My leper's feet, and pushy Pushkar priests

Ayuverdic gunk reapplied and swelling dropping 1299 x 690

I have the feet of a leper. Well I was walking through the market, and both feet had just fallen off a leper and he suggested it would be a good souvenir. Ok I'm joking I mean my feet look like a lepers. Well even that's not fair, many lepers have nicer looking feet than me.

While I was working furiously at the beaches in Gokarna, my feet were being bitten by sand flies. And I scratched. Too much. I ended up with lots of open sores on my feet that didn't bother me until I left the beaches and moved to Gokarna town. I have a theory. While at the beaches I was swimming daily which disinfected the sores, and the sand was baked sterile by the sun. Gokarna is however a dusty town with lots of feral cows. Which means the dust is mostly cow shit, and that's what infected my sores.

It became a personal challenge to sort out my feet with my little medical kit, rather than visiting a doctor, or heaven forbid a hospital. Indian hospitals are a hotbed of antibiotic resistant bacteria, and people often come out sicker than they went in. Anyway I needed the experience. What if I was stuck on a desert island (with lots of plasters & disinfectant), or trapped in the mountains? I needed to be able to sort out this kind of thing myself.

Ayuverdic gunk washed off, sores nice and dry 1203 x 657

Also my immune system would be kicked into high gear, with lots of battle hardened white cells pouncing on any bacteria that had the stupidity to try to enter my body. A kind of immune cell Seal team 6.

So for 1 week I'm cleaning my sores with Dettol twice a day after determining my German bought antiseptic spray is not cutting it, applying iodine paste to plasters which I put on each sore, and covering the plasters with hard core sticky tape that is not so easily sweated off, and finally socks. Yes, socks with sandals in 30C heat, I'm a German caricature.

I've also spent way too long in this region, and its time to head to Hampi. There's two buses a day to Hampi: 07:00, and 19:00. I have very bad memories of night buses, so hop on the early morning bus. It takes 9 hours, and makes me vow never to take an Indian bus ride longer than 4 hours. A vow doomed to be broken!

Temple in centre of Hampi; with doctor 1299 x 690

Hampi is a tourist mecca with lots of interesting ancient temples, and a bizarre boulder strewn landscape that doesn't come across in photos. I decide to stay in the tourist ghetto Virupapur Gaddi across the river from Hampi bazaar. There's nothing there except hotels, restaurants, and the odd travel agent all strung along one road. On the other side of the road is a rice paddy, that comes alive with the sound of insects after dusk. Except...

You may have got the hint last blog that I'm sensitive about noise. Indians could never grasp the phrase “Silence is golden”. To them silence is the absence of sound; like starvation is the absence of food, or evil the absence of good. Rarely are you in a silent situation, with car horns used as a communication device, restaurants trying to attract customers with screeching music, generators making up for intermittent electricity.

After reading the following sentence in "Holy Cow" by Susan Macdonald, a book that manages to be cynical, funny, and enlightening, sometimes in the same sentence; I resolve to check out those Sikhs.

I have to stop myself from crying “Allelluia”, for these Sikhs seem to be the only Indians who understand that music sounds better if it's not making ears bleed. In shops, movies, restaurants, festivals, weddings, temples, train stations and parties music is always distorted beyond all comprehension.

However if an Indian does find you in the fearsome situation of enjoying the sounds of nature, he'll immediately rectify it with the biggest curse to hit India since my last visit: the mobile phone. However bad Sarah thought music sounds distorted by an overdriven stereo, Bollywood music screeching through ultra low quality mobile phone speakers is truly horrendous. I'm not joking, they'll sit beside you, ask where from, your good name, and then conversation possibilities exhausted protect you from silence with their mobile noise generators.

In Hampi I began to question the wisdom of not taking my feet to a doctor, and decided to go and search for one. Across the river to Hampi bazaar, and first decided to check out this temple right in the center of town. The Gods are at it again: I came across an ayuverdic clinic inside the temple. Decided that ayuverdic medicine would make more sense than western medicine in India, and in I went.

The Ayuverdic doctor's surgery 1299 x 690

The doctor cleaned all my sores, first with hydrogen peroxide, and then iodine solution. I'm a firm believer in no pain no gain, and I gained a lot from the iodine. Then he pasted some ayuverdic gunk on the sores. It basically looks like used axle grease, except not as dark or smooth. Burned a little bit, and then dried and formed a protective layer over the sores.

Except the nastiest one, somehow the gunk got sweated off. He told me come back in 2 days which happened to be a Sunday, so I made it back in 3 days. More peroxide, iodine and gunk, and I've been walking around barefoot ever since. The ayuverdic gunk dries to an ugly flaky black, and most people who saw my feet thought the black was gangrene or something more hideous. And they were surprisingly restrained in how they told me to go to a doctor or fly home or something.

Temple ruins in Ajmer 1200 x 1600

There's a lot to see in Hampi and its standard practice to get up before dawn while its cool, and climb to the Hanuman temple to watch the dawn. Hanuman is the monkey God, and don't the monkeys know it? Humans are walking banana carriers especially Westerners sent specifically to feed them by Hanuman himself. Hampi is an ancient royal centre with lots of palaces, but the highlight for me was the royal stables. Housing for 16 royal elephants. Each elephant had their own stable, and they seemed pretty roomy.

Hampi is still well South and the big heat is creeping up. One day it was 40C at 10:30. Just stepping out of the shade was like sticking your head in a furnace. So I decided it was time to go North. I've been wearing a lunghi for a while now. A lunghi is a wrap around skirt, men wear skirts all over Asia, and I'm hooked, way more comfortable than trousers in this heat. However I'm going to be 35 hours on a train sleeping on the upper bunk, and revert back to trousers to avoid feeling ehhmm exposed while climbing up.

