Monday, January 26, 2009

India VII: Odds and End

So I've been back in the First World for a month now, which means the statute of limitations on travel-blogging runs out at midnight. I leave you with these highlights and lowlights.

On an overnight train December 15 from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, I shared a cabin with an air force lieutenant. He said they weren't on alert anymore (they were for two weeks after the Mumbai attacks), which meant it was safe to hop on camels and head off into the Thar desert on the Pakistani border.

We rode on camels until we were sore and camped on the dunes out of sight of any other tourists, locals, or any other life form. Do this. It's kitschy, it's touristy, but it's FUN! We cooked curried vegetables over a campfire, drank Kingfishers, watched the sunset over the dunes, and slept out on the sand. We sang "Hotel California" and "Country Road" by the campfire. Our camel-driving crew nicknamed me Michael Jackson (because of my range and skin color?).

Oh, and just for the record, there are lots of filthy animals in India, but camels may be the filthiest. They swallow big chunks of shrubbery, then chew it, then swallow it again. This process gets repeated several times. Get the picture? Yum! The list of things I'd rather do than make out with my camel is very, very long.

The caste system may not be as formal as it used to be, but there's a clear distinction between upper and lower class. When I first flew into Mumbai eleven years ago, I traveled in style — first class on Air India (I don't miss my old job - hell no — but I do miss other people paying for things). I was kind of tired when the plane landed and took my time, but the flight attendants were in a panic trying to get me off the plane. You see, under no circumstances could the first-class passengers be allowed to mix with the rest, and so everyone else on the plane had to wait for me, no matter how long it took.

Things hadn't changed this time around, even though I've got one tenth the budget. I'm traveling on my own at this point and at one hotel it's just me in the dining room. Let's just say it's a bit awkward having two servants stand at attention watching me slop curry all over my face, watching so closely that they can remove it the instant I'm done. But this was less uncomfortable than the time eleven years ago when the locker room servant tried to help my boss off with his pants in the hotel gym. Really sir, let me help. True story.

But the employees don't just serve the guests. As far as I can tell they are virtual slaves to their employers, bringing them drinks, working around the clock, sleeping on fetid cots in the basement between shifts. One guy had to massage the temples of the fat shirtless hotel owner at the place I stayed in Jodhpur. Looked like an unpleasant task.

Ahmedabad, Gujarat is the worst place on Earth. There's no need to ever go there. Mt. Abu is the chillest place in Rajasthan. Go there when you need a break from the sweltering, polluted, overcrowded cities. Udaipur is mellow and the lake isn't as nice as it looks in Octopussy, but certainly a nice place to hang out. Jaisalmer is fun, Jodhpur is a polluted, overcrowded city, but the old town (right) is nice and the fort (left) makes it worth the trip. One local kid I passed strolling through the streets at night declared me the tallest man in Jodhpur.

Christmas Eve I had dinner at the Taj Palace in Mumbai. A month after the attacks the place was open for business and packed with tourists, including your fair share of Americans, Brits, and Jews (all allegedly targets in the attacks). So choke on that, you terrorist fuckwads!

There's no place like it on Earth. I'm dying to see it in ten years. Will the economy keep growing like it is? As the middle class gets bigger and richer will they feel compelled to develop some sort of welfare system for the hundreds of millions of wretched poor? Will they keep on having giant families and overtake China in population? I have no frickin' idea. But I'm sure I'll want to check back in on things again. For now, good-bye, India . . .


Unknown said...

This post (a gem by the way...not quite raw, plucked chicken status but pretty good) calls for a would you rather:

Make out with a camel one time or make out with a human who has smoked 2 packs of Camels every day for the rest of your life.

On the topic of camels I once met a group of girls who were discussing a product that would go in a girls bathing suite to prevent camel-toe...They had coined the phrase camel-flage for the product.

Is Phuta-T annoyed with my overuse of the "..." yet?

Mithridates said...

I'd rather make it with the camel once, no doubt about it. And can they come up with a similar product for men? There's nothing worse than coming out of the cold ocean with your suit clinging to the contours of your body, letting the entire sun-bathing crowd know that you're hung like a chipmunk.

Unknown said...

How about some duct tape like substance that you can offer to the gentleman in front of you in a yoga class that has decided to wait a pair of Umbros so he can hide his croutons for 90 minutes.

Maybe "grape-tape"

Phutatorius said...

C'mon, ONTRI — you make me out to be some kind of Punctuation Ogre. This is America: if you want to go crazy with "...," go to it.

Pull that signature Mithridates hyphen-for-dash crap, though, and I'll egg your house.

Mithridates said...

I just noticed that I wrote "make it" with a camel instead of "make out". It was a typographical error, I swear. It's not so much that I'm afraid people will think I'm into camels in a weird way, I just want to make sure no one thinks I intentionally use the expression "make it".

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