Morning rays of light were illuminating that small town. The first light that was beginning to touch the walls of houses was showing me that I stepped into a different world. I moved north for only 1300 kilometers and had a feeling like I entered some other spaces. Architecture, construction styles, people’s appearance, colorful clothes, varicoloured, calmness and warm smiles of local people wished me a welcome. My face turned into a wise smile, the kind of that one can come to with merits.
First I had to go through all that mess and chaos described in previous blogs to be able to finally and for the first time, feel the tranquillity. For the first time to feel India for what it really is. The sort of India that is being presented to any man that has never stepped their foot in it.
Udaipur is the city proclaimed the most romantic place in India by many. The huge lake stretching over the whole city is definitely responsible for the romantic adjectives. The lake stretches over the city and divides it into two parts connected with small bridges built, of course, in a romantic style.
There are two small islands at the Lake Pichola. In ancient history, somewhere in the 17th century, two palaces were built one each island. The palaces are built in such a way that it seems like they’re floating on the lake, without any sign that they’re actually situated on the island. The lake contributes even more to the appearance of the palaces with its stillness, duplicating their reflections. Along the lake, the small paths lead you during the evening hours to what many call the Indian Paris.
Well… to cut the long story short: there is a wonderful lake with two even more wonderful palaces here. Palaces, small bridges, paths, and calmness of the lake…all together they glow with grand romance…
OK, enough with poetry.
During my slow-paced morning walk, a man leaning at the entry door of his show stopped me. “Good morning”, he blurt out. “Good morning”, I replied to him. “Come here, come inside my shop. I’ll show you what I’m doing for living”. I accepted his invitation without much thinking. I was won over by his politeness. “My love for painting emerged around 30 years ago when I took a paintbrush for the first time. Soon after, I opened this small shop that I still run today. Everything you’re surrounded by is my work that I worked on for years”. I am not an expert when it comes to painting but his artwork is somewhat different from anything I saw so far. The most of it is painted on the glass and the sunlight is completing the colours on it. All the details left hidden on the glass, unnoticeable, become visible with the sunlight.
During his mini-lecture that he held with so much enthusiasm, my mind started to work on its own and to drag me into its parallel universes. “Jesus Tomica, have you noticed this? This man looks like Freddy Krueger!” Yes, indeed. The man’s look really reminded me of Freddy Krueger so I had a feeling like it’s really Freddy (having forgotten to put its hat on the head and a glove on the arm this morning) giving me the lecture about painting. Yes, interesting combination… Krueger and the art of painting. The good man offered me a tea as well so we went a bit deeper with the conversation. Some 20 minutes after I explained to him that I will be far away from home for a longer time and that I can’t buy or take anything with me. There was no Indian pressing from the painter. There was understanding only. We separated in a friendly tone and with a promise that I will spread his story.
Unfortunately, it is here in Rajasthan where I started noticing the other side of couchsurfing. Its dark side. The main objective and purpose of this site is offering free accommodation to the other user, i.e. providing free accommodation to the complete stranger. There are some accompanying things like meeting new people and exchanging experiences…but still, the main focus is on accommodation, no matter how much some might dispute it.
That’s what my friend, my first couchsurfer in Udaipur did. He owns a guesthouse. I won’t name him so he wouldn’t be offended. There’s a restaurant on the rooftop of that guesthouse. It’s more of a failed restaurant, barely working. During the day he offered me food and that really cheered me up and made my day. We ate together and had nice discussions. However, at the end of the day, my host simply told me I owe 240 rupees to him. Very confused but still grateful that he hosted me in his “home”, I gave him the money. At that moment, I realized that couchsurfing is just a bait to attract people into his guesthouse so the same people would spend their money in his already a bit obsolete restaurant. Trust me, now that I have some more experience with it, I would have never given him the money. I would enter into a deep altercation that would probably finish with me leaving.
Later in Rajasthan I had a couple of cases like that. There were things such as taking my data for a fake registration in his hostel to be able to get benefits from the state. There were ideas to use my credit card several times with the certain amount of money so they could show that I used the owner’s services such as renting the most expensive room in the hostel or riding a camel on a two days long safari in desert. I refused, of course. So, yes… yes, the dark side of this web site exists and I just started to notice it here in India.
I welcomed my birthday in this marvellous town. On that day, I had a plan to leave the town and to head to Pushkar, even smaller town 300 kilometers north. However, that day the town wouldn’t let me out. My train was leaving at 6am to Pushkar. I was only 2 kilometers of walking down the empty road away from the train station. I woke up a bit before 5 in the morning, packed my backpack and left the room. I came to the main entrance door of the guesthouse but it was locked. A huge padlock could be seen from the other side of the hallway. Granny! It was granny that locked the entrance door. What granny? Well, there’s a granny that looks after everything in the house. For the protection against thieves and other hustlers, the granny puts that big padlock on the guesthouse’s entrance door every night.
