Our sleeper bus leaves for the city of Udaipur in the desert state of
Rajasthan in about two hours (8:30 p.m.). We are paying 300 Rupees (less
than $10) each for a 9-hour "luxury" ride. We weren't sure if we should take
the train because they were going to overcharge us for making a late
reservation - an extra 3 dollars!!! So we took the bus instead. That's the
long story short, but the overall theme is there.
In the short time I've (we've) been here my way of life has changed. My
perspective, expectations, standards, taste buds have changed. This country
(er, the few cities I've seen that represent this country) is much different
than home. Home meaning the U.S. At least that's what I tell all the staring
mobs of locals... "The U.S.A." or "U.S." or "America," which seldom leads to
a more specific "New York" or "Florida." But it's interesting that people
don't know what country I'm from just by hearing me speak. All they hear is
English and are satisfied with learning I'm from the U.S. before walking
away. So I've started to realize I'm someone from the U.S. and have U.S.
traits, mannerisms, MONEY. I'm an American? What about all those other
sub-classifications? They don't matter here.
Celia was saying yesterday in the pilgrimage city of Champaner - where big
white monkeys roam free - that it is WE who are the monkeys. People hound
you on the streets, they gawk at you shamelessly. Parents point us out to
their kids. They ask us to take pictures of them, though of course they'll
never get copies....I signed an autograph yesterday. We've started referring
to the gazers as competitors in a massive staring contest...and we always
end up winning the matches. We wonder, "Would it be possible to out-stare a
group of 12?" That would involve some serious strategy.
In the section of Mumbai where we stayed for a week to acclimate, people
seemed jaded. They were incredibly money hungry, manipulative,
materialistic, and we started getting cynical. Don't get me wrong, the city
is really interesting and I was tempted to stay for a while to shoot an
essay on foreign/white Bollywood extras. But once we left the city we
regained our romanticism. Sorta. We're getting used to the mundane things
and the general discomfort, but are always impressed by the street scenes,
interactions with people, the infrastructure, etc.
Anyway, we stayed with an elderly man named Girish Raval and his family in
Vadodara (try pronouncing that correctly) through an organization called
SERVAS. It's a cultural exchange program with members around the world. He
hosted us and talked/yelled our ears off for a couple of days. What an
eccentric guy. If you've ever seen the Lion King you'll understand who
Rafiki is. Well, we refer to him as Rafiki Raval. He was in our face almost
24 hrs/day yelling directions, wisdom and making sure we had exact plans for
every minute. Raval wanted us to share our knowledge of the West with him.
We got about three cohesive sentences in. He stuck us in his little van and
drove us around the dusty streets to show us off at different friends'
houses. We would all walk into a home unnanounced, sit in a bare living room
and get served snacks and drink chai tea until we were ready to explode. And
Rafiki yells and we go to another home and repeat. And its rude to turn down
At the end of the night we went to a tiny restaurant (most restaurants are
tiny) and ate more. Celia and I on one side of the table, Raval and his old
friend on the other. We whispered in English on our side, they whispered in
Gujarati on their side, and yelled cross the table into each other's faces.
We pried ourselves free of Rafiki Raval's death-grip hospitality and
caught what you might call a bus to Champaner. I should mention now that one
of our goals is to visit places off the beaten track. It'll get us better
photos, a more realistic view of the country and will save us money. All
those one-dollar meals really add up, ya know! So we found Champaner in our
Rough Guide book near Vadodara and decided to give it a shot. There's a
ruined Muslim capital at the bottom of a giant hill/mountain, and at the top
a really cool Hindu temple. The middle-class Indian touristy site was
bizarre. Like Disney World on the thin surface but really rough otherwise.
Vendors living perfectly happily (it seems) in utter squalor, selling weird
items to Indian pilgrims on a recently-paved path up the mountain.
I gotta catch the bus now, so next time I'll write about how a guru may have
married Celia and I in the temple. We tell people we're married anyway so
they leave us alone, so it'll be easier to say without feeling guilty.
Uh oh, the Internet guy's trying to charge us more because he says we broke
the keyboard. Bye!