Vast expanse of sand and arid land, the occasional fortress atop a distant hilltop, thorny bushes and ferociously horned cattle drawing truck-tyred carts, our introduction to Rajasthan was full of visual delights from the train window. As the train crawled 5 hours late, our lunch plans at Ajmer were settled in favour of the humble thali of Indian railways, the staple dal chawal and coloured soup that passes off as curry.
Ajmer is definitely a noisy but colourful city. As we alighted from our train compartments, brushing part several veiled women in colourful sarees and robust men with as robust white headgear, we realized we’ve reached the land of Rajputs. There was almost a scuffle between autowallahs and taxis trying to woo us, but we remained stiff till they dispersed and finally chose a tonga (horsecart). 300 bucks for not even 6 kms, we smelt a rip-off but agreed nonetheless looking at the keen owner and the sad horse.
Ajmer looks much like an old colonial town from another era. New shops, apartments are swanky showroom have come up, but not to overwhelm the character of the town. The twenty minutes it took us to travel to the AirBnB room we had booked, we could sense its laidback vibe.
A Serene Homestay
Our stay was in a room at a well maintained colonial time bungalow from 1930s in Adarsh Nagar. The neighbourhood is a posh, tree-lined suburb full of similar bungalows. It was night, so we had a quiet dinner at an eatery nearby and called it a day. The room was air-conditioned and the pillows and linens were soft. Though it was last February, a chill descended on the sleepy town at night.
Morning woke up fresh as a rose and as per our host’s advice, headed to the community park nearby. A short morning walk later, we found the front lawn shining with sun and dewdrops. We were served our tea and it was wonderful to sit out in the lovely early morning sun. A hearty breakfast later, we were ready to sightsee. The host kindly arranged a cabbie to take us around.
The Old City
We headed straight to the Ajmer Dargah, and the bylanes of shops in the neighbourhood were just waking up to the day. This small shrine, called the Ajmer Sharif is the dargah of celebrated saint Moinuddin Chishti. It is said that the shrine is famed for childless couples praying here and being blessed with an offspring. Even Akbar the Great used to come here by foot along with his queen, in observation of a vow when he prayed for a son and had his wish fulfilled. The dargah was very crowded and I suggest that it is better to finish this early in the mornings. A furlong away is the Adhai-Din-ka-Jhopra, a fine monument and an architectural marvel of the Indo-Saracenic style. The complexity and beauty of the stone latticework is seen to be believed.
We headed next to Pushkar, 11 km away from Ajmer. This is a must for pilgrimage by Hindus. People come here to offer pujas for their departed ancestors and well-being of their families. Cool breeze surrounds the lake which has several platforms and steps on which many Hindu rituals take place. Just taking a dip in the water is refreshing. From there we did a darshan of the Brahma temple, supposed to be the only one in whole of India.
The Pink Floyd Cafe
Located close to Ranganathswamy Temple, this quaint café that has created a name for itself among foreign tourists is deep inside a small bylane. You have to follow meandering lane after lane to reach a dead end where the cafe is situated. It also doubles up as a guesthouse where all the rooms are named after the band’s albums. You could sit downstairs on a sofa, sip seesha, listen to the fabulous music and served your order. But for the best views trudge up the narrow steps to the roof, where you get fabulous views of Pushkar lake. The terrace has a garden of potted plants and done up with exotic décor from the sub-continet—think colourful Buddhist flags, durries and hanging lamps. They serve fabulous Italian and Mediterranean cuisine and their milkshakes are as great.
After the small repast, we returned to the main road where our cab was parked. The driver, who was at a tea-shop came rushing and tried to shoo something away from under the car. As we watched a beautiful peacock emerged, and with its blue flowing robe, ascended a nearby wall effortlessly and vanished while glaring at the driver with deep suspicion. Magical!
So what is it, that makes tourists, esp foreign tourists throng Pushkar—I kept wondering as I saw rows of foreigners having a good time in the town’s street. Often they lounge around street food eateries, where along with the samosas and kachoris, you could order a garlic and tomato flavoured Maggi or pasta. “Cheap n Easy Weed,” my driver whispered. Maybe yes, may be no. But I refused to believe him for once. Nobody comes here in scorching 40° C+ sun to enjoy weed. May be it’s the holy vibe that the city gives out, the lure of understanding India and the ancient Hinduism, or just to soak in the colours and smell of the real India, I will never know.