"Hey JimBo, remember how you wanted to pick some obscure point on the map and just go there purely out of curiosity? Read about Kota," the Spousal Unit said, tossing me the Lonely Planet Guide for India.
"By far the best hotel in Kota is the Hotel Brijraj Bhawan Palace, once the palace of the maharaos of Kota and also the former British Residency. This superb hotel sits on an elevated site overlooking the Chambal River and is surrounded by beautifully maintained gardens, complete with peacocks. Everything has been left exactly as it was in those unhurried days before socialist India swept aside the princely states."
"The lounge is awash with photographs of the former maharao and his son (now a general) shaking hands with everyone who was anyone during the '50s and '60s, from Indira Ghandi to J.G. Diefenbaker (Canadian prime minister) and Giscard d'Estaing (French president). There are more antelopes' and tigers' heads brooding over the diners in the period dining hall than there are live animals in the Ranthambhore National Park. The rooms, better described as suites, are furnished with armchairs, a writing table an Full moon #10 was very special - it coincided with the Unit's birthday. It was also to be our last full moon on the It Will Be So Awful It Will Be Wonderful tour. Immediately following it we would be hauling ass to Delhi for an eventual rendezvous with reality. The Hotel Brijraj Bhawan Palace would be the perfect location for a celebration. It was there that I plotted to surprise the Unit with a special birthday present.
Before Kota we planned to stop in Pushkar for the world famous Camel Fair. Pushkar is a small religious town in Rajasthan known for its many bathing ghats and Hindu temples. Once a year up to 200,000 people inundate Pushkar bringing with them 50,000 camels and cattle for several days of pilgrimage, horse dealing, camel racing and colorful festivities. The Rough Guide for India describes the action best:
"Hindus visit Pushkar all year round to take a dip in the redemptory waters of the lake, but there is one day of the year when bathing here is believed to relieve devotees of all their sins ... For five days leading up to and including the full moon [in November], Pushkar hosts thousands of celebrating devotees, following prescribed rituals on the lakeside and in the Brahma temple. To add to the flurry of colour and festivity, a few days before the main religious festival a large camel fair is held in tht tents, setting up camp west of town where night fires, delicious open-air cooking smells and harmonious tunes drifting through the starlit night, create an unforgettable experience."
"Once trading is underway camels and cattle are meticulously groomed, lined up and auctioned, while women dressed in mirrored skirts and vivid shawls lay out embroidered cloth, jewelry, pots and ornaments beside the herds, stopping trade occasionally to gather dung to fuel the evening fires. Cattle, poultry, sheep and goats are entered for competitions, and prizes given for the best displays of fruit and vegetables. Away from the main activity, the dusty ground is stirred up by vigorous camel races, noi As you should know from previous KlimaGrams, a battery of illnesses in India made all of the above fantasy. Instead the Unit and I are now in Colorado offloading collection agencies from our backs. Nevertheless we did make time for a small celebration at Jose Muldoon's, a Mexican restaurant in Boulder. The location was most auspicious since most of our overseas adventure was planned there over margaritas.
At this point in our re-acclimatization to American civilization a huge platter of cheese, beef, guacamole, and sour cream laden chips was beyond heavenly. We will probably never know what dinner at the Hotel Brijraj Bhawan Palace is like but it could not have been appreciated more than Jose's Nacho Suprema. And either way the Unit got a special gift that had been hidden in my pack since we stayed on a houseboat in Kashmir.
Extremely high quality wool is produced in the Kashmir Valley in Northern India. Shawls made from this wool are extraordinarily lightweight, comfortable and warm. The old men in the valley create beautiful patterns in the shawls using an unusual method called hook embroidery. The Unit, who knows her cloth since she has an undergraduate degree in textiles, had never seen anything like it.
A shawl vendor visited our houseboat soon after we arrived in Srinigar, the town adjacent to Lake Dal in the Kashmir Valley. He left several of his wares for us to contemplate along with his high prices. Each following day he returned at dusk to haggle. The Unit was traumatized because one of the shawls, an off-white one with lovely purple and pink flowers, was the finest she had ever seen yet each night's bargaining session ended in failure.
The day before we left Srinigar, I secretly enlisted the assistance of our houseboat proprietor, himself a shawl seller, to help me negotiate a reasonable price. We dispatched the Unit to the other end of the boat after she bid a despondent farewell to the lovely shawl and did the deed. You should have seen her face when as she saw what followed her back from India.
