Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Overnight Train to Delhi

Sunday, July 22, 2012. Leaving Ahmedabad.

So this trip is drawing to a close. I leave Wednesday morning. I'm excited to be going home. I miss the mundane trips to Kroger and Target. I miss seeing friends and going out for a meal or a beer. Unfortunately I've talked almost daily to people about being a teacher in America that I feel like I've never left work.

As I leave Ahmedabad I want to get a few impressions down on paper while they're fresh. First, setting. I am on a train right now. I wondered why the ticket the hotel got for me was relatively expensive. I've traveled by bus for five hours for three dollars, train for seven hours for four dollars--and the train was an AC sleeper car like I'd asked for this time. This ticket, granted it's some nine hundred kilometers from here to Delhi, was a little over forty dollars, but I was too embarrassed to ask.

I got to the station around 3:30. The train wouldn't leave until at least 5:30, but hotel check out was noon, and the reception staff told me the night before it'd be okay if I stayed into the afternoon. I didn't want to overstay the welcome, especially when the housekeeping boys asked twice if I wanted the room cleaned, so I got to the station really early. I hate the purgatory of the train station. From Pushkar to Jodhpur I waited three hours. Two would have been fine today, it was overcast and breezy, but the smell of urine was inescapable. I kept a folded handkerchief over my nose and mouth like I'd seen many Indians do walking down exhaust filled city streets. When I first got to India and started using a handkerchief for the pollution (thanks for the suggestion, Laura) I noticed how much the cloth smelled of chlorine from the wash. I've since had both handkerchiefs washed here and they no longer smell like a swimming pool. I miss that smell.

When my train arrived, I thought the cars looked different than other trains. Nicer. I found my car and my seat and noticed that the people around me were different from the majority of people I passed on the streets or met waving me into their shops. Some wore shorts. No one was wearing Gandhi type clothing. Women were still dressed in saris and punjabis, but everyone had a western air about them. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what it was. One little middle aged man was in leather shoes, men's capris, a sports short, a gold chain, fancy glasses, a finely trimmed mustache, and loads of grecian formula. If I wasn't in India I would have thought he was Italian. New Jersey Italian. An older man, his father I imagine, looked like he'd just come back to India from the States. There was something about his clothes and hair and incredibly clean shaven face. And everyone was very fair. Waiting at the train station I saw men who were as dark as anyone I'd ever seen. No one dark was in this train car. If what people have told me is true, I was riding with the Brahmin caste. The men on the platform who got on the train before mine probably were not Brahmin caste. Most were a dark, sun baked brown, many wore no shoes or sandals and, how can I say this, their clothes harkened back to the disco era: wide cuff pants with stripes, and rather snug in the, ah-hem, belt regions. Barefooted, they seemed to take no notice of walking right through the puddles, literally puddles, of expelled tobacco and betel nut juice.

The smaller man, talking to the older one, patted a top bunk. I assume he was telling his father where he would have to sleep. The older man uttered, "Hare Krishna!" I had a lower bunk and the smaller man asked if I would like to move seats. I did want to move, but not to the higher bunk he pointed at. The family he was with had eight people, including two young children, for five sleeper beds. His pacing from this place to that indicated that the other bunk was down a few berths. I asked if his seat was indeed down a ways and he said yes. I jumped on that. In the new space there were only three other people. When the conductor would come by later to check tickets he would ask if I wanted an upper or lower bed. He'd be upgrading a couple of other people, but since I was there first I got to choose where I slept.

Just as the train pulled out of the station a uniformed man, a waiter, came by and handed me a bottle of water. He came back after delivering to the whole car and asked if I'd like veg or non-veg. I looked around and asked another passenger what was up. It seemed the hotel had booked me into a first class car with all kinds of service I didn't know existed. One guy who was working on his laptop told me that the overnight train from Ahmedabad to Delhi was one of the nicest in the country. They would provide snacks, a meal, many things. When the waiter left I asked if they come and sing to you until you fall asleep. I'd never been on a train with service before. Stupid me had bought two bottles of water, six bananas, a bottle of mango juice, some cookies, and lentil snacks just to make sure that over the fourteen hour trip I wouldn't get a migraine from low blood sugar or get dehydrated. I started to realize the difference between travel and luxury. When you travel, just travel, you feel the grit of a place and experience the headaches of catching city buses through communication barriers and eating at questionable roadside food carts. When you travel in luxury, you don't necessarily love the place you travel to, you might think you do, but it's possible you just love the luxury. From the comfort of the air conditioned train car I couldn't remember how oppressive the heat outside was and I couldn't clearly remember the invasive, offensive odor of urine. I completely forgot beds with hair on the sheets and bathroom windows with bird nests in them. I was thinking, without adulteration, how great India was and how happy I was to be here.

Later the man on the laptop and I would talk more. I would find out he was an oral surgeon in Delhi. Before the meal came I watched out the window, past the doctor working on his laptop and answering his phone with a British accent. Like other train stations I've pulled out of I noticed the gypsy camps along the rails. Blue plastic tents, children in shirts and no pants. Camp fires smoldering and a person here or there squatting, taking a shit maybe ten yards from the camp. India's a big country. I've only seen a tiny bit of it. But I imagine there's a lot of the same out there. I wonder about the changes industrialization has brought to India, and for that matter to China, over the past fifty or sixty years. Certainly there's always been class divisions, the haves and the hand nots. But has the progress for one group pushed the other farther down? I don't know. It'd be easy to think so, to blame one segment's poverty on the progress of another, but I have no way of knowing. I have a suspicion a lot of what I'm feeling has to do with where I'm sitting. I feel rather embarrassed to be sitting in a nice clean air conditioned sleeper car for forty dollars for one night when on the other side of the glass, sitting on the iron rails, families have been camping in the elements for probably generations.

The waiter, or perhaps it's a porter on a train, came by with another little thing. The surgeon looked at me as I inspected it. An oblong plastic tray with a butter packet and a paper sheath with two breadsticks in it. Every packet has the message, "please don't litter" or "please put litter in its place" with the image of a man throwing something into a trash can. I asked what the breadsticks were for and he said, "soup sticks." In a few moments the porter would return with little paper cups of tomato soup. It's hard to imagine this is the same place where everything I've seen, every plastic chip bag and paper tobacco pouch, gets thrown out a window or dropped in the gutter. Every tiny plastic chai cup crumpled up and tossed from the step into the street. It's a different world.

Before the night was over I had a snack of lentil hush puppies like the ones I'd had on the street and a half sandwich (I'd thought that was the meal), the soup, a hot meal of lentil curry, chicken masala and rice, and a cup of vanilla ice cream. The oral surgeon and I talked for a few hours. Unlike most conversations I've had in India, this one required me to ask a lot of questions to keep it going. I asked him his opinion on the widespread use of the tobacco and lime pouches and the obvious gum and mouth cancer it was causing. I asked him about the election for president that occurred over the weekend in parliament. I learned a lot from him. It's just a guess, but I have a feeling that the higher the caste, the more western and reticent and isolated one behaves. I'm not trying to make a judgement on anyone. I apologize if it seems so.

In the morning we pulled into the Delhi station. Soon I'd be walking back through the heat and litter and rickshaw drivers to the hotel I stayed at when I first arrived in India. In two days and I'll be on a plane back home where strangers don't smile at foreigners, and where I won't be a foreigner. I wonder how long it will be before the novelty of being home wears off and I find myself missing India. I know from past travels that the first thing I miss will be the walking. Not walking for walking's sake, but having somewhere to go and being able to get there on foot.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

One last vav. Eleven miles north of Ahmedabad is a village called Adlaj. Auto rickshaw drivers tried to convince me that no bus went there. I tried to tell them the the day before I'd been to Patan and Modhera, and that every bus leaving through the north of the city drove past Adlaj. Maybe no bus's destination was Adlaj, but many passed the village. The growled and shook their heads at me. Was there a misunderstanding between us or were they mad at not getting an outrageous fare? They'd been asking for four hundred and five hundred rupees to drive me there. I found a fruit vendor at the bus station who wrote down "Adlaj Vav" for me in Gujrati in a note pad I keep in my camera bag. The guys yesterday who wrote "Rani Ki Vav, Patan" on scrap paper for me had a good idea for a foreign tourist headed to places where no one might speak English or understand my American accent.

Once I found a bus going north, which was surprisingly more difficult than the previous day for no apparent reason (perhaps the rickshaw drivers were trying to help me?), it was an easy trip. The bus conductor gestured that he'd let me know when we reached Adlaj. I can't tell you how genuinely grateful I was to him when I heard him holler "Adlaj" down the bus aisle and made eye contact with me and made a click sound with his mouth. I'd seen a sign that said Adlaj, but to know someone who had no need to was looking out for me felt like a godsend.

I hadn't had anything to eat and it was already noon. When the bus dropped me off I found a roadside fry stand to grab a bite to eat. Yesterday I'd neglected eating until the end of the day and this morning I'd felt the results, general weakness and lethargy. From the cart I picked out some batter covered ground lentil balls that remind me of hush puppies, a few batter covered diced onion patties, and a triangular potato samosa. Each had been fried once, but had to be warmed up by being thrown into a large cast iron fry pan full of oil over a butane burner and fried again. I sat at a plastic table and waited for the grub. It seems in Gujarat waving away flies is a full time job. I'm still confused why Gujarat is swarming with flies when no where else has been so bad. I suppose it's wetter here than most other places I've been and allows for their massive presence. They don't bite or get in your face, but it certainly gives the impression that everything is dirty, especially the food, but what can you do? When the man's helper boy delivered my sheet of newspaper with the freshly refried food, the cook grabbed a small crusty pitcher from another table, and came over and poured some red sauce on my samosa. I noticed a small bucket of water sitting in the dirt next to one of the wheels of the cart. It was dirty and it looked like there might be a rag in it. In for a penny, in for a pound. I picked up my spoon and dug into the samosa. It was good, redolent with cumin seeds and curry flavor. When I finished the samosa I poured more red sauce and dipped my onions and lentils.

