Sunday, June 22, 2008

Adventures in India: The Life of Kings

"Turn off your mind, relax, and float down-stream." - John Lennon, Tomorrow Never Knows.

The street life at night in India is just on the other side of reality. I had thought that there was nothing left in India that could shock me; surely by now I'd dived into the deepest and darkest of its waters. However, I've learned that there is always something more unimaginable around the next corner when you least expect it.

A nine-day festival is currently underway called Dussehra, dedicated to the goddess Durga (so says the guidebook). During the day I've seen a couple half-baked parades, so I wasn't expecting much. However last night was a real treat. At 9:00 after leaving the Venus restaurant (and an excellent meal) with two new Australian friends, we came across a stage set up in the middle of the street, composed of brightly colored cloth on a metal frame. Hundreds of small children sat quietly in front of the stage, while rowdy boys full of energy fought in the rear. They were here to see the "Ramayana", a sort of religious vaudeville show. We sat at a chai stall with a good view of the crowd and stage, and ordered some spiced chai. The show didn't actually start until 10:30, but the constant sensory stimulation formed an endless stream of fantastic images. It is like walking in a dream. There is no possible way to comprehend each individual image. To try would be to head down the path to madness. This is what causes severe cultural shock, but after a few weeks here I can handle a small dose. Here is sampling of some of the images that float by:

Children play and scream; brightly painted Hindu deities dance with fire on the stage; snake charmers show off their cobras for money; music from street musicians and loud speakers fills the air; camels stroll by led by small children; cows and goats wander aimlessly eating everything left on the ground; packs of wild dogs run through the streets; a white mule sits in front of the stage, to be chased off by the actors; gringos in hippie clothes stop to watch the show and smoke; touts approach all to sell everything from chai to motorcycles. I really wouldn't have been surprised to see wild elephants, circus clowns or bikers on big Harleys approach and fade into the night. The play is completely unfathomable to a westerner, although mesmerizing. Hallucinogenic drugs would be completely unnecessary here: how would you know when they've kicked in?

I walked back to hotel with the play (and the craziness) still raging at midnight. I couldn't sleep, so I went up to the rooftop terrace and talked with two gentlemen in their 60s from Belgium. They have been travelling together for years, and take every other trip with their wives. They didn't say which type of trip they liked better, but we agreed that the two are very different. They were friendly, talkative, and full of life - true role-models.

I don't know if every night will be like this. Part of independent travel is pushing the limits of what you think you are capable of; to come out smiling no matter what is thrown at you. I'll only have one more night of the festival before heading back to Delhi and home. I think that will be for the best, although many stay in Pushkar far longer than they intended. There is a soothing and soporific side to this town that causes one to linger.

I'll write again in two days before heading home.

No comments: