RAJASTHAN PART 5
Udaipur – for a friend, January 03, 2016
It took me a while to fall in love with Udaipur. The night had a stillness to it. As if I had reached some forgotten town from the Bollywood movies of the eighties. It was January but not that cold. For some reason I was expecting Rajasthan to be much – much colder than Delhi. But it was not. And in that quite of the night I felt a tiny shred of cold run through from behind my ear down my neck. A drop of sweat. As wayward as I had become. I hailed an auto. And bargained hard and in this case I talked him down from – 50 rupees to 40. I could have said 30 but I knew better. I was running out of autos to hire and it was already 1 AM.
I’m looking for a hotel. I said.
Okay Sir, I’ll take you to 4-5 hotels .
We drove for a while – at least that is what it seemed like. And we reached this place called Udaipole. The first hotel he took me to was for 2000 INR a night.
No! Are you kidding me? I don’t have money. Cheaper. I told him.
Alright sir. This should do. He said stopping outside another hotel.
I should have guessed what he was thinking. Single guy. Tourist. One at night. He would probably accept the first hotel I take him to.
Not me. Not anymore.
Listen. I want the cheapest hotel available. 1000 is too much. I don’t have that much money. And I wasn’t lying.
Then he took me to a cheap hotel. We drove right into darkness. He banged on the white iron gate for a while and when no one answered, started shouting in indecipherable Rajasthani. And then I heard a rustle, someone got up, the poor guy’s foot probably hit a desi tharra botal which quietly rolled to a corner – probably too tired to resist. Then I heard a series of yawns and some mumbling and finally the gate opened – grunting and squeaking in the quite of the night. Through the narrow opening I could see the silhouette of a man -tall and heavy – and too drunk to stand still. They had another conversation in Rajasthani and he ushered me in.
Kamra kidhar hai? I asked.
But I had already made up my mind – I’m not going to stay here. I don’t remember what happened next. Maybe I came up with some smart excuse and they decided to let me go or perhaps I ended-up sounded dumb and unconvincing for having woken-up a drunk man from his induced sleep and sultry dreams of Vidya Balan in Dirty Picture dancing to the tune of tu hai meri fantasy or Mandakini wrapped in a white see-through saree in Ram Teri Ganga Maili saying garibon ki paathshala to unka dil hota hai or whatever but I do remember walking out in a fit of rage and telling the driver to take his money and (very politely) to bugger-off and the two men quietly did as told.
I managed to send him off but he did not leave before saying – Itni raat ho gai hai, budget bhi nai hai. Kaun kamra dikhaega! Huh! And he drove off phat… phat phat… phat phat phat phat phat… drrrrrrrr
I was the only person on the street and everyone else was either asleep or drunk and I was neither so that gave me an upper edge. I managed to find a hotel in a lively corner of the street – well-lit. Hotel Haridarshan. And at 550 a night, cheap too. I walked in, asked the receptionist to take me to a room and when I liked it, I took the key from him, left my luggage, locked the room and climbed downstairs to the reception for formalities.
I had made it a point to not speak more than necessary. So I had been speaking in short brusque sentences. Partly because I was tired of the whole drill and partly because I wanted them to take me seriously. Room. Show. Good. Keys. Need ID?
Little did I know that my attempt at feigned maturity had been confused for inability to speak and that fired their worst fears and a little curiosity. So the receptionist tried to explain to me – Form C. No. No foreigners. Which country?
Which Country? Kya bol rahe ho bhaiya? Indian hoon.
Oh, he sighed. We thought. You Chinese. You speak Hindi. We knew you Indian. Actually no Form C registration. Therefore no foreigners. From Dilli?
Saale ko kaise pata? I thought.
I loved the room. It was clean and spacious. The mattress was good and that’s all that mattered. I asked for water, had a little something and headed off to shower. At 2 AM, yes. I did laundry and was finally ready to sleep. I called mom and dad. That’s how sweet they are. They asked me to call every time I changed cities and checked into a new hotel.
I slept well but could not sleep longer. I had a breakfast of poha and headed off for sightseeing. It was difficult to find a city sightseeing bus but ultimately managed to get one through Jain Paraswnath Agency at Udaipole for 450 INR. The bus was quite huge and there were only five of us. So it was inevitable that the tour get cancelled.
We were on a double-decker bus with an open rooftop. I looked back at other passengers. A woman in her forties, a man in his early fifties, a little girl in her tens – all talking at the same time – ecstatic – and another guy – sitting quietly, trying to save his head, without much ruckus as the bus swayed and branches hit the sides of the bus. I should have known he was traveling alone – because he could not have belonged to that noisy family. It was when our stop arrived – that we first got to talk.
Hi, I’m Nawal. I said extending my hand to shake his.
Hi. I’m Pratik. Are you traveling solo?
Me too. Then.. Let’s tag along. He said.