When I finished I paid and thanked the man. I went up the road to the next intersection and followed the blue sign for Adlaj Vav. All along the way people waved and smiled and gave the famous Indian head bob. I am still floored by the friendliness. I know it's because I'm a foreigner, and probably because I'm pale white. Back home a white American student once asked me if I was a ginger right when the term was coming into vogue. Seems every culture has its issues, serious or not so serious, with skin tone. Just as long as the exceptional treatment stops at greetings and kindness, and no one gets short changed so that I get more, I'm okay with it.

It's funny, I am very self conscious of photographing people. I don't want anyone to think I'm taking pictures in order to say to my friends, "See these people, they were so poor. Aren't they quaint? They live so simply and seem so happy." I do want to get a photo that captures what life is like in a given place, but I'm not looking to wear someone else's poverty as my badge. So please don't misunderstand when I tell you about the man who came out of his flour mill, a storefront the size of my bedroom, to ask me to come in and see his work and his friends. In the front room he had three machines for milling, in the back three or four buddies lounged about in the heat of the day on a couple of wooden frame beds strung with either straps or ropes of some kind in place of mattresses. I didn't understand a word they spoke, but they all were excited, like frat boys when the pizza arrives. Everyone wanted pictures, especially the first man who pulled me over. He posed with his machines and with his giant balancing scales. The light in the back room wasn't very good and not everyone can be seen in the photo, but the front room photos with the man and his work equipment are pretty decent. I think part of the equation too for the friendliness is that I'm traveling alone. Whenever I meet someone who speaks English and they ask if I am traveling with family or friends and I tel them I'm alone, they almost offer their condolences. So approaching a lone stranger, perhaps one who can't ignore you by pretending to have been talking with a partner, may be part of the culture here. Who knows? (I'm completing this from Delhi, where I've had sort of a lousy day, so forgive me if my logic isn't completely coherent. I know my line of thinking is 50/50 on a good day to start with.)

Eventually I made it to the step well. It was smaller than the Queen's Well in Patan, but similar in its layout: steps at one end, reservoir at the far end, flights of columns and stone crossbeams at every landing. This was still a large well, and most impressive was the perfect condition of the stone work. There were no carvings of animals or dancers or deities, but the elaborate geometric designs was mind boggling. With this last well I felt like I'd seen what I'd come to India to see.

I spent maybe an hour at the well area. I watched kids posing for each other's cameras like they were at Cedar Point. In the finely groomed grassy areas I watched a woman in a sari playing with a group of kids she brought. They were playing tag. They looked just plain joyous. There were two women, one in a green sari and the other in yellow, with a group of children whom I kept crossing paths with, both in the well and outside. The women looked rough, like they'd worked much of their lives outside and probably slept on cots in the dirt in front of their home to stay cool in summer, but their facial features were gorgeous. They both had given me long looks, perhaps wondering about a white foreigner in this tiny and remote village, so I felt comfortable studying them too. You can't do that in the US and not be questioned about it.

Before I left town I took some photos of a bunch of cows sitting by a fruit stand at the traffic circle. I've asked people why the cows in Gujarat have such bigger horn than the cows in Rajasthan. I wondered if it had to do with more water being available but one person said it was a different breed.

When I stepped off the main road to take a picture of one of these elaborately decorated commercial trucks a man came running out of his compound. He wanted me to take pictures of him and his family. I happily obliged. My reluctance to photograph people could take a vacation while I'm in India. He also pointed to a facility next door to his home. It was a public area for washing clothes. He insisted I get a picture, and I almost did, but I'd learned in Udaipur that wherever people are washing clothes, mostly women, but I have seen one man or two,women often take off their tops and wash themselves as well. People may feel differently about having their photos taken here in India, but I am not going to see how far that attitude goes. There was at least one old lady washing laundry in the topless fashion, but the man didn't seem to understand my reluctance. I couldn't tell if he was trying to tell me it was okay or if he thought it would be funny. He was very excited. I motioned that I needed to get some water and graciously excused myself. Of course he offered water from a large clay pot, but I tried to demonstrate that Americans can't drink like that. His family seemed to communicate my message to him.

Before I found a bottled water and soft drink stand I passed a cart where a man was hacking the tops off of green coconuts. Three young women stood about, one was sipping coconut water through a straw. For twenty rupees I tried one. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't exactly refreshing. It was warm and had a texture, for lack of a better word, as if it had magnesium in it. I drank as much as I could until I saw two women, not the same two as before, with a gaggle of young girls coming from the direction of the well. I motioned to the coconut and the children in place of verbally asking if I could share the juice with them. One woman smiled and bobbed her head. The girls passed the juice around and their guardians let me take a picture of the group. India may be hot and dry and dusty and swarming with flies, but these little experiences with strangers you just can't have in the US.

On my way back to the road where I would catch the bus back to Ahmedabad I was stopped again by the miller for more pictures. It was hilarious. I have no idea what they were all saying, but everyone kept waving for me to come here, sit there, take a picture of this. It was stifling in the little back room and I think I adequately gestured as much. They waved for me to go out a side door to a dirt yard area. There was a cow roaming around and a water buffalo chained to a tree. A couple of dogs had bedded down in nests they'd dug for themselves to sleep in. The men's family tended the animals and motioned that I could come over to see the buffalo. It was the saddest creature I think I'd ever seen. I may be projecting. But it's eyes were so sad and mournful. When it looked at me head on I noticed that one eye was partially rolled back and the white was bloodshot. I pointed at my eye and at the animal's eye and a woman the size of a young girl nodded. Then she and a few other people started to make a ruckus. I turned around and saw that the cow had become curious. In a slow motion charge, its tongue licking into its nostrils, the cow was coming to see what I was about. I took a step back, not knowing if I should allow the sacred cow its curiosity or if I should do everything possible to avoid contact with a reincarnated soul in an elevated being. I looked questioningly at the family for advice, but the commotion seemed to deter the cow. All was fine.

At the road back to town I asked, "Bus, Ahmedabad?" People motioned to where the buses would pass. I waved down the second bus and was on my way home. It felt like a successful day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

All is Well

Tuesday, July 17, 2012, Udaipur

Today I ended up spending much more cash than I wanted to, but it was a calculated kind of spending. I was looking for an item my friend Kelly had sent me in search of and ended up off course. I bought a couple of "miniature" paintings, and not the wall hanging she requested. They call them miniature not because of their size, but for the fine detail in the painting. The first one I got (I'm not going to describe it because it is a surprise gift for someone) is maybe 20-35 years old and in a style, I guess it's a style, called "old paper." It looks to be done on a page out of an antique book. The paper is fairly brittle and the paint is traditional, made from plant and rock material and mixed with tree gum. I could have been taken for a ride, but it's the thought that counts. At least that's what I'm telling myself. The second painting is a triptych on silk. Again, made with the old style paints. This probably won't be a gift so I'll describe the scene. The three "major" cities of Rajasthan are Jaipur, Jaisalmer, and Udaipur. So each frame of the picture represents a city. One is of a camel, that's Jaisalmer, since it's the most arid former kingdom. Another is a horse, representing bravery, strength, and speed. And the third is the elephant, representing good luck. I'll have to ask someone again which animal goes with which city. I'm so ashamed I can't keep the symbols paired correctly with their cities.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Udaipur

No great adventures yesterday or today. Just walking around town making plans for moving on, seeing one or two minor attractions, and picking up souvenirs.

I began the day with a slight struggle getting my arrangements ready for tomorrow. Hostel World had only three listings for Ahmedabad. My hotel owner helped me set up my bus reservation, but didn't have any ideas about hotels. I checked with a travel agent and sat with him for two half hour sessions. The first ended when the power went out. The second I ended--I returned after the power went out--when I couldn't sit any longer as he scrolled through the same ten hotels again and again. He didn't know the layout of the neighborhoods of Ahmedabad and had to call his sister who lives there for help. It wasn't much help though. I told him I'd go get my guide book and see if that would improve things. I just went back to the hotel and asked the owner to call one place listed in the book that looked reasonable. It worked and I let the travel agent know everything was set up. I thanked him and was sorry for taking his time, although, on his agent screen under each listing it mentioned the commission the booking agent would receive. Minimum 7%. I wasn't very sorry.

I went on to see a restored haveli, a residence for the royal court of the city, or kingdom. I was the only visitor. Apparently they do puppet shows nightly and the first thing you pass on the way in is a guy selling puppets and puppetry related items. Usually the gift shop is last, but this isn't home. A solitary man is there in this lonely place in a corner. "Hello, you like to see the puppets? They are very nice, fine quality. I make good price for you," he starts. "I'm just here to see the museum," I reply. He shows me to a room filled with large puppets, or marionettes. Above the door is a sign that says "World of Puppets." They're all royal figures of some sort, staring out from where they sit upright on satiny fabric covered steps lining the entire room. One seated in a raised alcove, obviously a king, is human size. I imagine the thing moving. Not that it is very life like,but it's just that big.

What I've really come to see is not so much the haveli, I've seen tons of royal palaces and forts in India and they're all blending together, but what has been claimed to be the world's largest turban. The majority of the haveli is in the shape of a square and the three levels open inwardly to a central garden or plaza. After covering the first two I came upon what I was looking for. At the end of an empty room, in a four sided glass case that was open at the top, looking like the last animal alive in an abandoned zoo was THE TURBAN. It was about four feet wide and made of red to purple fabric. Shiny gold thread...

