Hey gals..whats cooking…where have you both been all these last 4-5 weeks…too busy cooking and eating than to write about them here? Ha ha ha… 😉 So are you guys surprised to see me so soon on the blog, unlike my usual self wherein I disappear for long spells??!!
Well, don’t be too surprised…it is just that I am missing a very very important event currently underway in India, since the 14th Jan 2013, the Maha Kumbh Mela at Prayag, Allahabad. The Maha Kumbh Mela happens once every 144 years and you are aware of the reasons why I have not yet been able to plan a visit there. Thus I am doing the next best thing of sharing tales of two other countryside Melas/Fairs, that are a must-do for the offbeat traveller in India, and which thankfully is an annual affair that you guys can visit in the next years.
End of Nov-2012 saw me at the famous Pushkar Mela, near Ajmer in Rajasthan. Pushkar, the sleepy, lakeside settlement boasts (albeit erroneously) of the unique honour of being the only place in the world to have a a temple dedicated to Lord Brahma, one of the 3 gods of the all-powerful Trimurthi (Trinity of three major Gods of the Hindu religion, other two being Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva), as mentioned in the scriptures of Hindu religion. I say erroneously since digging deeper through google, I have found evidence that there are temples dedicated solely to Lord Brahma in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even in the Angkor Vat temple complex of Cambodia. READ HERE
There are many interesting stories of why Pushkar is an important pilgrimage spot for Hindus, (READ HERE & HERE) , but the tranquil nature of the place has pulled me 420Kms away from Delhi to Pushkar 5 times earlier, for reasons which were never religious! Actually, this 6th trip was to experience the vibrant, colorful and action-packed animal fair/mela held every year around the full moon in the Hindu lunar month of Kartik (usually Nov-mid to Nov-end). For centuries the tradition has been that on the auspicious day of Kartik-Poornima, lakhs of people from all over the country congregate here to take a dip in the Holy waters of the Pushkar Lake, followed by a ‘Darshan’ of Lord Brahma (worshiping of Gods) in the Jagatpita Brahma Mandir.
This annual spiritual congregation also gave rise to the more earthly matters of economic and commercial kind, wherein the mela became the meeting ground for people to showcase, trade, sell and buy livestock animals like Camels, Horses, Cows, Oxen and Goats as well as a variety of agricultural equipment
An astonishing number of approx. 65000 animals, like camels, horses, including “Thoroughbred/Racing” horses, cows, bulls, ox, goats are brought here by people of Rajasthan to trade/sell/buy during the 8-day festival/mela/fair.
This traditional Indian style festival sees villagers from all over Rajasthan come and compete against each other in the first 5 days of the festival. Camels, horses and cattle are dressed up and decorated in their colorful Rajasthani finery of bells/colorful beads/colored harnesses, the animals are paraded in ‘beauty-contests’ to ascertain quality of their breeding and made to race and even dance against each other! While simultaneously along with these festivities, the people thronging the mela take out time to conduct the commercial tasks of buying and selling animals, agricultural equipment etc at a hectic pace.
The crowds are entertained with many unique events like Camel & horse dances, Moustache competitions (Believe it or not!!), feats of strength like Tug-of-War and wrestling bouts between villagers pitted against the best talents of other villages of Rajasthan.
Some fun contests are also held solely for the benefit of the Tourists/Visitors to Pushkar. Teams of ‘Local Rajasthani’ players take on teams that are formed on-the-spot from amongst the visitors/tourists to play games like Kabbadi, Football, Matki Phod and Handi Race.
Another aspect of such melas are the street performers who do a variety of tricks ranging from the simplest sleight-of-hand magic tricks to dangerous acrobatic acts. A fast-vanishing community of gypsy tribes, ‘the Banjaras’ who usually go from village to village to earn their living, find such melas a good opportunity to earn substantially, that can financially sustain them over many months.
MAUT KA KUAAN, MAUT KA KUAAN!!!
Literally translating to the ‘Well/Dome of Death’ wherein daredevil motorcyclists and drivers of Maruti 800 cars travel at death-defying speeds along the vertical walls of barrel-shaped wooden cylinders roughly 40 feet in diameter performing stunts as they drive, held in place simply by the strong centrifugal forces due to high speeds of their vehicles!!
I believe this is one of the scariest of Circus tricks anywhere in the world and a sight to behold, as for 5-7 minutes, the 2 bikers and 2 car drivers revved their engines to maximum capacity, creating an ear-splitting roar in the closed confines of the ‘Well of Death’ as they raced around and around the dizzying heights of the wooden well or ‘kuaan’ !!! The adrenaline rush and daredevilry at breakneck speeds without any safety gears whatsoever, seemingly defying the laws of gravity, makes for a very powerful performance that we enjoyed so much that we just had to watch it twice!
Evenings in Pushkar round the year, are best spent at the tranquil ghats of the Pushkar Lake, where special Aratis (Prayers offered by lighting oil lamps) are held in the evenings. It is no different during the Mela. As the sun sets slightly towards the left of Savitri Temple hill in the west, the priests on the south-eastern ghats prepare for the evening Aartis/Prayers.
Night does not mean the end of action during the Mela, as multiple venues across town come alive to the color and splendour of Rajasthan’s rich cultural heritage.
Are you guys wondering whats happened to your dear brother, how is it that I am not talking or sharing any of my foodie experiences in Pushkar!! He he ha ha…I was saving the best for the last!
Pushkar being considered a very holy pilgrimage city by Hindus, is like many other pilgrimage cities of India where non-vegetarian food is neither available nor allowed to be served and eaten within the town’s municipal limits. But this fact of Pushkar being a ‘only-vegetarian’ foods town has never left me short with options of vegetarian fare to choose from and each of my previous 5 trips to Pushkar have always been delightful gastronomic trips for me.
Usually each time I am in Pushkar, these shops are my favourite haunts, apart from the local fare of Kachori-Sabzi, Puri-Sabz, Malpuas, Jalebis with kadhaai Milk and more…
To wind up the day these sweet treats always await at around-the-corner sweet shops…
RAASTA KA PAASTA KA NAASTA!!!
This guy, Rajesh or Raju as he is known, is very popular amongst the locals for his version of the Italian Penne Pasta, served only in three choices of sauce, namely ‘Safed (White) sauce’ which refers to his take on the white and creamy Alfredo Pasta Sauce, ‘Laal (Red) sauce’ refers to a tomato-based sauce, which is an adaptation of the Italian Pomodoro sauce and ‘Mix sauce’, which is but naturally the mix of both! He has a huge set of regulars, especially amongst the young girls and guys, as we very frequently saw people walking over and asking for a plate of ‘Paasta Safedwala’ or ‘Paasta Laalwala’ ….Incidentally the mixed sauce one is a BIG hit amongst his regulars as he told us!!
On being asked how he learnt to prepare these foods, he told us that his 1yr stint at a Jaipur hotel’s kitchen had given him the idea to start this ‘hand-cart’ driven Pasta shop, back in his hometown of Pushkar. He also knew how to prepare other cuisines, but apparently after a close research of foods being served by the rooftop restaurants and road-side cafes of Pushkar he had zeroed in to the ‘Pasta’ since hardly any places served Pasta. Hats off to old-fashioned Business acumen and Indian-ingenuity.
Thus with thoughts of the ‘Raasta Ka Paasta’, I will sign off now…have said enough for the day and I will write about the other Poush Mela/fair of Shantiniketan in the next post 🙂
What say ladies!!
Be good and cook well, till we meet again…