Posted in Rajasthan, travel

Zostel? – For a GenZ travel experience!

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I have been traveling around my country since 14 years now. I often find myself in places that would either be extra ordinary or out of the ordinary.  India is a beautiful country and the people here are all the more beautiful, anyone who has been here will vouch for that. We are the perfect example of hospitality and not just traditional but also blend it with a pinch of modernity. If there was one thing that I had to pick up about India from a travelers’ perspective, I’d say, we are naturally hippie!

We are the messengers of peace and brotherhood, propagators of love and warmth. We open our hearts and let everyone in. And we like it that way, we are proud of our hospitality, of all those small and big things that we not only care about but also share. I sometimes dream of another life where I am born in another world and I am drawn to this country and get amazed as I see these cultures like an outsider. Yet again I fall in love with this land.

Whether born as an Indian or not, the heart is forever Indian. And I witness how men and women from the west are attracted to the east. We welcome them, sometimes be one of them and let them be one of us. We celebrate being together, and spread the joy that comes from wandering.

It is during these wandering tours that I end up meeting people who love India. Whether it is tent pitched under the stars on a lonely hill, a chamber hall behind a popular temple where you can spend the night for free, a verandah of the only school in the village, a 150 year old traditional house in the forest or a bunk bed shared dormitory, I have tried them all. Life actually happens in all of these interesting and not so luxurious accommodations.

One such exhilarating experience came from a recent stay at a Hostel in Rajasthan. Though the state is known for its luxurious homecomings, there is space for the traveler on road. At Pushkar and Udaipur, I booked myself a shared dormitory bed at Zostel. An upcoming and expanding chain of hostels across India, this brand is catching up fast with its must have presence in must go places.

For me, it was the first time that I stayed at a traveler’s hostel and within no time I could see how it was adding value to my solo trip. First things first, it was very economical, commendably clean and a fantasy perk for the eyes. The moment you enter, you see those big cushions lined up across the wall with a low bedding, and all you want to do is jump on them. The hanging bulbs from the ceiling and the mythological graffiti on the walls were making it look very attractive. The house has the local aesthetics, the people have local warmth and the cuisine has local taste, all that a global traveler needs.

The rooftop restaurants besides the ‘cook your own food’ facility is also the chilling zone and the heart of these Zostels. Great food is accompanied by great music, a fantastic view and an amazing company. Friendships strike over everything here – be it your book, your collection of country music, a drag of your light or simply a lemonade. There is a breeze of stories, mild as well as wild, that gives a great vibe to this place. I spent a soothing afternoon at Zostel Pushkar and a chirpy talkative evening at Zostel Udaipur. When conversations get a view, they sound more intimate and the comfort zone builds up flawlessly at Zostel.

Apart from the relaxing and chilled out scenes at this traveler’s hostel, they also offer other travel related services like ticket booking, travel inquiries and nearby offbeat day trips. Another add on is the wifi service which enables a ‘work on the go!’ which is a booster for many who travel. If you are not looking for something formal and can adjust to the free spirit, then I am sure, Zostel is your hideout.

The next on my mind is Zostel @ Varanasi, it is a city that is said that every Hindu should visit once in their life.

 

Posted in Life Travel, Rajasthan, shiva, travel

Is Pushkar the new Hampi ?

I have been to Pushkar a long time ago and I vaguely remember the colorful bazaars and the saffronized Ghats of the Pushkar Lake. However, I distinctly remember the Brahma temple, the only Brahma temple in the world, making Pushkar a uniquely important spot for the followers of Hinduism. The atmosphere here is very spiritual, there are stories about the cursed creator, which almost everyone lives by and there is a lake in the desert that amazes everyone. Despite its relevance in the religious circles of India, it has managed to remain a tiny town with no real projection of its own. This perhaps, brings Pushkar on the world tourist map, especially for the ones who wish to disconnect. And this is precisely what I wanted for myself. I have been following the social media posts for Pushkar lately and I wonder what attracts the young to this undeveloped and undisturbed town that sees almost no action all day long.

The town of Pushkar is spread within a few kilometers only. The road from Ajmer that leads to Pushkar is a hilly terrain with some simple curves. The hills that you would be turning around are dusty, rugged and uprooted; they are rather rocky than tall making themselves very distinct from the skyline, they look vulnerable, dry and dead. They are not yet parched by the sun for the summer heat will snatch away any of the life left in them. They are spread far and wide, commonly also known as the Pushkar Tirathgarh Forest. There is an enticing route leading in that you would come across on the way. If only I was not sitting in the bus and had a bike to ride inside, it would have been an adventurous day.