Saturday, July 21, 2012. Ahmedabad

Okay, that last entry was taking too long to say anything. It's a few days later and I may as well tell about some amazing things I've seen.

Some of you know that of all the reasons to go to India, my top goal was to see these vavs, or wavs, or vows, or wows, depending on whom you speak to. Well actually, if you pronounce it the way the last person corrected you, the next person will correct that. At any rate, I'd seen pictures of Indian step wells on the Internet that had fascinated me, and after I'd gotten the bug to see them in person, Archaeology Magazine ran an article about the wells.

What really grabbed me was the direction of the architecture. Over the past couple of years I'd let my inner photographer out, thanks to all the compliments and encouragement friends had given me. I seemed to specialize in architecture around Columbus--generally you don't have to ask permission and the subject isn't going to move. I know nothing about architecture but what I've gleaned from walking around. Many downtown buildings have dated corner stones so I could figure out how we've changed--basically less ornamental and more boxy and functional.

But no matter what innovations people have come up with, everything is built upward. It's the nature of things. The main obstacle to over come in building upwards is gravity. Air really doesn't pose much resistance. To build downwards you've got the earth and rocks in the way. That's obvious. So when I saw photos of these wells, which I barely gave passing reference to when people asked me, "Why India?" I was excited to see something so different, so opposite. And these wells aren't just holes in the ground, many of them are as elaborate as any Hindu temple. Many step wells are larger than their contemporary temples actually.

So, where to start? Obviously I'd seen a couple of step wells by chance in Rajasthan. I happened to come across a disappointing well/landfill in Jaipur in a neighborhood by a set of royal cenotaphs and the five hundred step pathway to the Ganesh temple that I'd gone to see. I'd missed the amazing geometric step well, the Moon Well, outside of Jaipur, but found virtually identical ones in Jodhpur around the corner from my guest house, and north of Jodhpur in a village called Osian. The one in Jodhpur was, if anyone read that post, a Hindu repository of spite (ie: garbage) against the neighborhood's Muslims. The one in Osian, while not an intentional dump, collected a small amount of blowing paper and plastic, and was more of a grove for trees with tiny fernlike leaves and thorns. Both wells were exciting to find as they were surprises, but I knew the best was waiting in Gujarat, the next state over.

I arrived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's capital city on Thursday, the 19th. I got in early enough from Udaipur to hire an auto rickshaw to take me out to see a couple of vavs within the city. The first was Dada Hari-Ni Vav from 1435. It had an iron fence around it--well, around a couple sides of it--with a turnstile gate, meaning that it was a protected site. A little man popped out of nowhere claiming that the well was his job. He would accompany me through the well telling me what was obvious: this is a carving, this is Arabic, this is Sanskrit, water comes here. He would expect money. If I asked him if a particular carving was Ganesh or Vishnu, he would say, "Yes, stone!" I appreciate the effort, but it's hard to enjoy something completely when someone wants your attention, you can't communicate with them, and they want money from you when you didn't ask for their help.

From a bird's eye view, Dada Hari-Ni looked like a rectangle with an entry point at one of the narrow ends. The previous wells I'd seen were square, and one could enter from any side. For this one, one walks down the steps from the entry point. Down a flight of stairs, twenty or so steps, there is a landing with a set of stone columns and a stone beam running the width of the well. Down the next set of steps there is another set of columns to walk under, but this one is double tiered, one on top of another. Then another set of steps and a third landing and a triple tiered set of columns and crossbeams. I think that's as far down as this well went before it reached the water table. All along the way down, the square columns were carved with geometric bands, and the walls had niches with eroded or defaced gods. Down in the dark of the well, pigeons roosted among the reddish brown stone and shafts of light. At thirty feet down, the air did not move. It may have been cooler down there, but I was sweating through everything I was wearing. The humidity and stagnant air was suffocating, not to mention there was the smell of the pigeons.

As much as I like chancing upon something amazing, like the two geometric step wells, there is something gratifying about making a plan and seeing it through. Many of my big plans thus far in life haven't seemed to materialize, so something like finding a site thousands of miles from home in an Indian neighborhood, as minor as that may seem, stands out.

The second well, Mata Bhavani Vav, was not far from the first. The little man who had appeared out of nowhere got in the rickshaw to show the driver where it was. By the way, I'd hired the driver to just drop me off at the first well for fifty rupees. It was his choice to accompany me in, drive me to the second, and return me to my hotel. It's a whole other story that I'd rather not explain and no one wants to hear anyway.

I'd read that Mata Bhava-ni was dedicated to a Hindu god, but the book didn't mention it was currently being used as a temple. That meant shoes off. I was getting okay with that. Just as long as I didn't have to walk through a minefield of bird droppings or that I didn't have to burn the soles of my feet on the sun baked stones. The well was much smaller than Dada Hari-Ni, narrow and only going down two flights, but it was all decked out. Along the edges clay pots lined the way, some plain, some painted like the fourth of July. Streamers of colored pennants with tinsel edges were strung everywhere. At the first set of columns there was a statue overhead of a man with what I thought was a large blue and white seashell behind him. When I looked later at a photo I'd taken it turns out it wasn't a shell. It was nine white cobras with blue under bellies. In his arms was a blue baby.

At the bottom of the shallow well was a garden of potted plants and a shrine and more large statues. Much of the well was whitewashed. There were very few carvings, mostly just niches with colorful statues of gods anointed with dabs of paint and strung with garlands of marigolds.


The next day, Friday, July 20, I got up early and headed to the bus station. Other than the two step wells, I didn't find much in the Rough Guide in Ahmedabad that I felt compelled to visit. The city is big and crowded, and crossing the street is taking your life in your hands. Hailing an auto rickshaw is easy, actually they find you, but listening to the driver gripe about the agreed upon price the whole way becomes unpleasant, like the passenger is inconveniencing the driver. I find myself happy to tip a driver who is pleasant, but the ones who complain and grouse the whole time--and then hassle you about making change, wanting to keep the difference, really get under my skin.

Back to Friday's story. I was taking a day trip to a town 140km north called Patan. Patan is supposed to have the grandest of all step wells, Rani Ki Vav. I think that literally translates to "The Queen's Well." At the Ahmedabad bus station I'd met a couple of guys in a storefront who wanted to help me. They had called me over but we had not one word in common. Seeing my difficulty in being understood, one wrote down "Rani Ki Vav" in Gujarati for me to show people.

On the way to Patan I sat next to a young guy who spoke English. He gave me his card, as almost everyone who speaks English gives me a card. His name was Nemaram. He told me he quit school after eighth grade and went to work in selling cotton clothing. He said he spent two or three years in Germany. He couldn't believe how cold it got there. He liked pizza and gyros and schnitzel and drank every night. He seemed happy and proud to have dropped out of school to start making money. I saw him open a small pouch the size of a sugar packet he'd purchased at a kiosk. I've seen strands of these for sale everywhere and men buying them, tearing off an end, and pouring the contents into their mouths. I assumed it could be a form of betel nut. I'd seen fresh betel nut being made on the streets in Delhi. Maybe this was a dry form. What do I know? I asked Nemaram what was in the packet and he told me tobacco. He showed me the brown grainy substance inside the pouch and then showed me on the packet where it said "mixed with lime." That's powdered limestone. He said it's good, you can feel it burning hot. He said he doesn't smoke, this is what people in India do. It explained what all the massive amounts of spitting was about. I motioned to my lower gum line and asked if you put it there. He said yes and showed me on the packet the picture of a cancerous mouth, the government's required warning. That also explained the stains between people's teeth and the rotten looking lower front teeth I've seen on so many people. In a country of a billion people, many of whom live on probably less than a dollar a day, I'd say good for Nemaram for finding a way to survive and flourish. I hope for his and everyone else's sake that they don't all get mouth cancer.

Supposedly Patan used to be the capital of Gujarat a long time ago, but now, other than a constant rodeo of buses trundling in and out of the station, it is a sleepy, dusty town with no paved roads. I don't know, maybe there were paved roads but if there were they'd been covered in the dry, blowing soil a long time ago and I didn't see any of the "untouchable" women with short handled brooms out brushing the dust back to the curb. I showed the paper with the Gujarati script to a few people and they motioned east and indicated that the well was far, maybe five kilometers from the bus station. An auto rickshaw drove me out to the site and dropped me off. This driver, when he said "drop," he really meant drop off, unlike the driver the previous day. I'd begun to think "drop" might mean something else in the English-Indian cross speak given the number of rickshaw drivers who say drop but then insist on hanging around, charging for the time they wait, and then driving one back to where they picked you up, with many suggested side trips to merchants to just look, not buy, of course.

The Rani Ki Vav is the mother of all wells. If I had to guess I'd say at the surface it is as long as a football field and maybe half as wide. The book and signs at the site say that the well was built in 1050. When it was rediscovered it had been filled in by dirt from lack of use. Now it is the centerpiece in a well manicured garden.

First I walked around the outside to marvel at the scale of the structure. Far down I could see people, custodians, sitting in what little shade there was at noon. It looked as though every inch of the walls and columns were decorated with geometric and figure carvings. At the deep end where buckets could be lowered, I looked down over the railing. It may have been five storeys down, every inch covered in figure carvings. I went around to the opposite side of the well where the steps began. Looking down the length of Rani Ki Vav, it looked like something out of Indiana Jones. The path was straight forward, but the levels of columns and cross stones and carvings confused the eye, making the structure, taken as a whole, look like a labyrinth. I was the only Anglo there, but there were a lot of domestic tourists. This is perhaps a destination second only to the Taj Mahal and religious pilgrimage sites. I may be exaggerating that. Okay, fine, I am totally exaggerating that. The number of visitors in no way begins to compare with the Taj, but for being so remote, I felt there were a lot of visitors. And the place was cool as hell.