Of course, it was already that morning when I found out about that “noble” action of hers that hides underneath some kind of old people’s fear. Being in a state of half-panic because I had an hour of walking to get to the station and the train is leaving soon, I started to look for her small room. Ten minutes after, I finally found it. Without much thinking, I started to bang on the door and the light was switched on quickly. The door of the room started to open slowly and there she was, granny, hiding in the dark hallway that was loomed up through the open door. The granny had keys in her hands and already knew what was going on. She unlocked the door for me and went into her direction. I nicely thanked her for taking such a good care of everything in the house and ran out of the guesthouse. I had a bit less than an hour of walking to the train so I started to run. However, half way there I sat down, started to calculate and came to the conclusion that I won’t catch the train. I made a decision that I will stay here in this town for one more day and so I turned around and went back towards the guesthouse. When I returned, the door was locked again. Grannyyy!!! Yes, granny locked the door again. With my two backpacks I sat by the entrance door and waited for the sunrise. I started to think about why all of that has happened, why I couldn’t leave the town? What is the reason for all of it?
The answer is coming soon…
A bit disappointed I went for a morning walk, but with the notion that it’s my birthday, things immediately start to feel better. My aimless walking was noticed by the two Indians on motorbikes. Driving crazily, they stopped in front of me, intercepting me, and one of the drivers asked me: “What are you doing afterwards?” “Why?” – I replied. “There will be a shooting of a Bollywood movie afterwards, a bit further by the lake and the film crew is looking for extras. If you’re interested, just hop on the motorbikes and we’ll take you to the location. You will be paid 1000 rupees after the shooting”. I sat on the bike right away and in 10 minutes we were by the lake.
Now it was clear to me why the granny had to lock the door, why I was late for the train and why she locked it again once I was back to the guesthouse. So I would be found by the two guys on the motorbikes right at that time and right at that spot and so I would be offered this job that I will be paid for by the end of the day.
Once we arrived to the location, I noticed I’m not the only one that was kidnapped by the two guys. In front of the lake palace there were confused faces of other foreigners. They showed us the terrace behind the restaurant, told us to sit down and brought us food. Between us, all kinds of questions started to circulate. I asked one Englishman next to me: “Hey, do you by any chance know what we are doing here, what will be our task?” And then… the Englishman gave me one of the most powerful, most bizarre and most cynical answers ever: “Shush, man…and just be white.”!!! Hahahaha. The answer that could be used to explain much more than the current situation and with which you can go deep into history. The answer that explains everything. Really EVERYTHING.
So, to simplify the whole situation – the film crew needed foreigners, tourists, i.e. they needed non-Indians to sit in the background of the film frame. If I ever wanted to sit on this terrace, I think I would have to give a real small fortune to be able to enjoy the view it provides. This way, I’m sitting here for free and I have free food and drinks as well. The film that was being made is some kind of romantic comedy. The filming took place right here at this terrace. The scene that was shot was between a love couple and it was repeating for several hours. It was repeated around 20 times.
I was ordered to sit at the table that was in the background of the main scene. The girl sitting next to me got the same instructions. All we had to do was to lead a quiet conversation and not to pay any attention to the shooting. The last thing we could to is to look at the camera. If you knew how many times that idea came to us – to intentionally look into the camera just because we’re not allowed to. Just because they would stop it all because of us. I think the same idea would come to you as well.
During those few hours of filming and of our conversation, I got so well acquainted with the girl that we became friends straight away. We found out everything about each other. Valset was born in Africa but has been living in Paris for years now. She is a professional dancer and she came to India to advance her dance technique and to perfect an old Indian traditional dance. She will be traveling in Rajasthan for a month and then she will settle in New Delhi where she will look for a dance studio to spend a couple of months in. You wouldn’t believe but 70% of people that I meet during this travel come from France, from Paris. French people are real travelers.
It is only now, after being at the filming, that I understand all of that hustle of the Bollywood film that happened to me in the bus that I wrote about in the previous blog. That was just a preparation for all that is going on now because right now I’m entering the very essence of that Bollywood.
I took a train in Udaipur and arrived to Ajmer, a small town 20 kilometers from Pushkar. The 20 km distance is divided by the big hill through which it was impossible to build a railway. The only connection with Pushkar is by a hilly road. Buses overcrowded with people go down that road every few minutes.