Nevertheless more adventures were waiting for me up ahead. In no time, I reached the Pushkar bus stand. I had already made my bookings with Zostel, one of the most upcoming hostel chains in India. A GenZ concept, this one had all the cues of a cool and free spirited stay. A bunk bed cleanly prepared, just next to a rooftop restaurant, sharing the dormitory with travelers across the globe, bean bags and floor beddings everywhere, creative graffiti and posters, the ambience was just right to spend the day.

As I spent the breezy afternoon, lazing on a yellow bean bag, listening to some psychedelic music, I suspended myself to this carefree atmosphere of Pushkar. With no one around and no thoughts on mind either; I was smiling for being there. Sometimes, these simplest of experiences become the most precious of all. Being alone and yet not lonely counts as one of the richest moments of life.

The evening was spent exploring the town of Pushkar which spreads in only a few kilometers. As I walked out of my hostel towards the main bazaar, I kept revisiting my time in Hampi.

Is Pushkar the new Hampi? I wondered.

Amidst all its innocence and ignorance, Pushkar boasts of significant global attractions, a culture of peace, a carefree attitude towards life and no signs of fast paced urban development making it a hotspot for the hippie tourists. I could see another Hampi in its streets. Randomly spread rocks, unfinished houses, cows everywhere, open drains, selfless people, command over various languages, a sun that bakes the place during summer but keeps the sky bright, the hindu trails, a long treasured history, all those small yet noticeable things were coming to my mind. These places refuse to accept the urban phenomenon but happily embrace the humans of the world.

While Hampi has more historic signs, Pushkar is witness to the spiritual signs of life. There is a sincere sense of devotion towards the Hindu Gods, there are sadhus who withdraw from the conventional life and accept the beggars’ lifestyle and there are tourists, both Indian and foreign who want to be a part of it.

These long bearded Sadhus are found at every nook and corner of the town. Many immersed in high spirits most of the time, they keep a possession of their own delusions, it never seems like they have any kind of connection left with the rest of the world and yet they are pretty much a part of the Hindu clan. They are the true wanderers of our planet; they are the ones without motives and plans.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

The Chota Bazaar of Pushkar that also leads to the Pushkar Lake and further to the Brahma Temple is the major attraction of Pushkar. I entered the colorful Bazaar and reminisced the last time I came to this vibrant corner of the world. It is only the name that calls this place small, actually the market stretches a long way and makes way for 52 possible ways to reach to the lake. Varaha Ghat, one of the most sacred spots, appears suddenly on the way inside the market and gives a wide angle view of the Pushkar Lake set in the valley. From the steps that lead down to the waters, one can see the far end of the lake, and the sun that seems to set in the forest beyond.

Mythological tales of this lake suddenly appearing in this deserted region makes it all the more significant. Endless stories of Lord Brahma and his encounters with his angry wife, the falling of the two lotus flowers and the lake that appeared overnight, every being here has grown up knowing these facts and the belief is stern. It is the strong faith that people live by, keeps the spiritual fire alive.

The Brahma Temple in Pushkar is the only Brahma Temple in this world. The God of creation is praised, adored and shown reverence in this otherwise insignificant town of Pushkar. Not only is there a Brahma temple to be visited here, as I checked the map of this place I also happened to come across a mosque and a sikh dham (Gurudwara) in the vicinity.

The beauty of Pushkar, and even Ajmer for that matter is the coexistence of and the attitude of sharing the space with other religions, despite the stronghold of one of them.  This was a trip dedicated to witnessing the spiritual symbolism, only differentiated from one another by means of culture and old established religions. Starting my trip by visiting the dargah, followed by the visit to Brahma temple and ending the journey in the warmth of Gurudwara, it became a kaleidoscopic journey into the rituals of peace.

I concluded this solo voyage at the bazaar of Pushkar, brimming with colorful vibes that is so in tune with Rajasthan. The picture postcards, the loosely hung bags with glass and thread works on them, the usual handprints on the modern designs of clothes, all of them make this bazaar a concoction of new and the old. There are newly opened cafes serving world cuisines that typically reminded of Hampi and how the remotest of places in India are accepting the farthest of cultures.