Our first stop was Dudh Talai – a small pond located adjacent to Lake Pichola, near Shiva Niwas Palace, in the heart of Udaipur. There was nothing much to see really except to ponder over how green the water looked and how utterly ghastly and incredibly repulsive it would be if I somehow fell into it. So we decided to head to the rope-way – which Pratik called Udankhatola. I was like – really! Who calls that? The rope-way was fun and then we headed off to Lake Pichola which is like – the thing – when you’re in Udaipur. Lonely Planet describes Lake Pichola as the most glamorous lake in Udaipur. Pratik showed me around the bazaar and then we went back to our bus. I bought a card reader for 40 INR to copy all the photos to my laptop.
Our buswallah arranged another buswallah for us. The family of three that was at the rooftop with us had to leave and it only made sense that we go with another tour operator. It would have been really silly for us to drive around Udaipur like that – just the two of us in a whole bus. So we happily agreed. Besides this new bus was air-conditioned. The bus had been privately rented by a family so while the kids occupied the upper deck we were more than happy to sit inside on really comfortable lounge sofas peering out through glass windows the size of doors.
Our next stop was Sajjangarh Fort. Sajjangarh Fort has the reputation for offering the best sunset in whole of Udaipur. What a pity we could not wait until the sunset. There was some park that we were supposed to go to but instead we chose to go to the fort above. Sajjangarh Fort is a palatial residence built by Maharaja Sajjan Singh of Mewar Dynasty and is also known as the monsoon palace. We bought a two way ticket for the fort above, a jeep ferried us up and brought us down. The fort was majestic and awe inspiring. It took us a while. To be honest we were late by more than two hours. Once we returned the bus was gone. Pratik still had all his belongings in the bus. He hadn’t checked into a hotel and was to leave for Ajmer and Puskhar at night. It wasn’t a big deal for me. We called the buswallah and learnt that he had reached Saheliyon Ki Baadi, a park. The conductor however was left waiting for us. He asked both of us to pay 50 rupees each so that we could take an auto to the bus. I refused to pay. He said we would have to walk if I did not pay. I said I could walk whole day if he wanted and started walking. He had to give in and paid most of the bill and we ended-up paying 10 rupees each.
Saheliyon Ki Baadi, a park, was laid for a group of forty-eight young women attendants who accompanied a princess to Udaipur as part of her dowry. It was the much needed respite – greenery in the sweltering winters of Udaipur. We sat there for a while chatting about Udaipur and then tried to contact the guy who had accompanied us to the park for Pratik’s luggage. Once we had his luggage in tow – including kilos of prashad from Nathadwara – we took an auto to Lake Fatehsagar where we spent the rest of the evening doing what we loved. As Pratik sat listening to the lake and watching the sun go down I borrowed some time for myself to go around and take photographs.
Once it was dark we had tea and headed off to Udaipole. We left his luggage at my room in Hotel Haridarshan and went out for dinner. We went to a famous hotel nearby for Daal-Baati-Choorma. My first bite of Daal-Baati-Choorma flooded me with an onslaught of flavors and textures, as resplendent, self-sufficient and enigmatic as the name itself. After this everywhere I would go – I would have Daal-Baati-Choorma for the rest of the trip.
Before we went for dinner however we walked-up to Jain Parasvnath Agency for a refund as our original buswallah left us with another buswallah who then left us in the middle of nowhere. But the guy was such a sorry son-a-bitch he refused to even talk and then we were like – you know what – fuck-off and left.
We returned to my room and Pratik said that’s a nice gear you’ve got – looking at my backpack and then we talked about travel and he said travel light. You don’t have to carry such a big moisturizer bottle. And I was like – really? It’s because I did not have the time to buy a smaller one.
I accompanied Pratik to the state bus terminal where he bought a ticket to Ajmer and Pushkar. I helped him board the bus and waited until it left. I walked back to the hotel. I could not stop wondering – what if this Jain guy was following me? But soon other thoughts took over.
I was quite overwhelmed by what had happened over the past few days. I had lived more in these few days than all these years of being alive. I just couldn’t believe the way things had panned out – so perfectly. The people I had met and the memories we made together. With perfect strangers. Wasn’t this the way I was always supposed to be living my life? I had learnt more about taking risks, accepting things, saying yes to possibilities, trusting people, trusting myself, heeding the gut feeling, having the courage to walk alone, having the courage to make friends and having the courage to let them go – just like I had let Pratik go. Yes there were times when I would have wanted someone to be with me – like when talking to the Jain guys or when the buswallah left at Sajjangarh fort or that new year night when I would have spent the night alone but somehow stumbled upon Deepak and Sanjana and had a great time. But yes there were times when I was perfectly at ease alone – even at times when I should have been worried – like that walk down Jaigarh Fort in utter darkness, like reaching Udaipur for the first time at 1 AM and walking alone in the street, like tackling a drunkard and a cunning autowallah alone.
In the grander scheme of things this trip had started to mean way more than just a vacation to me – it was making me stronger. I believe our lives too are so much like solo trips. Our parents, siblings, spouses, kids, friends, cousins, kin, acquaintances can only walk with us so far. Some trips have to be made alone.
I returned to my hotel and gave mom, dad and didi a call.