Going down the stairs I was amazed at the stone gods. There were figures I'd never seen. Looking like the Lord of the Flies, there was one figure with the head of a swine striking a pose like Neptune casting his trident and surrounded by maidens. There were lines of elephants in both portrait and profile, each one with its head tilted or trunk twisted at a different angle than the previous animal. The golden brown color of the stones and the flights of columns reminded me of Karnak and Luxor in Egypt. At the bottom of the well I talked with a group of young guys about America, the Indian heat, my job, and learned that they were engineering students. I've had the conversation a hundred times but it's always nice. I took too many photos and then excused myself to go back to the surface. The air was so heavy I felt a little dizzy.

Topside I was invited to sit in the grass with a young couple. He was in college, she was in high school. We had almost the same conversation with an added component. In the past week I've been getting lots of compliments on my wrist watch. Men want to know how much it cost, could they buy it, and gee, they just really like anything from outside of their own country. I'm starting to think I need to keep a very close eye on it.

I took another walk around the outside of the well before wandering through the garden. Past the iron fencing around the park I could see the spire of a Hindu temple. It was different than others. Rather than plain stone or white plaster it was painted like a rainbow. I heard later from someone that the temple was a thousand years old. I'm assuming it gets a fresh coat of paint every so often.

I got a cold drink from a roadside stand and caught an auto rickshaw back into town. Before leaving Patan I took a seat in a little place, not really a restaurant as far as I could tell, but not anything else, and had a bottle of water. As I sat some young guys came to talk to me. I told them I had been out to see the well and was going back to Ahmedabad. One insisted that instead of going straight back I stop in Modhera to see the Sun Temple. I said I would but wasn't 100% on it. I opened up the Rough Guide and read about the temple. This may not be just another temple, it seemed. I was a little concerned about bus connections, but Ahmedabad is the capital, so all buses go there until late, and the book said that if there is only one thing you see in northern Gujarart, make it the Sun Temple in Modhera. It was still early, maybe two o'clock, so I figured I should try. I didn't really see fun in store back in my windowless cell of a hotel room in Ahmedabad.

For less than a dollar the bus dropped me off at a deserted bus stop in Modhera. The few people that were out pointed in the direction of the temple and indicated that it was close enough to walk to. Following the main road I went up and then down the one hill of the city. Men in the store front shops, not selling things, but grinding metal or working with pliers all smiled and waved. And I was passed by numerous uniformed children on their way home from school who were so friendly, waving, smiling, and saying hello. I'm not used to children smiling and saying hello to strangers, at least not sarcastically. That doesn't happen in the US, partly because of culture, partly because school children generally don't walk anywhere.

I found the Sun Temple and realized I was smart to listen to the kid who suggested it. This too looked like something out of Egypt. There were two temples, one behind the other, lined up so as to be penetrated by a dagger of sunlight on the mornings of the equinoxes. In front of the first temple was a man made lake or rectangular step well. It had both the geometric steps in ziggurat form and small peeked shrines at corners and midpoints. The well structure was perhaps as large as three tennis courts and thirty or forty feet deep. The complexity was staggering. And this was another park like complex so there was very little litter in the lake. I stood and gazed for a long while and saw not fish, but turtles breaching the surface.

I took more pictures than I knew my computer back in the hotel room had memory to hold. Before the entrance to the first temple were two tapered pillars. Every inch was carved with dancers. Another visitor pointed out to me a place where an erotic scene from the Kama Sutra was taking place. It was pretty vivid and involved quite a few people. At the second temple a man sitting on the steps smoking something even showed me where a four legged animal was mounting a human. He said, "India!" I asked, "Today? Okay today?" with mock shock. He laughed like Santa Claus and made a hand gesture that indicated the past, you know the one where you wave over your shoulder.

I circled each temple before entering either, taking photos of everything. I knew some would be good and some would be mediocre, but this may not be a place I make it back to ever again. Make the most of it. You can delete what you have, but you can't do anything if you never take the photo in the first place. Ha, wisdom I wish I could apply to other areas of my life.

I met a young father as I was walking around. I liked this guy. He seemed as excited as I was about the Sun Temple. We shared an enthusiasm. And he seemed pleased that a foreigner had come to see such remote sites as Patan and Modhera. He told me that if I came back to India I needed to visit a place called Khajuraho for its temples. At first I thought, "Yah, yah, another temple," not having learned a thing from the current experience. But then he pulled up a picture on his phone and I realized I knew the place he was talking about. I had my book out and asked if it was the place the British officer had found and was embarrassed by for all its erotic art work. He said, "Yes! Yes! That one!" We laughed heartily and commented how the Americans are very much like the British in our prudery. India is funny. They've got a similar sheepishness about sexuality, but it's much older than British colonialism. I've learned from several audio tours that when the Muslim Mughals invaded and settled in India they brought with them their rules for separating men and women. The Hindus perfected the "jali," the carved stone lattice screens that women could stay behind to watch courtly activities while remaining hidden from men's eyes.

In the second temple a guide, who did understand that I wasn't going to pay for a guide to a one room temple, pointed upwards to the ceiling. He wasn't showing me another carving, but bats. Each dome had clusters of flying mice twittering and swinging by what looked like one toe each. The smell of ammonia has never seemed so unclean.

What's really nice about the carvings that decorate these temples and vavs is that all the figures are dancing or embracing each other. In all the churches and cathedrals I've visited in the US and in Eastern Europe, all the people depicted are either about to be killed or have just been killed. Christianity seems so morose, and come to think of it, self pitying by comparison.

I don't think I can adequately describe the complexity of the temple adornments, so I'll just suggest that if you have my FB link to go there to see photos of the red sandstone arches and columns and walls--when I have an Internet connection again to upload them.

It was getting on to be four o'clock so I decided I needed to get a move on it. I wanted to get back home before dark, which comes around eight pm here, and the bus ride would be about three hours. Given wait time and the connection I would have to make in Meshana, I really needed to be mindful of the time. Plus, the guy at the soft drink and bottled water stand outside of the temple park who insisted the bus came right by his place was rather drunk, odd for the only dry state in the entire country, so I was worried I might not be getting the best intelligence on transportation.

Needless to say I made it to Ahmedabad safely. I even met a young man on his way home from work who told me about the joys of living with extended family-he lives with sixteen people in all--and I tried to convince him that my 73 year old mother is happier than she's ever been living alone, not cooking for anyone but herself, and going out with her friends and traveling on her own schedule.

The entire day cost me probably six dollars. I don't know if it's my looks or if I really am a naive Midwesterner or what, but even on the eve of turning forty years old, when I travel and need help most people, bus conductors, kids at bus stops, and even drunkards, seem to bend over backwards to help me out and treat me like a lost little kid. And it's always the people who don't want or expect money who are the best. Well, I guess all of that is pretty obvious and universal. I think I really am a naive Midwesterner to think that's some profound revelation.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Monday, July 16, 2912. Udaipur

I can't help thinking about Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Kusay (sp?) every time I hear the name of the founder of Udaipur, Udai someone. And then I can't help but think of the Simpsons episode where Bart wants a little brother and claims that his father thinks he is one Uday who doesn't need a Kusay.

Udaipur is a city I originally had though of avoiding as the books describe it as India's most romantic lakeside city and overrun with tourists and congested with traffic. Surprisingly though, it is a much calmer city than I expected. Maybe it's just in the lakeside area where it's rather touristy, but I like it. It's a nice break from the rougher places I've been staying. It's less industrial and gritty. I also enjoy the fact that many little restaurants show the James Bond "Octopussy" movie every night at seven pm. Apparently a chase scene, perhaps with boats, was filmed here. I'll have to see it to remember. All those Roger Moore movies of my childhood blend together, even "Moonraker" with its space scene inspired by the Space Shuttle program and with the evil Jaws and his giant metal mouth. I don't know how our parents tolerated their two sons' love of everything Bond. Well, I know how Dad did, he loved the women. Otherwise...

So the ride here was by bus. I've heard the buses are much more dangerous than the trains, lots of collisions, but there is no rail line between here and Jodhpur. I got here safely, but the bus left before anyplace had opened for food and the road was pretty bad. There was a lot of construction and many times the detour was a improvised bulldozed dirt road around the work area. Things hurt after seven and a half hours of bouncing and jostling.

But I got to the hotel, which is down a little footpath between shops selling leather goods and blue washed residences, and found the amazing room I'd reserved on hostelworld.com. To get AC is a premium, but at twenty dollars a night, I can handle it. The room is windowed floor to ceiling on two sides with a view of the lake. Being five storeys up you can see pretty far. The windows have gauzy drapes of pastel yellow and green that billow when the overhead fan is on.

As this is a tourist town, the restaurants offer a decent variety of foods. There are a lot of European and Korean tourists so "continental" and Chinese food is popular. I had a delicious bowl of chop suey (I know, but so I did the Japanese tourists who came in after me) and then figured out the lay of the streets immediately surrounding my hotel. I wandered downhill probably less than a hundred yards and came to a ghat. It may have been a religious bathing area at one time, but now young people hang out and cows stand around crapping. A little down a ways there is a footbridge with seven arches--and turnstiles on each end to keep vehicles and cows off. Of course the water is filthy, I saw people come down to empty garbage into the narrow waterway that connects the main lake with another one just to the north, but young boys and even a few men were swimming during sunset.

