Search Results for: Pushkar

Birthday Party

mohit A-ssNirmal’s son Mohit turned three on May 1, 2015, the day before I got here, but he waited until my arrival to have the party. We talked about the party at the Mewar Haveli Hotel restaurant while we waited for my room to be ready. He told Rafiq and I that he was planning a large get-together with maybe around 120 people.

“Oh, no!” was our immediate simultaneous reaction. You have a big party, and you end up doing nothing but working to serve the guests. No time to enjoy yourself. Nirmal finally settled on around 20 relatives to invite.

The party was to start at 7:00. Pushker came to the hotel to pick me up in an auto rickshaw at 6:45. We were the first ones there. Rafiq and wife Shahi came shortly after, and Madu, a good friend of Nirmal’s also showed up. I was really glad that the party had been scaled down. Most of Nirmal’s relatives don’t speak English, and I was exhausted after the 30 hours of travel to Udaipur from Washington, DC. I knew I wasn’t going to be an effervescent party guest.

At around 8:00, I asked Nirmal, “Where are all the guests?”

“They are coming,” he replied.

They are not, I said inside my own head.

“Indians don’t come on time,” he continued. “You say seven o’clock and it could be eight, eight-thirty, and nine before they come.”

“Then you should have told them six.”

“I should have told them six,” he agreed.

It didn’t matter. They didn’t come.

I gave Mohit a copy of The Cat in the Hat, the only gift I’d had time to wrap before Pushkar picked me up. A typical American three-year-old would have had the wrapping paper torn off in a split second. In fact, Mohit’s two-year-old cousin was happily reaching out to do that honor because Mohit seemed to be frozen in time and space. He didn’t want to open the present, but he didn’t really want his cousin to do it, either. It took about an hour for the unveiling to take place.

“Ah, a book,” Rafiq said when he finally saw what it was. “Kids don’t care for books.”

But I had brought a copy of Horton Hatches the Egg the year before, and I was told that Mohit loved it. He did seem interested once he started paging through it and seeing the illustrations.

They brought out the birthday cake about an hour later, sang the birthday song, and Mohit blew out the candles. Apparently it’s traditional to feed each other a bite of cake. Mohit offered me a piece in his tiny hand after much coaxing by his parents. Even though he had seen me many times talking on Skype to his dad, he was very shy and didn’t want to approach me. I tried not to intimidate him by avoiding eye contact. Nirmal said it wasn’t just me, Mohit is shy around all strangers.

I asked Rafiq when would the presents be opened. I learned that in India presents are not opened in front of the guests. I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any presents other than the ones Rafiq and I had brought. Snacks were brought for the guests. We ate and chatted.

Nirmal’s stepmother noticed how tired I was. She asked if she could oil my hair and give me a head massage. She doesn’t speak English, so Rafiq interpreted. He said the head massage would lift the tiredness and give me energy. I never have to be convinced to get a massage, especially a free one, and happily consented. I was treated to the best head massage I’ve ever had. She used almond oil, which smelled wonderful. She worked on my head, neck and shoulders for about 20 minutes. And sure enough, a short while later I did feel less tired and more refreshed.

It was getting late and time to go. Tradition or no tradition, I wanted to see Mohit’s reaction when he saw the stuffed toy horse I’d brought him.

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Nirmal had told me how much Mohit loves horses. I thought that maybe the toy horse might elicit a reaction other than the terrified frozen stare I’d seen most of the night.

I took his gifts from my bag — the horse puzzle, the toy laptop and the little stuffed horse — and put them on the coffee table. I hadn’t had time to wrap any of them. The horse was in a clear plastic bag, and I had tied a gold ribbon around it. All of the adults cooed over the toy horse.

toy horse

The two-year-old cousin was excited and tried to help Mohit yank off the plastic bag, but Mohit refused. He didn’t seem to care much that the cousin grabbed the toy from him and began to play with it. Interesting, I thought. I bet all that will change once I leave.

Sure enough, I got an update from Nirmal the next morning. “Mohit loves that horse,” he said. “He won’t let anyone touch it. He slept with it last night.”

I laughed. “Did he ever take off the plastic?”

“No, he refused. He wants to protect it.” Nirmal smiled. “You won’t believe. He talk about you a lot. He asked me last night for each present, ‘Marie brought this for me?’ I say yes. He thought about it for awhile and say, ‘I like Marie.’”