I am disappointed about missing the exotic places we planned to visit in Rajasthan but I'm not embarrassed that India has won again. On an earlier visit I hit the wall in Varanasi after a couple months and had to bail out for Nepal. Although the Unit swears she will never return, I am not so sure. India is unequivocally the most fascinating country I have ever visited. And absolutely the most trying. It is hard to articulate without sounding like a guidebook so I will simple repeat what I wrote prior "Ah, India - the love-hate travel destination of fluorescent colors where no tourist, rich or poor, can avoid the impact of a densely-crowded, infinitely-varied land of extreme cultural challenge. Even the budget backpackers test their mettle there. I will never forget the Englishman I met in Bombay during my first visit to India. I had only been in country a few days and was reeling from the strange sights, sounds, and smells. He had been there a few months, but obviously a few weeks too long. "This Englishman staggered into the Salvation Army hostel where I was staying. He was bug-eyed with a glazed expression that never left his face. "I've got to get out of this !@#$%^&* country!" He repeated it over and over like a mantra. "I've stayed too long. Couldn't find a bloody airline ticket in Delhi so I hopped a train here (Bombay) to try my luck. The bloody train was full up but I bribed a conductor to sell me a second class ticket. However, since, as always, there were no seats left, I rode first class.
One final comment - don't forget that before we arrived in India, the Unit and I traveled through England, France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Krygyzstan, Kazakhstan and China. It was a magnificent trip!
But why end this epic in such a serious vein? One last bit - I have a running vendetta with two nieces in Colorado. Once upon a time, as a practical joke, they secretly embedded finely-chopped green peppers into lime jello and fed it to me. Since I loath green peppers, watching me eat the tainted jello was a great source of amusement for them and, in my view, an unpardonable act. I should have known - who serves lime jello as an hors d'oeuvre?
I warned them before I left on this trip that, as I visited each country, I would seek the perfect opportunity to exercise my Law of Tenfold Retribution. India finally provided that chance. Being overcrowded and fairly impoverished, she has trouble providing adequate resources for her population. Nowhere is this more evident than in the kitchen where keeping the cookfires burning often requires great ingenuity. Dung fuel is a prime example.
The local herbivores, cows, camels and buffalo, consume large quantities of rotting vegetation when the cardboard and other trash in the street gets scarce. This produces waste which is combustible if prepared properly. The process is simple. The kids follow the animals around and scoop up the fresh droppings. Once several basketfulls have been accumulated, their mother finds a comfortable place in the sun and goes into production. She adds water and straw as necessary and kneads the mixture together I could not help noticing how closely these dung patties resembled peanut butter cookies. What a wonderful gift for the girls, I thought! After dinner I would offer them as a sweet. Of course I wouldn't let anyone bite into them. Just watching the girls innocently handle them would provide sufficient gratification to achieve honorable revenge. I'm not sure what their mom would say after she found out what I had brought to the dinner table.
The Unit and I went through U.S. Customs in Minneapolis. That is where my troubles began.
"What is this?" the inspector asked, holding up a plastic bag containing my dung patties. "You didn't declare any farm products." "Those are peanut butter cookies," I replied with a weary smile, "from India." "Cookies, eh? Not some of those funny cookies, are they?" "You mean space cookies? Oh no, those are much smaller."
I was tired and had said the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place. A short while later I found myself in a small office with three unsmiling customs officials. They opened the plastic bag and examined the smooth brown patties with handprints. "Tell us about your cookies," they demanded. "They don't smell very peanut buttery - must taste like sh*t." "Well, that's because that is what they really are." I confessed. "What! Are you trying to be funny?" "In India they use dung for fuel - let me show you."
I set one to smoldering in an ashtray. The familiar aroma began to fill the room like incense. "Can I go now? I'll miss my connection to Denver." "Sure, we don't want to keep anyone around who is deranged enough to bring home a souvenir like this but we'll have to confiscate these cookies - illegal agricultural imports." "They're yours." I said as I dashed out of the room, leaving the officials puzzling over how to extinguish the patty before the sprinkler system went off.
Okay, this last episode is a product of my imagination. My sudden departure from India and the circumstances which precipitated it precluded gathering any dung patties. Pushkar with its 50,000 animals would have been THE place! But I would have done it if I had had the time. How many of you could resist the temptation to literally smuggle sh*t past U.S. Customs?
Copyright (c) 1996 Jet City Jimbo. All rights reserved.