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After working on a fat edition of the budget till 7 am last Friday, I headed off on a whirlwind tour of Jaipur, Ajmer and Pushkar with friends who had come from Canada. The trip was great fun nonetheless and despite the lack of sleep the previous night I was awake like an owl till late evening. It was my second trip to the pink city and the host family were people I have known from childhood. Took us (10 people, two cars) a while to locate Queen’s Path, a plush suburb. I loved the sprawling houses, the greenery and the quietness -- almost reminded me of my hometown. Given a chance, I would have loved to spend a week just relaxing.

But far from it. We woke up at 7 am the next morning after a late night session of gossips, gift exchanges, and dances from the two sisters – Anita and Geeta. One was a Rajasthani folk dance, the other a Canadian-Bollywood mix jig. It was hilarious as Geetadidi, the plump member and well tuned to everything Rajasthani, pulled up everyone including naniji, who is way over 80. Me, being the ardent photographer in the group, had the best excuse. I love to dance but my energy had been sapped by the huge editorial work in office and, of course, the long drive.

The two-hour drive to Ajmer was simply beautiful. If there is want of improvement in other things, roads and hotels are two things that the Rajasthan government can be proud of. So they attract tourists. Besides people are not all that rude as in Delhi. The scenery and the roads made the travel worth its while. I loved the wayside inns where we stopped for chai and they sold everything from handicrafts to Godiva chocolates –- a little overpriced, though. In Ajmer, we were received by the aides of the Superintendent of Police (SP) there, who escorted us all the way to Pushkar, a tourist hub and a religious place, some 30 mins away from Ajmer. The SP, happens to be a relative of my hosts, hence all the VIP treatment. In truth, I felt uncomfortable at the posse of policemen (4 of them) following us all over (if it was the north east, we would have been easy targets of the militants) and would rather roam as any non-descript tourists. Anyway, it did have its plus side.

Now the family friends I was travelling with are a funny lot -– trapped between modernity and tradition. At Pushkar they actually had a pundit perform a puja at the lake, much to the rebel of the younger group. It was fun watching a mix of family in Canadian and Indian accents, chanting hymns, offering flowers and sipping the dirty water of the lake where people bathed, fishes swarmed attracted by the chanas and puffed rice thrown, where flowers, puja offerings and the entire muck of the place were flowing in it. I cringed in horror at the thought of tasting it and at the end, the question on everyone’s lips were “did you.. did you, did you actually sip it?” Ha ha ha!!!

Pushkar, to me is an extension of Janpath in Delhi, the temples and lake being the other value adds. So you can imagine a place full of backpackers and posh white tourists revelling in the sight, smell and sound of mini India. Cows, elephants, camels and monkeys added to the bonhomie, which had the youngest Canadian among us, Upasna reacting, “Oh dad, aren’t the camels so thin? Dad, the dogs are not well fed...”. Contrast this to my daily encounter with poverty in the street and there is an element of nihilism in my reaction...

After a two-hour round of Pushkar, another friend of the family, Kr Jagat Singh Rathore, the owner of perhaps the best hotel in Pushkar, Jagat Palace,hotel, arranged a lunch buffet for us. Post lunch, the oldies caught up with Rathore, while the rest swam and basked in the luxury thrown to us. Check for Jagat Hotel, Pushkar.

Next it was time to visit the famous Dargah Sharif in Ajmer, a Muslim shrine. The history of the Dargah has it that the 12th century Persian saint, Khwaja Moin-ud-din Chisti settled down in Ajmer after Prithviraj Chauhan lost it to Mohammad of Ghori. They say every wish is fulfilled if one visits this place, and people of all communites throng the place. Remember just recently actor Katrina Kaif was in the news 'cause she wore a skirt (that showed her legs) to the Dargah! Anyway, I don’t remember if I had any particular wish in mind but so miffed I was by the conniving priests and touts who only wanted money and so petrified I was of “pocket mars’ after the cops warned us to mind our bags –- that by the time I pushed my way into the Dargah I was praying less and minding my bag which had my digital camera, money and other prized possessions… and after chewing a few rose petals which the main priest handed over to us, boy was I glad to be out of the claustrophobic room. Having visited all famous places of worship in India by now, I am a confirmed agnostic now seeing the business-minded paan-chewing priests whose sole aim is to extort money out of na├»ve devotees. No different than other forms of goondaism, only here it’s in the garb of religion.

Back in Jaipur, we made it just on time for some last minute shopping at MI Road and Chowri bazaar. The next morning after a mad game of holi and riot of colours, we left Jaipur in the evening. On the way, we stayed the night at Neemrana, another luxury old fort hotel in the ourskirts of Delhi. I crashed out in one of the cosy mahals, much earlier than the rest. Back in Delhi and back at work, I feel diabetic after all the rich food and sweets and am overcome by a powerful inertia, having crammed so much of activity in one weekend, of course.


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