I returned to Nirmal’s home that evening so we could all go out to dinner. Mohit hid when he saw me, but I saw him playing with the toy laptop on the bed.

Nirmal’s wife Bharti smiled. “He love the laptop. He sleep with it last night.”

I was glad he was having fun with his toys. Maybe next year he’ll come out of hiding when I visit.

Cultural Misinterpretations

Recently I’ve been reading a number of blogs written by travelers on their first trips to India. Some are interesting, some breathless, some cringeworthy, but all fairly crackle with the excitement of first contact with India. Despite little or no prior research on the culture, and with some having only a rose-colored glasses tinged romantic notion of what they’re getting into, most of the bloggers are having fun most of the time. Perhaps one of the reasons can be explained by what my Indian friends told me on my last visit:  In India, the guest is god.

Indians are generally happy to see foreign visitors in their midst, and they look out for them better than St. Cristopher. If you’re a foreigner in India, Indians will help you, rescue you and take care of you, even if they don’t know you. After waiting in line over two hours for the elephant ride at Amber Fort, where everyone was a captive audience for the constant pestering of touts hawking their wares, my patience had worn thin. Inside the fort, a few followed me around, not taking no for an answer. About the third time I heard, “Madam! Madam!” I snapped.

“Chalo! Chalo! (Go away!)” I growled.

“Madam, excuse me,” the earnest voice continued. “You don’t need to climb those stairs. There is a ramp on this side. It may be easier for you.”

I felt like a giant ass.

If they do know you, Indians’ hospitality, warmth and kindness is boundless. On the other hand, some will grope you, cheat you, annoy you and beg from you, just like some of your own countrymen at home. And then there’s the staring, which many travelers find unnerving. Indians do that. I’ve never noticed it. I’m too busy surreptitiously staring at them.

Happy Shopper

Happy Shopper

While on a bumpy rickshaw ride through Delhi’s Chandni Chowk neighborhood, I momentarily locked eyes with a lady shopper, and her whole face lit up. I hoped it was because she was happy to see a female foreign visitor in her usual shopping stomping ground. Yeah, let’s go with that!

Sharing the excitement of the maiden visit to India on these blogs is fun. I wasn’t immune to a huge amount of breathlessness in my emails to close friends while on the road experiencing massive daily doses of exotica, but by the time I had the time to blog about it, a good chunk of it was replaced by a more measured analysis of what I had seen and experienced. Too much breathless blogging is exhausting if not annoying to the reader. And although much of my first trip was overwhelmingly dazzling and wonderful, not everything in India is, like, totally awesome. Not the extensive, heartbreaking poverty; not the maltreatment of animals; not the pollution, litter and carelessness about the environment; not the repression and mistreatment of women; not the spate of brutal rapes and murders of women and children in the news over the last six months. India is not just a tourist’s magical wonderland. It has its problems and its dark side, just like my own country and every other country in the world.

What was cringeworthy was some of the ignorance. One blogger was surprised that traffic is on the left side of the road. History was always a painfully boring subject when I was in school, and I may not have paid a lot of attention at the time. But not to know that India had been colonized by England for, oh, a few years (almost a century) and to be unable to put two and two together is just embarrassing. Everywhere I go, the fact that people I meet know more about my country than I know about theirs motivates me to read more and research more about the places I go so that I can show them that not everyone in the U.S. is an ignorant clod. We in the U.S. really need to do something about our crappy education system and put more emphasis on learning about the rest of the world.

Even more cringeworthy were some of the cultural misinterpretations. We all analyze our travel experiences based on what we know, on what is familiar:  on our own culture. But these analyses — even with the benefit of research and other travel experience — are often grossly wrong. What you experienced and how you felt at the time are about the only parts of the experience that no one can argue with. It’s when you start trying to figure out what is really going on — and especially the why — that things really go off the rails. Sometimes a little research will shine a light on the mystery of an odd experience. Sometimes you’ll never figure it out. Better to wonder why than try to explain why, even to yourself.

