Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Day 9. A visit to the Holy Lands

A short distance from Jaipur we reached two of the most holy places in India: Ajmer and Pushkar. Ajmer is where the Darga Sharif is located, a sanctuary where one of India’s most revered Muslim saints, Kwajha Chisti, is buried. All around the tomb is a small city-within-the-city, where Muslims from all south Asia come to venerate. We couldn’t take cameras in, so I don’t have pictures to share with you (a real pity because Chrissy and Klaus had to buy handkerchiefs to cover their heads and they looked real doof), but I will tell you that it was a very spiritual place where one could not help but feel the intensity of the devotion of the pilgrims. Within the complex was the tomb itself, full to overflowing with pilgrims bringing flowers and scarves to the saint, the praying courts, the baths, and hundreds of small shops to attend to every need of the visitors (flowers, incense, horoscopes, medicinal herbs). Toward the exit we stopped by two enormous cauldrons (easily the size of a room), where donations are collected for rice for the pilgrims. Donations are accepted in the form of cash or rice, and as we were leaving wood was being brought in to start cooking (I imagine someone goes in to collect the cash before sacks of rice and barrels of water are poured in to start coking what will eventually become the evening meal).

From there we went to nearby Pushkar, one of the nine holy places of the Hindu religion. Legend has it that Brahma was looking for a place to rest and meditate, and that as he looked he dropped a lotus flower whose petals landed in Pushkar and opened so many springs. The city now centers around a beautiful artificial lake, where pilgrims come from all over India to pray to Brahma (the other holy places are devoted to Vishnu and Krishna, whereas Pushkar is the only one devoted to Brahma), and to ritually bathe in the waters of the lake. Chrissy and I got inducted into the lake, and offered our prayer for the well being of our families and friends, so you are all covered for at least a few years to come.

The only problem with holy places is that they encourage cleansing yourself from vices and excess. For example, there is not a drop of alcohol to be found within a radius of several kilometers, which threw us all (but particularly los hermanitos Kobberger) into anguish and confusion. We had to resort to our reserves, which our now diminished by a bottle of Bordeaux wine, a bottle of Reisling, and a bottle of good Scottish whisky (but we still have a couple of aces up our collective sleeve). Joining in the spirit of moderation, we all had a vegetarian dinner (no choice there, really, because there is no meat consumed anywhere within Pushkar), but Peter went out of his way to be a frugal ascete and ordered nothing but a spring roll. As you can see, it was the Guiness Book of Records spring roll, and we had to roll him to his bed under the disapproving eye of the local guru.

1 comment:

Fabs said...

That is a spring roll? Whew! Looks delicious! =)