Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Camel Toes as Far as the Eye Can See

The Indian experience has been a total rainbow of experiences. From the chaos and disorder of Delhi to the grandeur of the Taj Mahal and the friendliness of the Rajasthani people, we have learned and felt more in India than we ever imagined.

India is, in a word, crazy. There are over a billion people here, and they all live in close proximity to each other, brushing shoulders as they pass on the sidewalk, maneuvering through the streets in cars and on bicycles and scooters and motorcycles, crushing together on trains and buses and in stores and restaurants. It's a testament to personality that they manage to do all this with hardly any conflict or anger. They also are quick to smile, or to strike up conversation with a stranger, and are even quicker to offer help if you look like you might be wondering where you are or where you're going for even one millisecond.

The down side of this kind of friendliness when coupled with a certain population of people intent on earning a day's living against all odds, especially when they see western tourists as walking dollar signs, is that you believe that you can trust nobody and accept aid from no one. Too often we have been given a friendly wave and smile from a child, followed with an outstretched hand and the demand, "Tip?" It's a little disheartening to realize that they aren't interested in us only because we look like fun people. On one hand, we understand that we have in our wallets more money than many of these people will make in a year, and that we're spending it on the fragmented and amorphous quest to "see the world." Relatively speaking, the few dollars they ask us for are practically nothing. On the other hand, we bristle at being asked for money when the person asking has done basically nothing (like the guy who points and says, "The bathroom is that way... tip?" as we walk towards the sign that says TOILETS NO CHARGE), when it's done with the intention of misleading us, or when the guy is a grown man with no discernible disabilities. I should point out here that there are many genuinely needy people here, and our hearts and minds are alternately tortured with guilt that we haven't given enough and guilt that no matter how much we give, it will never be enough.

We have just spent four days in Pushkar, taking in the sights and sounds this holy town, and more significantly, attending the annual Pushkar Camel Fair. Every year, over 30,000 camels, cows, and horses (and their respective owners) descend upon Pushkar for a week of camel trading, camel racing, camel decorating, and camel dancing.

I was going to say that I've never seen so many camels in my life, but having never seen even one camel in real life anyway, that seemed like a moderately silly statement. However, I will say that there were a heck of a lot of camels there! We took two camel cart rides through the fairgrounds and could see nothing but camels. Camel humps, knobby camel knees, and camel toes were everywhere, stretching into the Rajasthani desert in all directions. The "fancy" camels were bedecked and bedazzled in mirrored crochet or macrame shawls, pom-poms, flowers, and beaded necklaces, not to mention jingling anklets and multiple nose piercings, and they still managed to look dignified and nonchalant. We rode behind two camels: one named Rama, the other named Shamu. We also learned that we could buy a camel for the equivalent of $100 for an old clunker to $600 for a luxury model -- tempting, but we resisted.

You know what else was ubiquitous in Pushkar? Hippies. There were almost as many of them wandering around as there were camels -- creative and often extensive facial hair (men), unshaved legs and armpits (both genders), dreadlocks (both genders), Birkenstocks or flip flops, baggy striped MC Hammer pants,long scarves, home-rolled cigarettes. Actually, the hippies are kind of everywere in India, and they make me feel distinctly uncomfortable and out of place here, as though we don't fit in or aren't really achieving the whole "India Experience." So, great -- we're halfway round the world and I'm worried about not fitting in with a bunch of people that I've never spoken to and will probably never will see again, instead of focusing on the task at hand, which is learning to read the Indian train schedule... but that's another story.

1 comment:

Chelle said...

What is the difference between an "old clunker" camel and a "luxury model"? :P

Pics of pierced camel noses pls! (I'm intrigued)