With the water there are some different birds in the air too, including storks. Lots of them. At dusk I thought the storks were flying off to roost en masse somewhere, but I think storks are not flocking creatures. I squinted and realized the stream of birds was actually comprised of the largest bats I've ever seen. I'm used to the tiny mice that flit erratically. These were large graceful birds, some peeling off from the group to double back and retrace their path. Most streamed past my building while others detoured and flew right over me. Each one looked just like the Batman emblem. I guess modern life is quite out of touch and lives in reverse relationship to nature.

That was yesterday. Today I rested up and finished my writing about Jodhpur. I went out around eleven or twelve at do an obligatory visit to the city palace. I'd skipped the one in Jaipur and the one in Jodhpur. I figured I should see the one that proclaims itself the second largest in India. I'd seen the palace at Amer. This one definitely was big but I don't know if it was bigger than Amer. It seems to be more recent and had a lot of influence from the British occupation, at least the newer parts did. There were something like eleven different stages of development, one for each emperor or family of emperors who occupied it. I spent a couple of hours there going through the thirty point audio tour. I felt exhausted. Perhaps I've just seen too many sites to be awed anymore.

When I left I wandered back down to the waterfront I'd found the night before. Instead of young people and cows, in the middle of the day I found four weather worn women of varying ages at work. They were each with a tub of clothes doing laundry. I watched as one strelked a article of clothing with either a rock on one of the steps or a bar of abrasive soap. Another was whacking the soapy hell put of a pair of jeans with something that looked like a cricket bat. I didn't want to be obvious so I began walking down to the footbridge where I could get a view of the steps and maybe get a photo from five hundred feet or so. On my way a group of middle school boys passed me going in the opposite direction. Instead of the usual smiles and hellos, they started throwing a cluster of "fuck fuck fuck me fuck me fuck fuck" in my direction. For my own edification I called after them, "You might want to rethink that offer. You say that to a German and you may get more than you want. Some of them are into little Asian boys." My apologies to the one German girl I know. But from what I saw on late night tv in Macedonia pulled off the German satellite, those Germans take some pride in their fetishes.

I got the the footbridge and tried to get a few shots. I may have been too far away but I tried. As I stood there a young man told me I had a nice camera. I don't ever like a conversation that stats like that. "Where are you from? Oh, US? Oh, Ohio? Oh, hey, can I ask you something? I have one friend in California who says there is a big field where the government grows skunk. Is that true?" I tried to clarify that a skunk is an animal and I don't think the government wants more of those. I got the notion though that whoever this Californian may have been, he may have been speaking of skunk weed, which I think is marijuana. Perhaps bad, smelly marijuana. I've never been curious about drugs, so forgive my naïveté.

The guy continued that, no, not an animal (he looked confused), but like he is from Kashmir where they grow hashish. Yep, he was talking drugs. I guess this is how one lets another know he sells. I stopped him and asked if it was legal to grow hashish. He looked unsure but continued, "Why not? It is just a flower. It is natural. It is not chemicals, not like drug." I pointlessly countered that it was natural chemicals and that it was a drug. My comments weren't pointless, actually. I wanted to take some minor control of the conversation and not have him accomplish what he wanted to do. "Look, if you're looking to sell drugs, you've got the wrong guy. Maybe hippies come here looking for stuff, but not me. No thanks." "No, not hippies, lots of people, smart people, want drugs!" he argued, putting himself a a drug seller. I continued filling the air with refusals, "Nope, nope, don't care. Never touched the stuff, not interested. That's bad stuff, them drugs!" It was a little comical. He began walking away and he shouted at me, "Why don't you shut your mouth you asshole! My stuff is for people with money, not poor people like you!" To be mean, the more he raised his voice the more he sounded lie Apu from The Simpsons. I told him I'd shut up just, and I looked around to make sure who was and wasn't there to hear me, just as soon as he went and fuck himself. "What you say?!" he yelled. "Why don't you shut up before I throw you in the lake!" I may have lost weight on this trip but I could feel my belly shaking with laughter. It was so funny. Apu was storming off and yelling at me. I half expected him to call me Mr. Homer. I would never normally go into such an insulting vein, making fun of an accent, but here I'll allow myself. If you sell drugs, then you're a dufus to me, and I'll take whatever childish pleasure in insulting you that I can. It's my version of positive peer pressure.

When I got back to the room the power was out (karma?) so I went one flight up to the rooftop dinning area to put this wonderful day down in writing. I Got half way through when it started to drizzle. Perhaps the monsoon would serve Udaipur now. I went back down to my luxurious, powerless, and now stuffy room to finish my thoughts. Saddam's degenerate sons would love this place.

The Blue City

Saturday, July 14, 2012. Jodhpur.

So before I leave the blue city I should put down some words about it. First, Jodhpur was one of the reasons I came to India this summer. I wanted to see a city awash in blue. And I have, but expectations are a lousy thing. Is there any difference between expectations and romanticizing? Because I felt like I really had unrealistic expectations. I knew about the poverty, the litter, the pollution, but I still had this idea of a tranquil desert town with narrow streets lined with blue cubist houses. Dumb. It's any large Indian city, and city in the "old world" that happens to have a lot of houses the same color. I still feel something when I look out from a rooftop restaurant and see the blue cubist rooftops, don't get me wrong. It just is adulterated with lots of human urine and cow feces. Today I went to the older part of the city on the other side of the fortress, and saw a woman on a scooter pulled to the side of the street so her two or three year old daughter could step to the curb and do her business in the gutter. Whatever happened to holding it? It was right between a temple and a little open storefront with a man sitting on the step. I guess I need to realize I am an incredible minority in this world to have my own toilet at home and have no second thoughts about the price of water when flushing my business.

Of course, that brings me to the ride in. It was Tuesday night. I was on a train from Ajmer after a bus from Pushkar. The train was slow and it was raining out. It had gotten dark. I shared an AC sleeper berth with an older Indian couple. He began talking to me in English and had lots of questions. He was interested in traveling to the US and investing in real estate and wanted to know so many logistical points. It was a fun conversation and his wife said he hasn't talked so much in the past year. They both laughed heartily and he joked about how he used to read books--he had a house full of books--but not since he got married. The night was a thousand laughs. A thoroughly entertaining couple. Other than the laughter though, our conversation was kept at a low volume. He didn't want anyone eavesdropping and learning that he was well enough to do and getting into his bags.

Turns out he spent twenty-five years in Cameroon importing business suits from Hong Kong. I'm sure there's a joke in there about Indian businessmen. I think I saw that joke on tv while in Jaipur. At one point I edged in a question about India. It was about water. I asked, as I have wondered since before coming here, if India has been inhabited for at least six thousand years and the people here are no slouches when it comes to engineering and technology, why is it that the place is so filthy? I'd shown him a slideshow on my iPad of photos I'd taken recently, including a pictures of the filthy river by the Taj Mahal and a pig foraging in a garbage filled, red dye colored creek in Jaipur. I also mentioned the huge wealth India has, gold, iron, gems, some oil here and there, and agriculture. What gives with such a lack of clean water. It's an inconvenience for me, but a lifelong hardship for the majority of people who live here. His reply was politics. He said in the US we have a two party system. I thought he was going to slam the US here, but quite the opposite. He said in India there is a multi party system, perhaps a thousand party system. To get something started politicians form an alliance and begin work, but as soon as there is a disagreement the alliance splits up, money has been given out for projects, but no instructions or contracts. I may be embellishing there where memory fails, but just the end. I know he accounted for the money being wasted.

Before the train ride was over he introduced me to Indian snacks. He had a couple of bags of lentil based twiggy things flavored like curry with garlic, cumin, and all the spices. I like the idea of a snack based on a protein rich flour rather than corn. I to,d him about the corn syrup issue in the US and he began asking me about beer and pizza. Not in a critical way, but what could I recommend when he travels to the US. He'd had good cheesy pizza in Africa but couldn't get a decent pie in India. He missed that. And he loves a lite golden beer but all he could get in Africa was corn beer which made one full after half a bottle.

We exchanged emails and parted ways. The guest house I booked sent an auto-rickshaw driver to pick me up. I found out that the guide books were true and that Jodhpur drivers will do anything they can to trick you into doing business with them. I didn't give my name or the name of my hotel but two or three of the tried to claim they were there from my (unnamed) hotel to pick me up.

The drive through the dark, rainy city was eerie. It was something out of Bladerunner. We bumped over ever pot hole, wove through traffic that didn't seem to have any one or even two directions, nearly grazed other rickshaws and a few people as well. There was no telling where the road and sidewalk met. Steaming food stalls had people gathered round looking over their shoulders. Motorcycled ebbed and flowed past us. This night arrival was going to be different than when I got to Delhi. I wouldn't be shaken by the people sleeping in the recesses of old city gates or on empty fruit carts.

When I got to the hotel the owner greeted me and showed me to my room up several flights of stairs that Escher would have been proud of. I wanted to set my bags down and find my way to the bathroom as fast as possible due to the lingering intestinal issues from Pushkar. The owner, a very serene yoga practitioner, wanted to show me around the room. It looked good. He got the overhead fan and AC going. Again, the heat has abated here in Rajasthan, but the cooling monsoon has brought hellacious humidity. We needed to dry that air out, first thing. He showed me the bathroom and explained that it was best to keep the door shut so as not to lose the cooled air. Every bathroom I've seen here has a window without glass. The room can be 23 degrees Celsius, but the bathroom tile can be holding heat upwards of 38. I noticed the full length counter sink and was impressed with the amenities. No corner wash basin here.

The major thing he wanted to show me was the view of the fort. When he opened the curtains I sort of blew it off saying, yah, yah, I see, but what I saw was just the couple of blocks leading up to the mesa that the fort sits atop. When I stepped up to the window I had to lift my head to see the illuminated fortress through the rain. It filled the picture window from half way up to the top. This giant fortress bathed in amber light was an Indian Acropolis. Amazing.

