Devorah Lev-Tov

Writing ⋅ Editing ⋅ Consulting

Devorah Lev-Tov is a writer and editor with 12 years' experience. She writes about food, travel, luxury, and lifestyle for multiple publications including The New York Times, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic. An ex-pat from the publishing world, she is also an illustrated nonfiction book editor, with expertise in developmental editing and cookbook/recipe editing. In addition, she has several years' experience in event marketing and nonprofit copywriting. She's eaten her way through Central and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, and much of the United States.

Filtering by Category: Transit

India: Getting To The Pushkar Camel Fair

Our second week in India, we went to Pushkar, one of the holy cities of India. Pushkar is a desert town that surrounds a beautiful lake and has tons of temples, including the only Brahmin temple in the world. Every year, it hosts a camel fair. Originally the biggest camel trade event of the year, the Pushkar camel fair has turned into a one of India's largest festivals. When we found out about it, we decided we had to go.

Our journey to Pushkar was a long one. We took a two hour flight to a city called Jaipur, which is one of India's most visited cities, mostly due to its proximity to Delhi. In Jaipur we had to wait a few hours for a train. When I was in India five years ago, I was told by multiple people that Jaipur should be skipped if possible. Now I understand why. It may be because we were only near the train station, but the city was very unpleasant. We struggled to find a decent restaurant to eat lunch in, then went to wait for the train. Trains in India have a number of different classes. In some classes, like the one we had tickets for, seats and a specific car are assigned to each ticket holder. At the train platform there are signs telling patrons where each car will be. We went up and down the platform and could not find the sign for our car. We asked a few locals and no one was able to help us, some even doubting the validity of our tickets. We decided to wait near a sign for a car in the same class.

All of a sudden, our train switched tracks.  The stairs to the overhead walkway quickly filled with people  going to the new platform.  Others took a different approach--they hopped off the platform, crossed the tracks four feet below, and jumped back up on the other side. Not knowing if we had enough time to cross via the overhead walkway, we followed suit--jumped down into the tracks, crossed over, and jumped up on the opposite platform.

Once again, we walked up down the track and were not able to find the sign for our car. When the train finally arrived, we got on a car in the same class as ours, found open seats, and sat down, hoping that we wouldn't get kicked off the train in the middle of the desert. Fortunately, the conductor took our tickets and checked us off his list without saying a word.  The train was about 3 hours and took us to a town called Ajmer. From there, we took a 30 minute rickshaw to Pushkar.

The locals are well aware of the draw of the festival and hotel prices during this time are four to five times what they are normally. Most hotels are fully booked by the time the fair starts. We had booked a room ahead of time in one of the cheaper hotels which, at the inflated rate, was still pretty expensive by Indian standards. When we got to our hotel, we were brought into the room and it was disgusting--the sheets were filthy and had holes in them and the bathroom included an Indian style toilet (a.k.a. hole in the ground) that looked like it hadn't been cleaned in a while.  We considered roughing it until we looked more closely at the bed and noticed a large bug crawling on it.  We started calling other hotels immediately. Most were full or out of our price range. One hotel I called told me they were booked for that night, but had a room open for the rest of the nights and we could sleep on their "rooftop dormitory" for 300 rupees that night. When I said I would have to call him back, he halved the price of his room and offered for us to sleep in the dormitory for free. We ended up taking him up on that offer and he said he would send someone to pick us up.

Leaving the disgusting hotel was awkward. We told them that we were not interested in the room and they tried to bargain with us. We said that price was not the issue and went outside to wait for our ride. As we waited for our pickup, the owner of the first hotel stood next to us and tried to convince us to stay. After a while he stopped talking, but continued to stand there and watch us. It was very awkward. It took a long time for our ride to come; they had gone to the wrong hotel originally. Finally, two men showed up on motorcycles. We each hopped on the back of a bike and they took us to our new hotel. When we got there, we followed them up to the rooftop dormitory, which turned out to be just some mattresses laid out on their roof, but thankfully with clean sheets and blankets. So we slept underneath the desert stars that night. When I woke up early the next morning, I looked over the balcony and saw three hot air balloons floating over the city.

India: Our first week in Bombay

I was last in Bombay five years ago, and since then the city has been going through a construction boom. Just looking out the window of our 6 AM taxi ride from the airport to our new Bombay home, the boom was already evident: new overhead walkways, large buildings, bridges, etc. Advertisements for cement companies are everywhere. The pace of development puts New York to shame. I have noticed a few other changes in the city as well. There is an emerging green movement and a new "Clean-Up Mumbai" initiative. Aside from improved garbage collection, "Clean-Up Mumbai" includes fines for littering, urinating, washing a car, etc. on the streets. There is also a fine for defecating in the street, which, of course, is the smallest fine. More importantly, fines are levied on street vendors that don't provide garbage bins. This is a huge change for a city that I used to say had thirty public trash cans for 20 million people. It was difficult having to teach myself to throw garbage on the ground because there was often no other choice. On the other hand, the lack of trash cans gave me an appreciation for the fact that India is a spitting rather than a nose blowing culture --where would all those tissues go? Anyway, the new policy seems to be working--the city is certainly cleaner than I remember.

Another change is the way women ride on their husband's motorcycle. Five years ago, the iconic image of an Indian family--a man on his motorcycle, with his wife sitting sidesaddle behind him and one or two children sitting up front--was fairly common here. Almost all the couples/families on motorcycles had the women riding sidesaddle. Now, it seems like four out of five women on motorcycles sit normally, straddling the seat, and I've even noticed several women driving their own bikes. I'm not sure how much of this change is because we are are in the more modern neighborhood of Bandra or because of a change in the city's culture, but it's definitely noticeable.

