The further last week drips into the past, already the faster it fades into a craze of lengthy transit rides and fantastic desert sights. It was a rushed bit of time, and more than once I caught myself wishing I could stay in a welcoming place for longer, but I had to hurry to reach my goal: Holi in Pushkar.
When I left Mumbai, I went to a place called Araungabad. It's a small but growing city, known to tourists for the amazing cave sites that sit outside the city limits. Local buses leave at early hours to take visitors like me to the desert attractions.
Both Ellora and Ajanta caves were once home to Buddhist monks - actual men who lived in the cliffsides and spent years carving the simple yet precise image of their quiet lord out of rockface walls. There's other treats in the cave networks (Hindu and Jain temples at Ellora, and ancient paintings in Ajanta), but the giant, throned Buddhas and the boddhisatvas that protect them are what really had me entranced.
I left Araungabad late at night, and took an overnight bus to Indore, where I made my way to the main city train station in the middle of the night. The streets were empty, save for sleeping cows, dogs on the roam and local men, rising before the sun to start their way to work. The urban streets were quiet, and it was peaceful riding through the cool night to the station...
Where I boarded a 14 hour train to Udaipur. For most of the ride, I shared the "booth" (it's all open) with a family with three small kids. The kids were brats and kept touching my stuff, screaming and jumping on the seats. They spilled chai on the ground which attracted roaches and their father smelled like actual poo. I hate them.
Udaipur was pretty well the perfect opposite from that long ride. Constructed around an enormous palace at the side of a serene lake, the city has a very easy-going spirit. There's not a whole lot to do, save for visiting the main tourist attractions (temples and palaces, of course), and sitting with a coffee on a rooftop restaurant to enjoy the quiet view.
From Udaipur, I went to Jaisalmer. The best way I can really describe that city is to call on images from Disney's version of Aladdin. Surrounded by seemingly endless desert, the city of Jaisalmer takes the same colour, almost blending in to the spanning yellow-brown landscape. A walled-in fort is perched on top of a hill in the centre of town; labyrinth-like alleyways brimmed with shops, guesthouses and restaurants fill it from end to end. As you walk these narrow streets, you look up the tall, flat walls, and can almost imagine the famous street thief jumping from rooftop to rooftop, fleeing with a stolen loaf of bread.
An overnight bus ride with a lady who periodically leaned over me to puke out the window, and her two screaming infant children finally took me to Pushkar. It's allegedly an extremely holy city, with the only temple dedicated to Brahma in India (as big a name as Shiva or Vishnu). Hindus believe that bathing in the city's lake will wash away their sins, and one-thousand temples around town seem to amplify the historical religious significance.
Holi is also about washing away the past. It's a Hindu holiday rooted in the idea of leaving what's done behind and starting fresh, embracing love and forgiveness in the name of a new spring season. On the eve of, there's a great bonfire, encircled by singing and dancing in the town square, and the following morning, the "game" begins. You wear clothes that you don't care for, in part because there's a pretty good chance they'll be ripped off of you, but also because they're about to be absolutely covered in paint.
It's a free-for-all festival, with everybody carrying bags or water-guns of colours as they run through the streets, seeking out new targets. Kids wait in secret on high-up balconies with buckets of water, dumping them on unaware passersby. There's also a big sweaty trance party at the centre of town, probably with more tourists than locals, all of them covered from head to toe in vibrant colours.
It was a pretty crazy week, all in all.