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Udaipur Travel Blog

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Udaipur, lakeside houses

May 28

 

Udaipur, India

 

Dear Jeff

 

I have a strange tale to unfold. The events and sentiments very mixed up. I would have liked your company and your council at some points.

 

Begin:

 

I’m in Udaipur.

Udaipur, India
Been here four days. Spent the first three soaking up the relaxed atmosphere, passively. One of the most beautiful city views I have ever seen stretches across the small lake from my balcony. First, I should confess to having left behind, for a few days, my budget traveler principles. The hotel is wonderful. Luxurious by India’s standards, if a bit shabby and faded. A host of boys change my sheets and towels each day. There’s an air conditioner and room service, and I’ve caught up on the world’s turnings by tuning into the BBC’s hourly news channel.

 

A cop out, I know. I needed the break tho, from the heat especially, and this, the Lake Pichola Hotel, looked good. The sunset and the daylight playing on the beautiful facades of the adobe and marble clad buildings across the way. It’s worth the splurge.

 

My second in less than a week.

 

But there’s a catch to this urban pastoralism (isn’t there always?), and that catch is snagging at these sentences.

City Mules, Udaipur

 

Let’s try chronology:

 

In Bangkok a month ago I ran into a couple of travelers--an Indian guy and an older American woman. We were caught in a “find a room on Ko San Road at 6:00 a.m." dilemma, and as we waited for people to get up and get outta the fully booked guest houses, I got to talking with them. They’d been traveling around India and Nepal and Thailand together, and they seemed a very odd pair, so I figure they were probably platonic… but who knows, eh?

 

Anyway it turns out Ahmed (Ligat Ahmed Shiekh) is from Udaipur, and his family has a guest house there. He hands me a card when I tell him I am planning to go to Udaipur on my way back south to Bombay before flying to Africa (and you).

Cow on a corner, India
Udaipur was the only sure place on my agenda back then.

 

So.


Fast forward to 4 days ago. I’m on an all night train from Jodhpur to Udaipur. It was an awful ride. Dust blowing in the whole time, caking my hair and skin. The desert’s gifts choking my lungs worse than any cigarettes, the long journey made bearable only by the company of a Punjabi woman close to my age. We talked for hours--but that’s a different story…

 

Off track. De-railed.

 

Anyway. When I stepped down onto the hot platform of Udaipur’s station, I was tired and sweaty (no: positively muddy!) and not up to arguing with the rickshaw drivers whose commission scams mean they push very hard to take visitors to the hotel of their (i.e. the driver’s) choice. Besides, after a long hot journey and some difficult travel across Rajasthan, I wasn’t up to visiting (not Ahmed er anyone else), so I went to a hotel instead of his father’s guesthouse.

 

But now (May 28th)

 

I am not in the hotel anymore: I’m at Ahmed’s, and Jeff, I’m not sure what kind of “guest” I am supposed to be…. Yesterday he took me to Eklingi and Nagda. I gazed around at ancient Jain temples, made small talk, took pictures, played cards.

 

At night we went on a paddle boat across the lake.

 

He has used his “influence” around town so we can queue jump (he even tried to get me a job at the university here, without having to produce a CV--though, his buddy, the chancellor drew the line and for one “influence” didn’t open a door at his beck and call).

 

I suppose he feels this privilege game will impress me somehow.

 

“I am king” he tells me of his conversation with one traveler who commented on his dealings in town. “Not like a King.” (Udaipur has a maharini)

 

Actually Ahmed is a lawyer with the past claim to being a big university jock. Now he’s tainted with what looks to me like minor mafia shadows…. Irony aside, he has been very solicitous: heaping my plate with more and more of his mother’s home cooking (dhal and okra and chapattis) despite my saying no. I guess he knows what I want and need.

 

“It’s our culture,” he explains when I complain that he doesn’t listen to me.

 

He’s adjusting the air cooler in my room--a little to the left up a little.

 

“There, now it blows at you good!”

 

He’s finding tapes for the stereo. Turning it on and playing with the volume and its controls, “You like bass?”

 

***

 

Zoom ahead.

 

“You want to see a Jew?” he asks today. We are on his motorcycle. He means “zoo” it turns out, but we struggle to reach understanding through his accent. He’s a bit quieter today. I was ill this morning and so bowed out of the 7:00 a.m. trip he’d planned for us to Jaisamand Lake. And I left him for a while to wander Udaipur’s city palace on my own this afternoon.

 

Now I think he’s offended. And I am sad. Last night I teasingly chastised him for his Indian corruption and queue jumping when we butt in front of 60 odd Indian couples and families to get a paddle boat first. Today I didn’t eat, no matter how hard he pushed (you know how the thought of food makes me ill when I’ve been sick). It’s not fair, though--the distance I am errecting--he’s done nothing to “take advantage.” But I don’t know what’s expected of me here, and it makes me uneasy: my guest/non-guest status, the gender and culture gaps being what they are.

 

The Godfather image fills my head like an old cliché...it turns out Ahmed’s father made all his money as an arms dealer. He had a munitions and small arms manufacturing business, until his son decided that the business was pretty dangerous, what with them being Muslim and the tensions ratcheting up as the BJP is gaining political power, and the Kashmir regions wars and skirmishes are getting more and more intense.

 

I’ve maybe been a little risky here, myself. The Indians in general, and Muslims even more so, are not known for their liberal views of male/female contact, let alone friendships. (Tho Ahmed’s religious philosophy is well thought out and sensitive, to do him credit). We have had many lengthy conversations. I’m being paranoid I think, but God! it’s awkward, and there are times when I truly wish that I were born a man so that I could stop the stares, the assumptions, and these games.

 

I am here for two more days, and I’ll admit that I am missing you, Jeff, big time.

 

I miss the way you treat me as a human being, recognizing my sovereignty over my own affairs. I wonder how these women live like this.

 

Know you are wanted, always… smile… you are a wanted man. You have made your way into my independent psyche if simply by the way your respectful distance paradoxically brings you closer to my heart. I await your real presence in Africa with excitement and longing… I look forward to exploring some of that world with you…

 

...especially when I find myself in the doubly sticky heat of a sticky situation in the middle of the Indian oven of May.

 

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Udaipur, lakeside houses
Udaipur, lakeside houses
Udaipur, India
Udaipur, India
City Mules, Udaipur
City Mules, Udaipur
Cow on a corner, India
Cow on a corner, India
Udaipur
photo by: s_vivek62