We spent our first week here adjusting. The adjustment took longer than I thought. When I left here five years ago, I really missed the city. I felt at home here and that feeling came back to me every time I was in a place even remotely like Bombay. I expected to have that same feeling the moment we landed here, but the combination of not volunteering for the first week, exhaustion from three weeks of intense travel, and the heat and humidity which made being outside unbearable throughout most of the day made me anxious about our choice to live here. Once I started working and a semi-routine emerged, things improved. The heat has yet to improve.

Our first few days in Bombay were during Diwali, the Hindu new year. I've read that traditionally this is a time when Bombay sees lots of firecrackers, but the city has been urging people against that. The efforts have not been very successful. From the moment the sun went down until the early hours of morning, there were firecrackers everywhere, including right outside our apartment. It was amazing to walk down the street and see fireworks in every direction.

In our first week, we already started to get a feel for typical Indian culture. Many Indians, especially in Bombay, are obsessed with Bollywood stars, and our neighborhood (Bandra West) is famous for being the home of many of those stars. One day we went for a walk along one of the promenades in the area. On our way back we saw a crowd of people staring at a building, but we couldn't tell what was so special about it. As we passed it, Devorah tried to ask someone what they were looking at: "Is there someone famous in that building?" The interaction was not productive--the man she asked did not speak any English. (We found out later that it was the home of Shahrukh Khan, one of India's most famous actors). A few minutes after we started walking home, as we waited to cross a major road, the man Devorah spoke to showed up behind us. He gave me his cell phone and asked that I take a picture of him with Devorah. Apparently, having a foreigner talk to him was more exciting than getting a glimpse of a celebrity.

We also got a taste of some genuine Indian hospitality. One afternoon, after we waiting on a very long line to buy tickets for a local train, we got to the counter, only to find that we did not have enough small bills to buy our tickets--we were 20 rupees short and the cashier did not have change for our 1000 rupee note. We got out of line and started talking about how we were going to get home: go and find change somewhere, find a taxi, etc. As we were trying to figure this out, the guy that was behind us in line tapped on my shoulder, asked me how much we needed, gave me the 20 rupees, and went off to find his train. It may have been Diwali that caused him to do it, but it was a touching gesture nonetheless.

Turkey and Israel: Kicking Off the Journey

The three week journey from New York to Bombay was a bit hectic. It seemed as though big news stories had been following us around.  Our second week in Israel, the whole country was consumed with constant updates on the release of 5-year Hammas prisoner Gilad Shalit, who finally reached Israel the hour we left it.  Make of it what you will, but on the day of Shalit's release, both foreigners in Israel and Turks asked us the same question: "A THOUSAND prisoners for one soldier?"

A couple days after we arrived in Turkey, news broke of the Kurdish missile attack and subsequent Turkish incursion into Iraq.  A day later, as we returned from an all day trip, we were told by our hosts of the terrible earthquake in eastern Turkey several hours earlier.  Needless to say, our families were worried while we had no idea.

Israel was a whirlwind of family and friends. We went from the center to the north and back several times.  Having been in Israel and experienced the inflation there first hand, I have a much better sense of the cause of the protests several months ago.  I'm not sure how  people survive there financially. Also interesting was Yom Kippur.  We were in Hertzilya for the holiday and it was different than anywhere else I'd been.  To be fair, I'd only previously experienced Israeli Yom Kippur on Kibbutz, where everything comes to a hot standstill for a day.  This was truly different.  People go out and enjoy the day, taking advantage of the lack of cars.  The evening of Yom Kippur, there were tons of people walking and riding bicycles, even on the highway.  The biggest beneficiary of the holiday seemed to be dogs, who could be walked without leashes, free to roam about where they please.  Children rode and played on the city streets--a luxury they don't have the rest of the year.   It was pretty incredible to see this somber, quiet holiday turned into a shared lively experience. We arrived in Turkey to find Istanbul's airport to be deceptively chaotic.  As we went to collect our bags, the belt they were supposed to be on was turned off and no one was standing by it.  After walking around the entire baggage claim section, we found my bag as the lone luggage on different belt.  Devorah's bag was nowhere to be found.  This was not a good start to our trip.  Devorah went to the lost baggage office to fill out a claim and afterwards we decided to do one final check for her bag.  Sure enough, it was in a pile of bags that had been removed off of the belts.  Crisis averted. Istanbul was not exactly the East meets West that I'd envisioned, unless the east that's being referred to is the middle east.  Our first day there we took four different types of public transit: tram, trolley, bus, and two very different funiculars (short distance trains that take commuters up and down hills).  To top it off, a couple days later, we added a light rail, boat, and metro.  We took every possible public commuting option in the city, except the suburban train. It was also pretty amazing to walk through the city and see random ancient Ottoman mausoleums and landmarks.  There are so many things to see in that city, so much history, I feel we could have easily spent weeks there and not seen everything.

After Israel, driving in Turkey was a pleasure.  There were no cars driving dangerously fast, drivers used their blinkers to indicate they wanted to pass rather than tailgating for as long as it takes, and there was no unsafe passing.  It was a stark difference from Israel, where I got clipped by a bus driver that cut me off and then proceeded to drive away and pretended he hadn't left a piece of the bus lodged in my car.  Turkey will be the last time I drive a (four wheel) vehicle for a while.

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