So I'm rather annoyed meeting a New Zealander on the way to the train station who's got a beard a bird could build a nest in, and is wearing a male skirt or kilt, not even a lunghi. He tells me he decided to risk it. I've been reading the “Count of Monte Cristo” which is full of flowery language, and tell him:

Tis not your shame I feared, but the horror of your victim onlookers

Temple roof in Ajmer 1600 x 1200

Ajmer is a town with few tourists. I decide to spend 2 nights in a Haveli, a traditional house with 2 courtyards. Though the price is rather steep: over €10 per night I decide with my battered feet, and long train ride, a little luxury, hot showers, and WiFi will be nice. We eat with the hospitable, eloquent owners and their food is some of the best I've had in India. They also have a old German Shepard who can't have enough ear scratching and attention.

Jain creation of world 1600 x 1200

Ajmer is mainly a Muslim town and has an enormously important shrine to a Sufi saint where photos aren't allowed. It also has a Jain temple with a fantastical mockup of the creation of the world according to them. I didn't meet any Jain monks luckily because they are so devoutly ascetic they have absolutely no possessions, not even clothes. Although I did notice on pictures that some of them wear glasses.

Jain monk

Takeaway food served in bio-degradable leaf bowls 942 x 882

From Ajmer its a short hop to Pushkar built around a sacred lake, apparently the only town in India with a Brahma temple. As Brahma is the creator (with Vishnu preserving, and Shiva destroying), this seems a bit of a snub to such an important God. There's various mythologies around snubbing Brahma, but I've got a simpler theory.

If you exist you have no need for a creator God, you already exist. You certainly want to ask Vishnu to preserve you, or Shiva not to destroy you, or even better destroy your enemies and problems. Brahma has nothing to offer, and you focus your offerings on the more useful Gods. Pure self interest!

According the guide books, the priests in Pushkar, especially at the Brahma ghat try to extort donations. Sure enough I'm walking down to the lake on Brama Ghat, and a priest waylays me. I must have a puja before going to the sacred lake. He sits me down, gives me a coconut to hold in one hand, and a plate with flowers and incense in the other. He needs the names of all my family, and is especially interested in anyone dead. I have to repeat lots of mantras beginning with Om for each family member I admit to.

Eventually he's finished and then tells me it costs Rs200 of buy a meal for a poor family. Some people buy pay 5 meals, some 10, how many would I like to pay? I ask him that if I give him Rs2000 it will get to poor families and not into his pocket. He assures me a donation will be written down in his book. So I offer him Rs20. He appears shocked, even insulted. So I stand up and put my Rs20 donation into one of the big metal donation boxes that look much more official. His face is priceless as I continue to the lake.

Pushkar from across the lake

Is this photo worth Rs10 564 x 1503

Next morning on my hotel manager's advice I get up and walk around the lake at sunrise. Coming back this girl asks me to take her photo. I decline and she insists. I give up and take a photo. Then she demands Rs10. I decline of course, and she claims she's hungry. So I tell her I'm not giving her money but am going for breakfast and will invite her.

As we walk she tells me she's 15, lives with her 4 sisters in a tent. Then she announces she's not hungry now, but if I really want to buy her food she'd like a bag of chapati flour. So I end up going to a store with her and spending R100 on a big bag of flour. I should have just paid the Rs10. Then again she was very articulate, interesting, and if her story is true I guess I've bought some karma.

Bundi is supposed to be like Pushkar used to be (except it doesn't have a lake). It's another of those bus rides that makes me vow never to take a bus again. Not so long but this must be the bumpiest road in India (it isn't, I find bumpier). Now that my feet are almost under control, its time for my thumb.

One day it hurts, the next day there's this huge blister, and the whole thumb is painful. I discuss it with grandmother in the hotel I'm staying it, and propose it must be a spider bite. There's no broken skin, and the blister is spreading back along the thumb as if the poison is being carried away from the bite site. She agrees, and I head off to the Ayuverdic clinic. The doctor disagrees, and says its an infection. Somehow I don't like this doctor as much as the one in Hampi, even though his treatments are completely free.

My thumb starting to look nasty

My thumb after various treatments

This time I get the medicinal alcohol, and iodine treatment on my feet and thumb, and he even gives me a small bottle of some very oily iodine solution to change the dressing on my thumb.

Eventually Granny still agrees with me, a French psychologist agrees with the doctor, so I decide I'm obviously right. Germans are very fond of cabbage, so I wrap my thumb in a cabbage bandage to draw out the poison. It's soothing but my thumb looks no better. Next morning I try a onion and ghee poultice, which is even more soothing. Finally I show it to an American doctoral student and she says just take the antibiotics, and stop being silly.

I go to the chemist, and there's a vast choice of over the counter antibitotics. He also sells me vitamins too. My thumb is visibly better the next day, the ghee and onion poultice obviously worked.

Cows foraging in the rubbish 1600 x 1200

Feasting on German financed veg 1600 x 1200

I spend an afternoon with two German girls who are killing time waiting for their bus. They're disturbed by the sight of stray cattle foraging in the rubbish, and prowl the vegetable market to find the most dried, ugly, rotten vegetables. The woman says Rs20 per kg, and they buy the whole about 5kg for Rs50.

I'm impressed, the market woman is glad to get some money for her unsaleable vegetables, the cows got some decent food, and we all get some entertainment. I ask if they do this often and they've done it 3 or 4 times in their time in India.

As promised I'm not getting out of Bhindi by road. I book a ticket for Amritsar via Delhi. Rajashtan has been noisy every where I've gone, I'm going to check out those un-noisy Sikhs.

2011-06-23 15:24:28 Lakesha

Fureralz? That's marvelously good to know.
2014-12-13 14:33:12 Dayanara

Great stffu, you helped me out so much!

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