It’s Christmas day, and we are in the North East of India in Shillong, Meghalaya. I’m more than a month behind in documenting our travels through this diverse country, but this post will finally wrap up our stay in the state of Rajasthan! I briefly wrote about our iPhone fiasco in Udaipur, but now is the time to expound on our 6-day stay outside of that drama. Looking back, I cannot gloss over the fact that there was a bit of a black shadow cast over our travels for a while, which I will blame for getting me behind on this blog, but there were also many wonderful memories and experiences which helped to take my mind off any silly dwelling on loss.
Specifically, I will credit making new friends in Udaipur, as the key to our enjoyment. While in Lal Ghat Guesthouse, and thoroughly obsessed with the probable loss of our phone, camera and photos from the last 17 days, we met Peter and Catleen, from Germany. They were quick to commiserate with us, and knew a sure remedy for our stress and consternation. Within minutes they were sharing some Sauvignon wine and whiskey with us – the best medicine for frayed nerves. It was Peter’s 15-20th visit to India, including many trips to Udaipur. He was quick to make suggestions on the best places to eat and enjoy peace and beauty. From that day forward, we enjoyed many conversations with the both of them, over three separate dinners, and an entire afternoon-into-evening spent poolside on a hotel roof top, drinking gin and tonics.
I don’t know if we were simply tired of sight-seeing, exhausted from traveling fast, depressed, or what, but we did our best to take it easy, and our new friendship helped to keep us positive. Regardless, there is a part of me that feels guilty that I cannot gush about Udaipur, because it is often a favorite city of fellow travelers, and rightfully so. Compared to the rest of Rajasthan, the multiple lakes, rolling Aravalli hills and greenery make for a prettier locale, with elegant old havelis in white, hugging the water’s edge and floating atop its’ depths. This is where a portion of the James Bond movie, “Octopussy” was filmed. Udaipur is a city with a history of a strong caste system, evident in the extreme displays of wealth and separation from the common street-life. Bright and white, Udaipur’s City Palace is perched at the top of the Jagdish Temple Road in the old city and on a small hill, overlooking Pichola lake via honeycombed balconies and towers. It doesn’t take much to imagine the life of purdah (veiled females live in seclusion within the family compound, shielded from strangers eyes). Here marked one of our last palace visits, and it was an extremely popular and crowded affair. As we got organized for entry, Stella and Gabriel were asked to pose for photographs at least half a dozen times. This had been a frequent request throughout India, but the pure frequency and tediousness of these photo ops in Udaipur marked the breaking point for the kids. They had enough, but were still struggling with how to say “no”.
In the heat of midday, we embarked on a boat trip on the Lake Pichola, getting up close to the mini-floating hotels and temples in Udaipur Lake, including a visit to Jagmandir Island. Another evening we enjoyed a variety show of Rajasthani music, dance and puppetry, featuring a finale with a woman who danced with a dozen pots balanced on her head. Stella and I also enjoyed an afternoon on our own, visiting a couple of museums (Bagore-ki-Haveli and the Crystal Museum and Durbar Room) and a Hindu Temple (Jagdish), while Dan and Gabriel ran phone-related errands.
All of the above activity served to make sure that we did not feel like we had wasted our time, but did not resonate the way a good meal, nap or conversation did. I was feeling more like a consumer of tourist sites than a participant in the life of the city. With this new sour look, I started to nitpick everything, and composed a short rant/list of all the things I was sick of in India:
- feeling overcharged (No price is clear. You will always wonder if you have been duped and paid well over the going rate. In fact, one of the few times that prices are clear is for museum/monument entries, where there is a local price and a foreign price, which is about ten times more expensive.)
- Never knowing what to tip (Backshish is a way of life in Rajasthan. No helping hand goes unfilled, so every transaction involves a mental debate as to whether that was a ten or twenty rupee porter tip, what a guide should get for a half day tour, is a 10% restaurant tip too much, should we give our driver a big tip to make up for what we think are substandard wages, etc.)
- cutting and shoving in lines (Example: Stella and I were waiting in a bathroom line with two western women in front of us, and two indian women behind us. Suddenly, another woman approached the bathroom, surveyed that the blonde ladies ahead of us were leaving a little bit too much space in front of them, and cut in front all six of us to enter the “one and only” toilet.
- wet panties (Speaking of bathrooms – toilet paper is RARE. If you don’t carry your own roll with you at all times, you are bound to experience the dreaded wet panties.)
- taking shoes off in temples (This drives me crazy. I’m not trying to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, but taking my shoes off for every temple, mosque, or church, when the floors are incredibly dirty makes ZERO sense to me. The bottom of my shoes are cleaner than the tiles/concrete/pounded dirt that I have walked on, and nothing is worse than having to wipe the dust and pebbles off the filthy soles of your feet to put your clean socks back on.)
Looking back, I am embarrassed by my negative slump, but I also recognize that the emotional ups and downs of life are a part of traveling. It can be cathartic to get sad or mad, and then find your way out of the black hole. My depression was not all related to the loss of our iPhone. That had merely been the trigger to release other frustrations and stress built up by the challenges we had encountered on the road. India is an enigma, a place I still struggle to understand, and my desire to make sense out of it all, ebbs and flows.
To wrap up our Rajasthan adventure, we had one final meal with our new friends, Peter and Catleen, at the Savage Garden, our favorite restaurant in Udaipur. This was our second time dining at this establishment, enjoying the best ravioli on our entire trip. The next morning we had an early rise at 4 AM to make a 6:45 AM flight south to Kochi, Kerala. By 10PM that night, I was starting to feel funny. The next 4 hours were spent alternating between shaking with chills in bed, to laying on the cool tile floors of the bathroom, as my body was wracked with violent vomiting. I would blame it on food poisoning, but we all ate, family-style with a large group, and no one else got sick. After barely two hours of sleep, I had to drag my nauseous self out of bed, and take a 45 minute taxi ride to the airport, where we had to check-in to two connecting flights. Did it predict an inauspicious start… or merely seal our bad luck ending?