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Playing Chicken

Udaipur Travel Blog

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The morning I arrived in Udaipur, I didn't think I had the energy to make a re-acquaintance with Ahmed, nor to track down his father's guest house, so I headed for a rather elegant little higher-end hotel on the edge of the lake, instead. At $18 a night it was probably the best bargain I came across in all my travels.

Less known to foreign travelers in search of the exotic, Udaipur was at this point primariily a favoured vacation spot to people of India, itself, and the city is a very romantic spot: somewhere to go for a honeymoon or to take the family to, when one needs a break from the Rajasthan heat. But even for Indians, the month of May is not a holiday time.

There is good reason why people avoid moving around in the weeks before the monsoons finally break.

Mnn... I bask in the air conditioning of this hotel, the 12 foot ceilings of my room, the antique, authentic colonial four poster bed with its faded silk drapery, the hand woven tapestries on the walls and the Persian rugs on the floors (frayed but surely hundreds of years old), the tiny French balcony overlooking the lake, room service, and a television with a 24 hour BBC news channel. And, yes, I am happy to leave the backpacker scene behind me for a few days.

Everything I could wish for was here... all for less than $20 dollars a day, food included.

Later that afternoon, I venture out to walk along the small lake's ancient stone walls. I watch  children bathe naked at the pumps; women are washing clothes on a cement edge that gives access to the lake itself. I take in the sunset over the incredible aged marble facades of the buildings, and then wander back to the comforts of a real bed and my own bathroom....

When I venture out two mornings later (after a day of catching up on world events, and generally just blissfully sitting in the room, watching city activity from my balcony, or lounging in the comfort of an overstuffed chair, or sometimes actually writing), a child named VJ latches on to me as quick as lightning. He will show me around the city.

I am off to find bananas and he takes me down alleys, past children playing and cattle wandering the cobblestones. We pass a woman leading mules carrying baskets of bricks, and finally end up at a small marketplace. Back in my room, I am thinking about the beauty and the quiet charm of this city. The children on the street are all a-twitter when they see me, and by the end of our little sojourn, VJ and I had amassed quite a following.

I had asked him to take me past the address Ahmed had given me. It was a single dwelling stand-alone house, not very big, on a residential street not too far from the lake. But I didn't stop tp see if anyone was in, still not sure whether I would bother Ahmed and his father. Still feeling that I lacked energy for conversation, or anything other than imitating a vegetable for the next week.

Perhaps I should just bide my time until I have to head down to Bombay, and catch my flight to Nairobi? I'm thinking.

This morning there is a beautiful Crested Whit on serenading me from my balcony's ledge. The Indian newspaper I picked up down in the lobby blithely lists reports of "militant" actions and retaliations, numbers of deaths and injuries. I think of Jodhpur and the fort and the maharaja's personal safari tour. The heat and the questions. It doesn't really matter how many times I go over my notes.

             Letters. Fragments. False starts.

I am sitting on this old bed with its dusty panels, looking at the things I have written so far... all the "desires to say" result in more and more blank spaces... I think of the odds of having met Ahmed in Bangkok and the nagging obligation that I feel has ensued as a result; I think about what the woman on the train asked about my family and loved ones... I think about the letters that I owe everyone, and remind myself that I should send something to my mother to let her know where I will be going next...

         She worries... perhaps justifiably

I think about Michael and Jeff, and Johnny and, gosh, Scott! ...and Glenn and Heather (what is she doing now, already a mother with two children) and my friends Jinnean and Trisha too ...all the people left behind...

          fantasy, mere fantasy, here fantasy. ghosts

The past haunting every attempt at 'now'. Disturbing. I'd never make a Buddhist. Not cut out for the complacency: "come place" yourself in my hands. My philosophical cusp: “the universe looks rather like a thought...”

So "Who's thinking?" I wanna know...

            good better best, never let it rest...

but my good isn't getting much better I am afraid, and my best is nothing to write home about.

***

On Tuesday night, Liagat Ahmed of the Sandal Guest House shows up. The children had told him that a strange foreign women knew his address, and it would seem that he sent them scouting the streets to find out where I was staying.

With his best more-than-Indian technique of hospitable coercion, he forces my hand on the move to his father’s place.

"I will pick you up and help you move your things first thing in the morning" (...as if I were moving in with him and bringing dowery trunks?) Then he offers me a tour of Udaipur on his motorcycle

(note: at this point, motorcycles tended to be one of the few things that really did scare me)

But Ahmed is all old world courtesy, and we buzz slowly around the town’s city of lakes district and eventually find a light festival in full swing at one of the big park areas. It is a magical place.

“Oh, five minutes. I forgot. I told my mom… its okay.”

We are at his house now, his mother awakened at 11:00 p.m., when we arrive after our evening with the lights--awakened simply to serve us! Ahmed has not had a meal this evening, and I am to sit with him and be gently prodded into eating, even though the bulking agent of the lentils I had three hours earlier means I have trouble forcing even one chapatti with a scoop of dhal down.

We are in a smallish, dimly lit alcove set up with a rough wooden table and four chairs just off the kitchen, with a door open onto the courtyard. He gives up reluctantly when I turn down a second chapatti, perhaps more hurt than offended.

His mother (gray suited in the Urdu loose pants and long smock style, with her gray hair loose to hang down her back) has long since padded into the shadowy nether world of the rooms on the other side of the open courtyard.

Tomorrow morning I will join this house and its intimacies, new found misgivings and all....

 

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Udaipur
photo by: s_vivek62