My host left me to myself and I went about my business. Not to sound ungrateful, as I am sure I will, I started noticing things were not quite right. The first thing was the bathroom window. The outer portion was concrete latticework, and the inside was a screened window. The thing about lattice is that birds love it. If the window was two feet wide and one foot tall, a nest, or rather a family of birds nests, was packed between the lattice and the screen. A mass of straw and feathers and a few shiny gum wrappers for good measure filled the opening about half way up. And feathers seem to have been forced through the screen and a stream of them seemed to drip down the bathroom wall. I'd wondered why the nurse back in Columbus had been so emphatic about Asian bird flu.

After a full day of travel and being sick I was ready for bed. I'd been warned about stains on the sheets, but not hair. There was long black hair down the length of the sheet and on the pillow where it stuck out from its case. A wad of hair was wedged under one of the feet of the night stand as if it had been swept there. I swept all the hair off the bed that I could with another pillow. I found a light blanket to throw down for the hair I missed. Lights out by ten and I'd talk to the owner the next day.

The next day I didn't go very far. I got cleaned up and waited for the rain to ease. At some point I finally got out to find my way out of the alleys and to the main street. Before I left the hotel I talked to the owner about the hair and the nest. He said he'd have the sheets changed, but he'd have to call a guy about the window. I told him he could forget the window as long as hairless sheets were available. It was a deal.

After I had found something to eat and sat for a good long while staring into space thinking about my guts--when and if they'd explode again--I went back to the room and a little boy followed me up to my door. He either was one of the owner's sons or a very young employee. He spoke no English and grabbed my key from me. He wanted to unlock the door for me. The poor kid bumbled around dropping the key and then the lock when he'd gotten that off the door. He then put his palms together and bowed deeply. It was a little over the top for me. I can do without bowing and scraping. I'm not a king, a prince, or even a good dresser. I don't want anyone doing the least little things for me and then thanking me with a bow for the honor. He pointed to the sheets and pointed to himself. He had changed the sheets. I should take that into account when figuring up his eventual tip. The wad of hair was still wedged under the foot of the nightstand, but two out of three, right?

I did go out to wander some more with my camera. I walked around the hotel to the temple that rose up outside my window. A bunch of little cubicles seemed to be housing for various people and some men slept in the open foyer to the temple. A number of sewing machines sat around as well. Personal garment making and tailoring seems big in India. I hope that always stays so. A lot of people rely on that for income.

Around another corner there was a wide open space surrounded by a low red sandstone wall. I looked questioningly at a couple of guys sitting there and one said,"Step well." I asked if it was okay for me to get up on the wall and he said sure. Hot dang! It looked just like the moon step well I'd seen pictures of but missed on the road, well off the road, between Agra and Jaipur. When traveling by train you don't really get to make side excursions.

The well area was probably fifty feet across at water level. On one side was, I don't know how to explain, a flat wall with an arch recessed into it and two little roofed lookout points, kind of like lecterns in a church with columns that supported roofs that projected from building they were attached to. On the other three sides were a repetitive sequence of steps down to the water. Imagine standing at the top of a stone stairway, but there is a stairway going down both to the left and to the right of you, not in front. A cross section of a stepped pyramid, if you will. Now imagine this stairway repeating itself both horizontally around three walls and down the face of each wall. Each set of stairs going about nine steps before the wall advances toward the center of the well by about a foot and a half, and a new set of stairs beginning. I imagine that as far as step wells go this was probably an easy design, all right angles, but the sheer repetition is dazzling to the eye.

I roved around the top of the well for fifteen minutes taking photos from multiple angles. I'd winnow the wheat from the chaff when I got back to my computer. As I was about to leave one of the young men asked why I was taking so many pictures. I explained to him that step wells were one of the main reasons I was visiting India, that I knew Gujarat had a bunch of wells, and that I was excited to find one right around the corner from my hotel. He said that this well was dirty though. People throw a lot of trash down in it. I had noticed. He said that's because this was a Hindu neighborhood but Muslims had erected a little Islamic shrine at one corner. I had noticed the shrine while I was walking around. I first mistook it for one of those little Hindu niche shrines you see everywhere, but realized some Arabic motifs surrounding the opening where inside an oil lamp was burning. While we were talking, a small group of worshipers had assembled across the way in front of the shrine. The whole thing looked like Hinduism the way the people assembled around for worship. Funny how people always find their differences no matter how similar they are.

On my second day in Jodhpur the azythromyacin had worked its magic. It was like I'd never been sick. Referring to my National Geographic guide book I got some ideas about what to see. Close to each other on top of the hill were the fort and the royal cremation grounds. I know the second doesn't sound like fun, but as cremation is a major deal in Hinduism the royals build a virtual palace for the occasion. I hired a auto-rickshaw to get me to the top of the hill where I could start with the crematorium. Communication was difficult and frustrating as the driver wouldn't leave me in peace. He first told me, "Go up, drop you, that's all," but really wanted me for an all day fare. He followed my every step until I got my admission ticket and entered the site.

The grounds were beautiful with green manicured lawns and pristine white structures with lots of stairs and spires leading to heaven, or nirvana, or just the sky. Approaching the main building I had to take off my shoes. The place was free of bird droppings and it was an overcast sky. The marble wouldn't burn my feet like other places had. Seriously, I'm used to wearing shoes everywhere and Indian heat really soaks into tile and marble like I've never imagined.

I roamed the area enjoying the cool marble under my feet, but I couldn't help feeling disappointed in myself. I'd seen so many memorials and cenotaphs and amazing peeked and latticed palaces that they were starting to run together. I just couldn't muster the appreciation appropriate for a Hindu holy spot. I took pictures I would delete and then laced up my shoes and headed the half a kilometer over to the fort.

The fort was a continuation of my experience at the crematorium, satiation. I took a hundred photos and knew when I reviewed them on the computer I'd have to delete half of them. It's hard to not be in awe of one of the largest, most complete fortresses in India. I had some fascination, but when I'd gotten back to the hotel room I couldn't remember what I'd seen. I had a lot of close up photos of amazing stone lattice and of palanquins and elephant saddles, but only a few things stood out in my mind from the audio guide. There were the massive spikes on the castle doors to hinder enemy elephants, there was the original plaque from 1459 where a man had volunteered to be buried alive in the fortress foundation as a human sacrifice to try and negate the curse the hermit had put on the giant stone plinth when he was evicted by the emperor. And there were the memorialized handprints of some 36 or more wives of the emperor. At the time of his death and cremation, in the late 1800s I believe, his wives marched out to the pyre, touching the last gateway before committing "sati," the self immolation in their husband's cremation fire.

But like I said, a lot of it ended up being a blur. More memorable was dinner. At the foot of the acropolis I found a rooftop restaurant that offered a thali, the traditional sampler on a stainless steel tray for only a dollar. The curried lentils were delicious and the eggplant masala was the best eggplant I've ever tasted. I would eventually come back for more before I left Jodhpur. I sat there a long time watching the afternoon sun change the saturation of the blue rooftops around me and signaling the boys of the town to put their kites into the sky.

The nest day I decided to take a day trip out f Jodhpur. Jodhpur s Rajasthan's second largest city and I needed a break from the narrow alleyways clogged with scooters and auto rickshaws. I read about a small village named Osian. It boasted large temples of Hinduism and Jainism as well as some of the oldest temples in the area. About an hour and a half north of Jodhpur I was dropped off in the dusty little town. Right as you enter the city there is a cluster of virtually abandoned red temples. Nothing big, but three on one side of the road and two on the other. They sit sentry to a silent past, like the two feet of Ozymandias straddling the road.

The only sign was a metal stand put in place by the archaeological and heritage ministry warning against defacing the sites. The guide books only say that the structures date back to the 8th and 9th centuries. Amazing that these have sat here for over a thousand years and the intricate carvings of dancers, animals, and gods were in such good shape. The most damage was not from the elements and being out under the open sun and sky for more than three hundred thousand days, but, as I would hear later from an unofficial young priest class guide, was the Muslim invaders who hacked off parts of statuary in their free time.

I circled the two larger temples--probably two hundred square feet in area each. I took pictures, most of which I knew I would keep of the fine detail. The only sign of life in the blowing dust was a long gray bearded holy man in his wrap around pants and carrying a brass trident. For the life of me I can't remember what sect of Hinduism follows what god with the trident. The man looked like an aged, brown, wizened Neptune. I decided not to get any pictures with him in it, or to otherwise engage him. Holy men here tend toward seizing your time, holding you captive until you agree with everything you don't understand that they say and perhaps give them a donation as a sign of respect for god. I understand the faithful giving money to their church or religious institution, but demanding donations from those outside the faith seems out of order to me. I know the Catholic Church, which I loosely affiliate myself with is guilty of centuries of coercion, but in my life time I've only seen the reformed, make your donations in private, church.

Knowing that my time was limited I moved on into the city. I had a list of temples to visit written down on a note pad. I showed the name of one to a street merchant and he pointed me down a road. Set in a neighborhood like a post office or corner store I found the Peeplaj Temple along with a smattering of cows in and around the structure and pergola. Young people from five to fifteen wandered by me and asked to have their pictures taken. I obliged, having a hard time believing they weren't asking for pictures with me. A welcome change. I wandered off into the neighborhood in search of a purported step well. A young man led me through some back yards to the "baoli." This one was covered more in overgrowth than garbage, unlike the one in Jodhpur. And it was quiet and sunny. Just right for enjoying the visual treat of the Escher like steps going down six or more flights. Having my fill I wandered off and discovered more temples, some wedged between houses, some hidden among overgrowth and peacocks.

