Exploits of a travel writer on the run. Subject: India

Monday, December 06, 2004

Shaken, Not Stirred

Well, the gig was up in Ahmedabad, and it was time to turn my sights towards Rajasthan. I was running out of time for my allotted time up north, so I was looking to turn it into a break-neck adventure, shuttling around the major tourist centers for a couple of days each. I planned to hit Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Mt. Abu. As it turns out, that plan was ultimately scuttled and I settled for a truncated version of that, having been kind of weakened by the touristy experience in Mumbai. I ended up visiting Udaipur, the Jain Temple Complex at Ranakpur, the mammoth Fort in Kumbhalgarh, and then over for three heavenly days in Mount Abu, the only Hill Station in Rajasthan.

One of the main reasons for this change of plans besides my flagging interest in doing what it seemed everyone was doing on the circuit was that I met a great travel guest on the train from A-town to Udaipur by the name of Werner Pasadeg. Hailing from a small but progressive town south of Munich by the name of Weilheim, he made for the perfect short-term travel partner: intelligent news-junky, philosophic-waxer, left-leaning politico and fun-loving beer enthusiast, as well as an avid trekker. With Werner pushing my lazy bones and less than optimal shoes (thanks Hush Puppies) to the limits, we managed to walk quite reasonable distances every day of the week we were touring, many of them in beautiful rural settings. Draping behind us was the stark semi-arid landscapes of the Aravalli Mountain Range and the friendly folks outside of the cities, we found places that were off the map, and enjoyed those moments of trusting for the right thing to happen, even when you're not sure it will.

I walked into my air-conditioned berth at the station in Ahmedabad, not sure who my roommate would be. I saw from the posted list on the outside of the train car that it was a westerner, but I could not place the surname Pasadeg -- perhaps it was Russian? I arrived first, and after getting my pack safely stowed away, I found myself fretting a little while waiting to see who I would be spending the night with in the cramped, if comfortable, quarters. I had just had some somewhat unsavory experiences with group-think behavior Germans in Diu, so I had the once-bitten complex about meeting another Kraut. Or any westerner, for that matter.

All the same, he arrived, and we hit it off almost immediately. It probably didn't hurt that he had brought a bottle of imported whisky, called Bagpiper (just an aside, it has a hilarious mascot on the label-- he has the body of Scot, with the Tartan Kilt, bagpipes, and silly kneesocks, but his head is clearly a Indian Raj with turban-- y'know, curly mustache and all) , and we started to sip on it just as the train started moving. I was nursing a cold, and had just taken an antihistimine to rule out allergies, so I knew I was going to be heavily medicated for the evening. Which wasn't a bad thing, because at that point I hadn't gotten entirely acclimated to sleeping horizontally while moving in a train-- it's a sort of rocking from head to toe motion perpendicular to the direction of the train that I wasn't used to, and it took me a long ride a couple of weeks later to finally get accustomed to my organs slipping and sliding in those directions-- so a little dope up was a good idea so that I would be at least half-fresh the next day.

To Werner's credit, our conversations was so rife with revelations about our similarities and affinities that I was up and down in bed half a dozen times before finally succumbing to sleep. When we woke up four hours later just fifteen minutes before our stop in Udaipur, we agreed to hang out and split costs at least through Udaipur. This ended up being a godsend for my finances-- after a costly week in Mumbai, I needed to make up some ground on my $20 per day budget. That particular week clocked in at $13 per day, and I was almost where I needed to be at the end of it.

Udaipur is where the James Bond "classic" Octopussy was filmed, although I must admit it had been so long that I neither remember nor wanted to see the film at one of the half dozen restaurant that was playing it in town for a sort of dinner and a movie package deal. Didn't seem to matter since I was in the presence of the real thing, a fantastic amalgamation of Western, Hindu and Islamic- styled architecture called Indo-Saracenic. But I admit that it was exactly like living a Bond film there, except for the fact that I wasn't wearing a tux, didn't pack heat, didn't get any space-aged gizmos from headquarters, and certainly didn't get laid. Not to say that Werner and I didn't frequent the Dream Haven Restaurant every morning, where it seemed an international ensemble of Bond-worthy backpackers had breakfast around 10.

Tomorrow: more Wernerisms.

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