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The journey to Ajmer

Ajmer Travel Blog

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the passing landscape, like a slip of the paint brush

My train from Jaipur to Ajmer is four hours late and I divide my time waiting between reading a book and answering questions of curious people. The station typically has a faint odour of urine and excrement. People are crossing the tracks, children are crawling around underneath a train, men with crooked legs are dragging their limp bodies along the platform. In between are the women who never seem to lose their countenance, if their sari slips from their heads they lift it back up with elegance, their motion angelic and dignified.

At 5.

the restaurant where I had dinner
30pm the Ibadat Express 2395 train finally trundles into the station and I take a seat in an empty compartment. Dirty children with potato sacks walk through the train, collect rubbish and hope that maybe one day a passenger will leave something valuable behind.

Today feels like a day off. Nobody´s sitting next to me on the train and sometimes this silence can be quite relaxing as well. As the train leaves the station and I bid farewell to Jaipur, the inclining sun throws its last power onto pink house walls and the slums of the suburbs. The Tiger Fort is already losing itself in the half-light. The landscape rushes past the train window as if a shivering painter brushed against the horizon. I´m in harmony with myself.

I arrive at Ajmer station at 8pm on a pitch-dark platform.

shop in Ajmer
I leave the station and as soon as I´m spotted as a foreigner, about a dozen people are attacking me: “Rickshaw! Taxi! Hotel! Rickshaw! Rickshaw!!“ Nowhere else is silence as brutally interrupted by chaos as in India. The serenity of the train in one moment, sensory overload in the next moment.

I approach a group of cycle rickshaw drivers and ask them for the Hotel Jannat. Everyone is literally at one another´s throat in order to drive me there. A short guy among them rears up in front of me and I ask him for the price. “200 Rupees,” he says. Which is of course way too much so I show him my best sneer. The other guys notice that the price of the short guy was way over the top and hit him on the back of his head and scold him for quoting such an exorbitant price.

the crowded street
Then, without any further haggling from my part the price drops automatically as they are competing against each other: “150! 100! 70! 60! 50!” I tell them “30”, one says “okay, 40”, so we agree on 35.

There are two choices when arriving at a new place in India: a) to be vandalised and surrender defenseless and let yourself be cared into the next rickshaw or b) to get rid of the first couple of people and simply keep on walking as if you knew what you´re doing, then choose a small group of rickshaw drivers, let them build a semi-circle around you, then cool down the situation by saying “aram se” and then let them compete against each other, act offended when hearing a high price, pretend to walk away as if you weren´t interested at all and then after a while someone will quote the price that you wanted in the first place.

Dargah main gate

I take a seat on his cycle rickshaw and the driver pedals towards the city lights. We drive through winding and narrow and dark alleys into the centre of Ajmer. What a place! Crumbling roads on which sides flows sewage water, cockroaches and rats shying away, confused cows, the mistery of the dark night and the strangeness of a new city. When we arrive at the Hotel Jannat I find out that the only available room there is 2500 Rs, so I decide to let my rickshaw driver decide where he should take me next. He takes me to the Hotel Shahanshah Palace where he gets his commission. The room costs 770 Rs, which is more than my budget allows but the room´s worth it and in comparison to the rooms I stayed before almost luxurious with a soft mattress, a TV, 24 hour hot water and a big bathroom. The receptionist wants to know the story of my life; he´s asking a thousand details for registration and the C-Form, passport number, visa, address, name of father (??), etc.

Indians watching TV
Then he asks me for a deposit of 1000 Rs. I question him about ten times “what for?” and since he doesn´t know the answer himself he says “okay, cero rupees deposit then” and smiles whimsically.

After resting in my room for about ten minutes I´m getting hungry so I walk to to the main street and have a Panjabi Thali. Then I stroll down the main street. I´m the only foreigner in sight and that means all the attention is mine. What an atmosphere! The street is packed with people, there´s shop next to shop next to shop and people eating, drinking, buying, shouting, laughing; cows, dogs, children, food, rubbish, music. I walk until I reach the nicely lighted Dargah main gate. The Dargah of Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti dates back to the 12th century and is the tomb of the Sufi saint. Don´t ask me who or what a Sufi saint is, though.

the groom on a white horse
The tomb is the end of a pilgrimage route which starts in Agra and the Dargah is considered by Muslims to be the second holiest site after Mecca. I decide to visit it tomorrow and instead walk around a bit more through the hustle and bustle. A crowd is gathering around a small TV watching a Bollywood film with great attention and enthusiasm, as if it was their first time of seeing moving images. Children, first 2, then 3, then 4, then 5 are dogging my steps and want to sell me all kinds of crappy items. They tug at my shirt and jump up and down in front of me to get my attention. After five minutes I tell them a phrase I´ve learnt by heart before I came to India: “Mujhe tang mat karo! Cale jao!” (Don´t annoy me! Go away). But instead of doing what I told them, they start smiling even more as they notice I speak some Hindi. People are turning their heads, coming closer to see the foreigner who knows some of their language. I tell them in Hindi where I´m from, what my name is and where I learnt Hindi, that “hindi bahut mushkil hai” (Hindi is very difficult) and “mai hindi bahut thori bolta hu” (I speak only a little bit of Hindi). By now about five people are firing questions at me and even more have stopped to eavesdrop. I´m the centre of attention and in that moment I´m actually enjoying it. I´m thinking of turning it into a show and ask them for money, like a street performer: “Ladies and Gentleman, mesdames et messieurs, please step closer, don´t be shy, come closer to see the foreigner speak some words in Hindi, look at his white skin and weird facial features and strange clothes, only 10 Rupees!”

Loud noises interrupt us all. A big crowd of people is approaching us on the street with drums and trumpets. It´s a splendid wedding wedding march. People holding bright lamps are leading the way, followed by the musicians and dancing children and in the middle of it all the completely veiled groom on a white horse. Behind him are all spinsters and women wearing their most precious saris, clapping and cheering and dancing to the rhythm of the music.

I simply stand there feeling amazed and let the happy crowd pass by. Feeling lighthearted I then walk back to my hotel and try to let everything sink in.

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the passing landscape, like a slip…
the passing landscape, like a sli…
the restaurant where I had dinner
the restaurant where I had dinner
shop in Ajmer
shop in Ajmer
the crowded street
the crowded street
Dargah main gate
Dargah main gate
Indians watching TV
Indians watching TV
the groom on a white horse
the groom on a white horse
Ajmer
photo by: Morle