In Ajmer I met a young couple from France (French people again) that took the same train as me. I’ve noticed that they’re having a bit of trouble getting by and that they don’t use what I would call precisely determined responses to all the attacks from taxi drivers shamelessly surrounding them. I’ve decided to help them somehow so I jumped into the chaos and rescued them from the evil. I don’t even have to explain to you that our first encounter instantly turned into a friendship. Well yeah, during these sorts of travels it is somehow a lot easier to become a friend with someone because you’re in a very similar, if not the same situation together. Soon after, we decided to take the bus to Pushkar together.
Meuy and Aurel are on the trip of their lives currently. For two years, together they did diverse jobs so they could gather enough money to travel around the world. India is the first country they landed to from France and the starting point for their further conquests. However, their trip is a bit more organized than mine and also relying on a bigger budget. They booked all the plane tickets from one state to another in advance, and even booked train tickets for certain routes. I couldn’t keep quit so I had to intervene there again. I gave them a small lecture on hitchhiking and described my experiences from the road. As they never hitchhiked in their lives, they got quite interested in my stories and promised to try to hitchhike in Thailand.
Same as me, Meuy and Aurel also didn’t have an accommodation for the days they planned to spend in Pushkar. Together we were going from one guesthouse to another, looking for the cheapest one. I’m in a bit of trouble when it comes to looking for a cheap accommodation. I’m in a trouble because the most of the rooms in hostels and guesthouses are for two people so when a couple takes a room, they divide the price in a half. One half of the price is paid by one person, and second by the other. When I ask a superior for a cheap room, what happens often is that I have to take a room for two and pay a price for two. In a situation when I have no other choice than to pay for a crash pad, I’m always looking for the cheapest possible solution.
Soon enough, the love couple found a room for 400 rupees per a night but that was way too expensive for me. I began to explain my low-budget trip to the guy at the reception, but dramatizing it a bit more. In the middle of our conversation he said to me “Ummm, you know what? I might have something for you. C’mon, follow me. We’re going to the terrace on the rooftop of the guesthouse.” What I found on the terrace was, in my opinion, one of the best accommodations that I saw in all the guesthouses so far. Improvised tin room with colored sheet flapping in the wind, representing a barrier, will be my new home. We agreed on price of 125 rupees (12,5 Croatian kunas) per a night, which I can afford. The bottom line is, my dramatizing has helped.
Pushkar is a city of thousand temples and one of the holiest Hindu cities. There’s a small lake in the middle of it that everyone feels awe to. Of course, the lake is holly. Ther’s a myth that I have to tell you about. The lake originates from the tears that Lord Shiva cried after a death of his wife Sati. He was crying for so long that his tears created two lakes. One is here in Pushkar and the other one in Pakistan.
A lot of locals were telling us about the hills surrounding the city. One hill gives an amazing view during the sunrise and the other one during the sundown. We visited both hills in those times. The rumours were justified and we enjoyed the early morning and evening views.
After we got back to the guesthouse, Muey and Aurel decided to move on. They had a one day train ride to Varanasi, the small city at the other end of India, ahead of them. After Varanasi, they’ll go to Nepal where they have a flight to Thailand. I was feeling so well in my tiny room that I decided to stick around for a couple more days.
On my last day in Pushkar I met an Israeli girl that has just arrived to the city with her friend. After the usual introduction routine, we quickly ended up on the rooftop restaurant of some other guesthouse. We touched the subject of Israel and its position in the world. We know that Israel is a country that a big portion of the world doesn’t like, and especially Muslim countries that have forbidden every Israeli to enter their country. The consequences stretch even to the tourists that wish to travel to Israel. If you enter Israel and if they put their visa in your passport, that automatically implies that you cannot enter any Muslim country anymore. Because of those sanctions imposed by Muslim countries, Israel had to make a compromise. For all the tourists entering the country, they began to issue visas separated from the passport, on a A4 paper to be shown at the border.
However, the story doesn’t end there. If you get a stamp in your passport on the border, again it implies that you’re forbidden from entering a Muslim country. To solve that issue as well, it’s no longer necessary to get a passport stamp. Look, those are all issues that damage Israeli tourism so they had to come up with the alternatives to stop people from avoiding their country. During our conversation I was explaining to her how Iran is the best country I visited so far and she went quiet and was silent for a while. Hm, I’m not sure I chose the best time to praise Iran.
“Do you know how difficult is to be an Israeli outside Israel?” she told me. “When I’m out of my country and I say I’m from Israel, everybody starts to look at me with some kind of doubt. Very often I hide that I’m from Israel but I’m revealed by my appearance and the way I talk”. Every word coming out of her mouth had a weight to it. Her eyes were filled with tears she tried to hide from me. Those hidden tears made me think deep…