Of course if you look hard enough you can find them but for the most part I’m a believer in respecting my surroundings, especially when immersed in a different culture and believe it’s good to do without occasionally. Shoulders and knees should be kept covered and there are no shoes to be worn and no smoking around the lake.

If you are approached by a man offering you a flower it will most likely be to take part in a pooja ceremony and if you have already have and don’t want to again then you can show your wrist band.

There are many gypsy’s living around Pushkar; the women sell jewellery and do henna while the men play on home-made violin-like instruments which create an incredible sound. This is how they make their money and you will be expected to pay to listen to them play; it’s nice to experience this at least once. There are many gypsy’s outside the Sunset Café where many people gather each evening to watch the sunset and play music.

market food

Breakfast in the central square

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monkey

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woman

view

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sunset

Pushkar sunset