Before I left Osian I spent time at the Mahavira Jain Temple where I burned my bare feet on the sun scorched marble and met the priest who is mentioned in the Rough Guide and told me he worked with a professor from Penn State on her dissertation on Jainism. I also visited the Sachiya Mata Hindu Temple to Durga which was abuzz with pilgrims. Here the young kids of the Brahmin class, the class that considers itself the priests by their birth, not by choice or by any particular study, told me about the Muslim invaders hacking legs and heads off temple carvings, as well as the money grubbing Jains who won't let you into their temples without admission tickets. Of course each Brahmin said he was a priest, not a guide, so no money was required, except for the voluntary donation you might like to give, as you like, in appreciation. One Brahmin kid, about nineteen years old, asked me for a sample of my country's money, and if he could buy my watch and my camera--"How much for them? I like them, I want them, can I have them? I just like things from other countries." It seemed weird for a self described holy man to be lusting after material goods in his own temple.

After a lunch of chickpea curry and about four or five hours in the town I decided to catch the next bus back to Jodhpur. Most of the way I rode the bus standing up. An old man with a big white happy mustache and a shocking orange turban, seated so is eyes were at my hip level, couldn't take his eyes off the hidden zippered pocket he'd seen me take my wallet out of to pay the bus fare. I got back to The hotel in Jodhpur in one piece and without incident, ready to review my cache of photos. Unlike the massive stone forts, the intricately carved temples were calling to me. I was beginning to be able to identify the characters. Of course Ganesh was the elephant headed god, but now I knew that he was the son of Vishnu and Lachme. And if a male and female figure were carved next to o e another, that was Vishnu and Lachme. I still don't know the story of Vishnu kicking the cow or the water buffalo, or who the woman is who cut the head off the bovine animal and pulled a child out of the neck, but I was getting better.

My last day in Jodhpur, Saturday, I spent the morning arranging my next hotel accommodation and transportation. In the afternoon I walked up to the fort to go down the other side to the older part of the blue city, the original blue, Brahmin part of town. On the way down I came across the royal garden. It wasn't mentioned in the guide books and was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity. Even though it was outdoors like everything else, the lush green and shade seemed to help reduce the effect of the staggering humidity. Whenever a light breeze blew by, different aromas of flowers were carried past my nose. I can see why the rulers indulged in building gardens. And they even had day time and night time blooming sections. Pretty smart.

Down in the oldest part of the blue city it was similar to the part of town I was staying in, but somewhat quieter. At one point though, a small parade with a drum and two brass players came around a corner. Marchers behind them carried a palanquin draped in saffron colored sheets. The people looked in a celebratory mood with smiles. It looked like a saint day procession in a small Catholic country. I snapped a few pictures and asked a merchant what it was. He told me a monkey had died. I didn't know what to say. I asked if there were monkeys in Jodhpur. I hadn't seen any. He said there were and demonstrated what a monkey looks like when it gets electrocuted on a power line. I thanked him and went on my way. After an early dinner of lentil curry and eggplant masala I decided I needed to write down what I saw in Jodhpur.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Monday July 9, 2012. Pushkar

Monday July 9, 2012. Pushkar

Today I woke early and decided to conquer some hills. The city is troublesome. Too much panhandling, holy men scamming, and scooters and motorcycles buzzing pedestrians in the cramped alleyways/market thoroughfares. I figured that getting out would do me some good. I've basically rested the past two days other than going out for strolls and food. Actually had my first western food yesterday, pizza. Pretty good and satisfying.

So I headed toward the smaller, closer hill from where I'm staying. It's Monday and at 7:15 in the morning children were filling the streets in their crisp uniforms for lessons. I only had one word to help me get directions: mandir. That's all you really need. It means temple, and if you point up, everyone knows you just need pointed in the right direction to the temple at the top of a hill. So I wandered down a wide dirt alley until my view of the temple was blocked by houses and shops. An old man in a loose white shirt and those wrap around and under shorts and a turban sat on a low wall smoking something. "Mandir?" I asked, and he pointed up a path that once looked like it had been steps. He spoke several sentences that I had no way of understanding. I'm reading John Steinbeck's Once There Was a War, and just read the entry on Algiers where he says of American soldiers in North Africa, "...his actual speech is with his hands...his friends listen and watch and they answer him in Arabic or French and pantomime their meaning, and oddly enough they all understand one another." Funny how anything you may read has something to tell you at any given moment.

I thanked the man and began climbing. The difficulty with hiking in India isn't so much distance or roughness of terrain or even the heat. It's height. Most places you want to go have been gone to before. That's why you want to go, because someone went somewhere and built something interesting to see. What makes things exhausting to get to is that when someone built a path from point A to point B, point B usually being much higher than point A, they laid stone steps, most of which are anywhere from twelve to eighteen inches tall. I think in the US steps are something like eight inches high. So back in Jaipur when I walked the five hundred steps to the Ganesh Mandir, it was like doing five hundred lunges or deep knee bends. And this temple hill behind my hotel was a nice pointy thing. Just the right place to build a temple so the god being honored knew you weren't taking the easy road, literally or figuratively.

On the way I saw a few uniformed school boys, maybe high school age, lying on large flat rocks taking a rest. "No school today?" I called out. "Relax! Relax!" they called back. Some things are the same no matter where you go. Half way up I stopped to look around. I'd been hearing the distinctive whine and cry of peacocks. In the distance I thought I could see little dots turning in circles. I took out my camera and affixed the telephoto lens. I aimed at one speck and zoomed in. I could see three peahens tottering about wringing their hands thinking about the call of the male. Taking my eye off of the viewfinder for a moment it was suddenly easy to spot the peacock. He'd set his tail in full bloom and was turning slowly like a radar dish at the airport. It was maybe 8:30 or 9am and the sun was above the crest of the mountains and breaking through the overcast. The light was catching his tail and setting off the green iridescence. I stood for five minutes taking photos and thinking over the ridiculous things males of all species attempt to get a female's attention.

I don't know if peafowl can fly or not, but the females seemed to have caught the wind under their wings and glided downhill from where they had been. One cruised to a perch on a farmer's stone wall, another settled in a field. The male kept turning like the second hand on a watch.

I continued uphill for another ten or fifteen minutes. I didn't quite reach the peek. I reached a plateau area and someone had built a wall around the temple, which was built about four feet higher still. On broad upturned rocks and on the wall the message was repeated in paint, no overnight stays, no tobacco, leave shoes here. I thought about it. But not for long. I decided that where I stood was good enough. I didn't come to see the temple, I already knew what was inside. I was out for the exercise and had gotten what the hill would give me. I wasn't going to take off my shoes and walk around in the dust and gravel. And I wasn't going to do the easy thing and enter the temple grounds with my shoes on. Despite the ridiculous and scheming Brahmins whom devote Hindus I'd met detested I still had the common respect to follow the request of those who had painted the signs. I clicked a few pictures of the temple silhouetted by the bright gray morning clouds and began back down the hill.

In town I stopped by the little stall by my hotel where three women sell water, juice, and snacks. From what I've seen it's an unusual business. I haven't seen many women running many stores. I've seen a few, but very few. These three are very friendly and one speaks English with a scratchy voice and always waves to me with a big smile as I pass their corner. I don't know if they're sisters or widows or spinsters, but it seemed an easy choice to patronize their store. I got a liter of water for my next hill. I sat and drank a few mouthfuls while the one who talked the most shooed off a dog. The dog was a friendly little girl, small, slender, white and brown with perky ears and tail. She'd approached me and rubbed her nose affectionately on my knee when the woman grabbed a stick and warned her away. I know you can't give a street dog any sign of kindness unless you want a case of fleas and a constantly hungry shadow. I felt bad for the little thing.

Passing through the center of town I saw a fruit vendor pushing his broad wooden cart with four worn bicycle wheels. He was the first seller I'd seen in Pushkar with bananas. Everywhere else I've seen bananas, but here I've only seen mangoes and vegetables. Bananas were just what I needed. All I had for breakfast was a left over potato samosa from the night before and some mango juice. I was about to climb a much taller hill and Some potassium would do me good. I sat on the step of an unopened store and ate most of one banana. A dog sat on a step across from me. There was a bite left in the peel and I thought about the man who fed tomatoes to dogs the other day. Why not, I thought. I checked both ways for speeding scooters and crossed to the other side of the street. I placed the banana about a foot from the dog's nose. He shied away quickly but realizing I wasn't there to hit him he hopped to his toes and was begging at my feet, even starting to stand on hind legs to get a better look at whether or not I had anything better for him. No, no, no! Not like that! The banana! I blurted out and pointed. The dog got the message and went back to his seat, tail tapping on the stone slab step.

I turned to continue down the street and I saw a man seated in front of his store. I didn't know if he'd been watching me but I shrugged smiled just in case. He spoke to me, "That's not a cow. It won't eat a banana peel." Yes, because I can't differentiate a cow from a dog and I obviously needed the condescension. I told him there was banana, not just peel, and that I'd seen a man feed tomatoes to dogs so maybe the dog would eat banana. I figured a dog may eat anything offered it since there's not a speck of meat in this town. But he only half listened and spoke over me. "Yes, some dogs, but not all will eat tomatoes, but only cow eats banana peel. Which country are you from?" I wanted to give the Germans a bad rap, but I replied honestly that I was from the US. I didn't stick around to prove to him that I wasn't an idiot.

Around another corner I saw a man with a cart full of plastic toys smack a cow with a bamboo stick. It had begun rubbing its butt on his motorcycle like it had serious intentions.