I’ve been to India twice. I’ve had intercultural training in college, lived in another culture, done a bit of travel. I’ve read a lot of books about India, haunted India travel forums where I picked up many useful tips on Indian culture, and have learned some interesting cultural facts from my Indian friends. To mix a metaphor, I’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg. Despite my background, there are going to be oceans of things I don’t understand on future trips, and I’m sure to make some idiotic and embarrassing cultural mistakes because of my cluelessness. Happily for me, Indians will see the good intentions in my heart and forgive me as they will all the other blissfully ignorant foreign travelers.

Posts on this blog from my first India trip are sure to contain their fair share of cringeworthy cultural misinterpretations, some of which I may not even recognize for years to come. I haven’t decided whether to reread them and correct some of my ignorant first impressions. Guess I’ll just eat my shame sandwich and leave them there. I hope they at least provide plenty of comedy for the many Indians who read this blog, who are far too kind to correct me in public under the comments section.

Whether we misdescribe, misinterpret or misunderstand what we see and experience, we are all nevertheless much richer for having done it and having shared it.

The Dirty Hippie Hole

The itinerary originally called for two nights at Pushkar. Pushkar is known for hosting the annual camel fair and also for being a mecca for foreign weirdos and hippies. Many visitors recommend avoiding it because of the hassle factor, meaning that local peddlers are extremely tenacious.  I changed the itinerary to only a one night stay in Pushkar. We didn’t go to the city center, but after seeing how filthy it was on the outer edges of town, I wasn’t too interested. I later read something somewhere on the net where Pushkar was described as a dirty hippie hole. From what I saw, I’d say that was spot on.

It was shocking how much garbage there was everywhere. Pigs were nosing around in the debris, looking for something edible. I saw one that had a passenger. We had lunch at an open air pizza place that had persistent flies, poor service and not that good of a pizza.


Our garden motel at the edge of town was a beautiful oasis. I was looking forward to using the pool, but it had no skimmer or evidence of a pool cleaner. There was a coating of pollen on the water,  leaves in the pool and a growth of algae at one end. I wouldn’t even put a toe in there.


Aside from that, it was a very pretty place. There were outdoor speakers with pleasant music. We had dinner at one of the garden tables on the lawn, and it was delicious. As night fell, the mournful “miou, miou” of peacocks calling echoed down the mountain. It was a lovely, peaceful place to spend the night.


The next morning there was no time for anything but a quick stop at a mosque I saw on the way out of town.

Click, click, gotta go! I don’t like being a snap and run tourist, but there was no choice. We had to get to Jaipur in time for the elephant festival.

New Friends

It was my last night in Udaipur, and Nirmal and Pushkar wanted to take me out for a drink after dinner. I invited Prem to come with us, but he said he would stay at the hotel. He was concerned about me going out with these two guys that I barely knew, but I’d spent several hours chatting and laughing with them at Nirmal’s leather shop each day for the past few days and they seemed like nice guys.

Besides, Nirmal was a local shop owner and everyone knew who he was. Nirmal gave Prem his cell phone number and promised to have me back at the hotel by 9:30.

The guys took me to a very nice hotel bar where we had mai tais and laughed our heads off. Then Nirmal wanted to stop at a restaurant on the way back to say happy birthday to an acquaintance of his. Prem called while we were there because by now it was 11:00 p.m., and he was worried. We left shortly thereafter.

When our auto rickshaw pulled up to the Raj Palace Hotel, both Prem and the hotel manager were waiting out front.  I had no idea that the hotel manager locked the giant 15 foot metal front doors at night and was waiting for me to return. Prem was trying not to look worried, but I could tell that he was.

Prem told me later that a woman tourist had been murdered in her hotel room in Udaipur the previous year by some local men she had befriended. He said in a situation like that, the police arrest the driver first and ask questions later.  I apologized for being late and worrying him and promised I’d be on my best behavior for the rest of the trip.

Fortunately for me, Nirmal and Pushkar were as  nice as they seemed. The next morning, after I had breakfast at the hotel’s garden restaurant, they came by the hotel to say goodbye. Pushkar brought a little going away present for me, a small carving of Ganesh, the elephant headed god who was supposed to bring good luck.

Ganesh was Prem’s favorite god. He had a picture of Ganesh on the dashboard of our Tata Indica. I had a small carving on Ganesh on my desk at work and had picked up another small statuette at Jodhpur. Pushkar wore a small silver Ganesh charm around his neck, and Sri Ganesha Handicrafts was the name of Nirmal’s leather shop. Ganesh was certainly lucky for me.