How far is it to Ajmer?”, I asked, concerned.
Ajmer, although famous for its holy Muslim shrine to the great Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, was not originally on our itinerary. So how did we find ourselves seeking its Accident and Emergency department at 11pm on Easter Saturday?
Puskhar, a sacred Hindu town boasting 400 temples and a stunning holy lake, lies 11km from Ajmer. We and other westerners, some of whom appeared to live a Hippie lifestyle there, were soaking up its culture and charms. The ever threatening presence of mosquitoes, though, had prompted a friend to assemble his mosquito net, a non-trivial procedure that involves attaching a cord to the ceiling. The ceiling, however, was already occupied by a viscous yet ineffectual electric fan, rotating very quickly in an attempt to stave off the heat. Indeed it is not surprising that there were two capitals of British India; Delhi for the winter and the Himalayan Shimla for the summer. We “Britishers”, although cowering under factor 50 sun block, sunglasses and hats, were still scorched by the Rajasthani April heat.
Needless to say, a brief collision between person and said fan necessitated a speedy drive to Ajmer. We already were familiar with the adage “There are three things you need when driving on Indian roads, a good horn, good breaks and good luck.” Although blessed with all these, the drive was still hair-raising since cows and wild beasts are neither responsive to horns nor fitted with headlights. After a few extremely cheap remedial stitches from an excellent doctor, we returned to Pushkar, a little shaken.
The next day we discovered that Ajmer had another important visitor, the Pakistani president, his first trip to the shrine after 7 years. This followed important talks with the Indian Prime Minister so we felt our proximity to history in the making. Also, a local gentleman tried to persuade us to make a large donation at a nearby temple in order to quicken recovery. Indeed all Indians we met found religion important. And one of their newest religions is cricket. We discovered this when we joined 48,000 others to watch the home team Delhi Daredevils take on the Chennai Super Kings for their Indian Premier League match. A flash thunder storm in the afternoon prompted fears of Wimbledon-esque rain breaks, but thankfully the only adverse effect was a damp seat. A live band and some unrestrained cheerleading enhanced our cricket experience as we saw Delhi crush Chennai with the aid of Kevin Pietersen. We envied his chance to get to know such an enchanting and diverse country. We wondered how he coped with all the spicy curries, the unpredictable driving and the crushing heat. And we marvelled at how he managed to hit the ball so far.