I knew I was walking generally in the right direction but like with the first hill the closer I got the taller the buildings seemed and blocked my view of my target. I came to a fork in the road and asked someone, "mandir?" and waved my right hand down one road and my left down the other. The man smiled as he spoke and nodded waving to the left fork. I'll never know what anyone is thinking, but one Indian who spoke English commented, "Oh, you speak Hindi!" when I used the word mandir. Whatever people think I know or don't know, I'm deeply grateful that they don't ignore me and that they do so much to help.

It was probably another ten or fifteen minutes before the ground started to rise towards the hill. The city petered out and gave way to homesteads and farm compounds. The only vegetation in the sandy soil were skinny trees with leaves like miniature ferns. Women in flowing red and gold saris dotted the street. They were busy with their brooms that look like stiff horse tails, bent over brushing the sand back into place off the road. What looks futile to one person is maintenance to another. I'm sure a lot of things I do look in vain to others. Feeding bananas to a dog, for example.

Somewhere along the line I'd gotten nearly to the bottom of my liter of water. I came upon a little stand selling juice and water. I ponied up the fifteen rupees and got my tamper resistant, plastic sealed liter and was on my way.

Just before a small archway where the official trail to the temple began was an old lady under a straw canopy. She was selling drinks of water by the ladle out of perfectly round clay jugs. I've only seen the men who own no shoes and sleep on the sidewalks or on the steps of Krishna temples drink this water. I don't think many people have the flora in their stomachs to tolerate what lives in that water.

Inside the archway were red sandstone steps. They were smooth, deep, and short, maybe six inches from one step up to the next. This would be much easier than the first smaller hill. Just inside the archway was another old lady selling something. She help up a cellophane pouch filled with white candies. She called out, "monkey, monkey!" I don't know if the word for candy in Hindi just sounds like monkey, but I waved a no thank you and continued. The sandstone steps continued nicely for about a hundred yards before everything changed. The trail became just like the first hill, rough stones, really boulders, stacked in an approximation of steps. Each was between eighteen inches and two feet in height. I don't know if these rocks had been cut or if this is what had been found on site. Rather than following long slow inclines with switchbacks up the side of the hill the trail zigzagged up the spine. I didn't count how many times I stopped to sit and feel my hamstrings quivering, but I can estimate that I saw ten Europeans to three Indians along the way. Draw your own conclusions.

Maybe three fifths of the way up I saw a large monkey go bouncing across the path in front of me. Crap. That lady had meant for me to take candy to feed to the monkeys. Not that I felt I was going to miss a chance to feed the monkeys. I intentionally skipped the monkey temple in Jaipur because I seriously don't like the animals. It's nothing personal. I think they're cute and fun, but I'm just anxious about those long quick arms that grab anything shiny or that looks like food. All I need to do is lose my eyeglasses to a monkey on a mountain in Asia. No thank you. Thank god I didn't get any candy to draw any long tailed primates to me.

For the rest of the way there were monkeys here and there in the trees. Some were hanging out looking off into the distance, others watched me as I passed by. I eventually felt more at ease. I'm just surprised none of them caught wind of the second banana I had sticking out of the pocket of my camera bag. But what do I know about bananas and animals?

At some point half way up the mountain I began noticing something peculiar. It smelled like church. Incense of course is big in India. Is it possible that these were frankincense trees? A lot of people dislike the smell, perhaps due to forced attendance at mass, perhaps due to, well, any number of things, but I like the smell. It reminds me of the archaic ritual of swinging the sensor and the arrhythmic clink of the chain as the priest swung the incense over the altar. I may not have understood the meaning, but I guess it created a sense of mystery that I still look for. I'd like to think there's more to the world, either natural or human, whose meaning or purpose isn't explainable at first glance.

I knew that when I got to the top I'd have a choice to make. The same choice as at the other temple and at the ghats. Keep the shoes on and have come all the way not to go into the temple, or take the shoes off, walk around in pigeon droppings, see a plaster elephant smeared to obscurity in orange paint, and be coerced into a donation that's never going to be enough. The choice was obvious to me and I'll choose the same way nine out of ten times. Shoes stay on. I'm doing this for the exercise anyway. I'm a fat American. I use my vacation as a way to slim down. Walk, hike, sweat, learn a thing or two, take a few interesting pictures, and maybe meet some inserting people and share a few laughs. It's better than a treadmill.

After what seemed like two hours of lifting my entire body's weight a thousand times with my left leg and a thousand times with the right I came to the temple. Or more specifically, two shacks at a level area on either side of the trail. One was an unmanned stall for juice and water, the other was a shelter housing a stereo system where three boys alternated between broadcasting ambient, calming tracks of Krishna chant music for the foreign tourists and then blasting Bollywood hits for everyone else. I sat and watched the monkeys move in. One of the boys heard me saying no, no, no to one of the bolder ones and came out of the hut with a stick to swing. The monkeys scattered and the boy rejoined his friends. I watched one of the larger monkeys slip into the beverage stand. I don't know if a monkey can open a bottle of coca cola, but I'm sure he could do substantial damage trying. The kid must have noticed because he hurried out of the music stand and hurled a stone at the doorway where the monkey was. All,was safe again.

As I sat, a group of two couples arrived. We'd passed each other previously. I think they were speaking Portuguese based on how much and how little I understood of their conversation according to my mediocre Spanish skills. One of the men in the group, a black guy, was as soaked through with sweat as I was. I was glad to see I'm not the only one who shows physical signs when he's working strenuously.

After a ten or fifteen minute rest and monkeys staring at me I got up to begin the trek down. I was feeling drained. I'd have to make an effort to concentrate on my steps. Obviously it's not as much work going down so it'd be easy to lose sight of what you're doing and let an ankle roll into a sprain. I wanted to eat the second banana for the sugar but I didn't dare around the monkeys. I ended up going slower than I expected. Once or twice one ankle started to give as I landed. There was one point where I came upon a monkey in my path who wasn't going to move. I took a cue from the kid up top and picked up a stone and cocked my arm. I didn't have to throw the rock for the animal to give me room to pass comfortably.

I met a young Canadian couple who was on their way up when I was almost to about the red sandstone steps. We briefly exchanged stories of being accosted by the holy men. The girl said she had gone out without her boyfriend and was manipulated into giving up twenty-six dollars Canadian. She was told five hundred rupees per family member per blessing of good luck and prosperity. The Brahmin could take the rest of the month off with money like that. I warned them about the gypsy girls and the henna scheme. We laughed at the fading brown flower on my palm and went our separate ways.

From there it was quick work to get back to the hotel. My feet seemed to fall in front of me of their own volition. On the way I finished off the banana and tossed the peel to a couple of pigs who were rooting in the gutter. First I made eye contact with an old man sitting beside the road, pointed to the peel and gestured towards the pigs. His head bowed to the left and I assumed that meant okay. In town I stopped at the food stall with the three women. The talkative one looked a little shocked when she saw me. I must have looked a mess. My shirt probably had doubled in size from being soaked with sweat, and my big stupid green had had wilted over my face like a flower in the rain. I bought two bottles of Seven Up, one liter of water, and a package of plain biscuits. I had a feeling that I might not feel like going out again for food even though it wasn't yet noon. The soda pop was for the sugar and you can never have enough water.

When I got back to the hotel one of the owner's sons was hanging out in the lobby messing with his cell phone. I told him I went to both mandirs--I thought I should offer some explanation for my appearance. He thought he misunderstood and asked which one I went to. I told him the little one on the hill behind the hotel and the big one on the mountain. His eyes widened and he laughed, "People do both but not in one day. I never know anyone who does both in one day." I don't know if this spoke to my American toughness or foolishness. I told him I didn't feel so good and was going to go lay down.

It wasn't even noon and my body felt like it had been working in a mine all day. I spent the rest of the day between napping, running to the bathroom, and wondering what was wrong with me. It was my last night in Pushkar and I wondered how well I'd be able to travel the next day. With a fever I didn't know how well I'd be able to handle the rickshaw drivers and con artists at the train stations. At some point I decided it was time to try the medicine the nurse had prescribed for the trip. In an hour my guts had calmed down enough for me to go up to the rooftop cafe. I was able to eat some food and spend an hour or so watching the sun go down. Like thousands of nights before, the women of the town came to their rooftops and the monkeys perched on corners to watch the same thing. I continued to write until a gentle rain began out of nowhere. I went back to my room, laid down for the night, and woke at midnight with the chills.

The pills over the next two days did their job. On the train to Jodhpur the next day I would meet an older couple who warned me that not all water in sealed bottles was clean. The gentleman said that if people could counterfeit money, they could easily refill bottles from a dirty tap and reseal them to look like new, both with the safety ring that cracks when you open it and the plastic shrink wrap that covers the cap. I don't know if I got a bad bottle of water along the way, if it was the green lake water the Brahmin had me touch to my face, or if someone in along the way to whom I didn't donate enough had put a curse on me. In any case, western medicine straightened me out and I made it to Jodhpur in one piece. Maybe a few pound lighter, but none the worse for the wear.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

From day 2 in Delhi...didn't realize I hadn't posted it

So here's where things stand. Today for about $18 I was able to hire a car to take me around to the major sites of Delhi. I'm not thrilled at the idea of this kind of tourism, but this is the big city. There is no way to walk to see two sites in one day. Plus, that heat is a killer. Anyway, I don't know what all I saw today, it was kind of a blur, but here's what I remember best: the Indira Gandhi memorial museum, the Mahatma Gandhi memorial museum, Lodi tombs and gardens, and Humayun's Tomb. And I just realized that those all are concerned with death. I guess from what I know about India and Hinduism, that fits. Isn't it Shiva the Destroyer who is one of the main deities?