Italian food was on my mind since morning and I was affirmative to get it. I looked at the pale blue evening sky as I relished olives, jalapenos, mushrooms all wrapped in the molten cheese over a thin crust. I walked back happy, though a bit confused about the way back as there are too many forky ways that dissect and are hard to identify after dusk.

If unwinding is a part of your plan, then let Pushkar be on your list. You can be with the wind and your own thoughts at just the pace that you want to be in. If you are a solo female traveler, you can leave behind the safety related worries and have the peace in your mind.

Posted in Rail Journeys, Rajasthan, travel

On a winter morning, At Ajmer Sharif Dargah

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Are you a solo traveler in India? Are you a female solo traveler in India? More so, are you a female solo traveler paving your way towards Ajmer? Here are a few generic insights culled out from my recent trip to Dargah Sharif, where was laid the foundation stone of Islam.

The distance to Ajmer can be set in an overnight train from Delhi, if you are a loner, prefer booking your berth in the AC coach for a few logical reasons. The co passengers are more trustworthy, you can trust them with the luggage in case you want to use the loo. If it is a wintery night, you get clean bedding that makes your night journey more comfortable.

Once you reach Ajmer, use the G-maps to find out the way. Dargah is at a walkable distance from the railway station as well as the bus stop. Beware of the rickshaw-walas who might want to charge you a hefty amount knowing that you are a tourist in their city.

There are different gates to reach the Dargah. The Laxmi Bazaar entrance is the nearest from the station. It is absolutely safe to cross check your way with the locals there but make sure you ask at least a handful of people to get a confirmation on the way. There are quite a few twists and turns on the way; the bazaar lanes branch out into a multitude of routes which the G-map might not be able to identify.

Once you are closer to the Dargah, you would be approached by many shop owners to buy items that you can donate at the Dargah. Be very conscious of buying, in case you do not want to donate, do not be bothered by their constant nagging. In case you change your mind later, there are shops within the Dargah as well. Many of them will also trick you into removing the shoes and keeping it in their shop; make sure you do not fall for one of those. There are proper facilities available within the Dargah and it is best to use them. They are safe and closest to what you can get.

If you are one of those tourists who like to spend a lot of time understanding the history and architecture of the monument, or if you are one of those who like to immerse in the spiritual vibe of the shrine, or even if you are one of those who like to spend a comfortable time with the God within the shrine, make sure you carry minimum luggage with you and in fact nothing significant. Ajmer Sharif Dargah is usually a very crowded spot, owing to its significance in the religious history of India. Even though luggage deposit services are available, it is hard sometimes to manage everything manually, which can lead to an increased probability of losing the stuff. The crowd is immense during the Urs and other Islamic festivals. A high alert level should come in handy at a place like this.

Usually one tends to be immersed in the sufi vibe of this place but being a solo visitor can make you lose the carefree vibe. While it is important to enjoy the peace of the place, it becomes equally important to not lose the peace of our own mind. Personally, I chose a mundane Monday morning to visit the Dargah; it was not surprising to find a lot of walking space and yet witness the sincere dedication and offerings of the faithful.

There is a tint of green in everything you see inside the Dargah. The old monument is intact and holds the history of many generations within. Many emperors have witnessed the rise of Islam through this very land. A faith of many centuries is visible and strongly held in the practices followed even in this modern age.  Some of the archaic traditions are still in practice. From invocations to blessings, many there have something to seek from Allah; many also are searching for themselves, within their soul. It is a common sight to see humans rolling themselves on the floor, crying out loud, just so the God hears them, accepts them and give them what they want. Some of these traditions seem to be unnerving in today’s age.  But then there is also the most natural, and always within range, the sufi music, which is soothing and soul touching. It has the shine of the sun and the depth of the ocean. It has the divinity which not only reaches for the clear conscience but also touches the surreal depths of the heart. If I had more time and no further travel plan, I would have waited in the shrine to see, hear and absorb more of this music that fills the air.

I was getting somewhat conscious being alone there and was not up to the highest mark of my carefree capabilities. I decided to take an early bus to Pushkar, 15 kilometers from Ajmer, where I was looking forward to explore some of the more unique pilgrimages of India.

As I found out my way out from the Dargah, the first thing I saw was a Hindu temple and a little further, on the main road, was a church. It fills me with wonderment every time I see these tiny yet significant examples of the national integration and harmony. In a pro-Islamic area, there is space and an open heart for the other cultures to co-exist. This is the true India that the world needs to see!