“Was it a credible future? Was it an incredible past? Whatever the answer, it was an immense escape from the actual.” -Henry James, The Alter of the Dead
Hello Friends. Happy Holi. I’ll get to it, don’t worry; you look older when you worry.
Keap and I had a nice pretend life in Goa. Eventually I decided it was highly impractical to cart a puppy around India, and had to leave her with a shelter there. It was terribly hard for me to drop her off. I cried in public. Twice. Before this, I posted a bulletin on an online Goan community board, and then I went to Mumbai immediately to put some distance between me and the situation/unstable emotional territory I’d wandered into. Another bus ride, another early arrival, another opportunity to be cheated out of a bunch of rupees by the rickshaw driver. I checked into the Salvation Army hostel, the first hostel in India I’ve stayed in yet. There, I met a mah fellow American Amme, who I found out was headed in the same direction as me. We decide to head to the train station to get tickets to Udaipur. They’re all sold out, but she gets on the waiting list while I opt for the considerably cheaper bus option.
I would have liked to spend more time in Bombay, maybe be an extra in Bollywood, but my timing was such that I could only stay two days max because I wanted to be in Udaipur for the big Holi celebration. So not too much to speak of in Mumbai except that I received a reply to the puppy posting, which told me the shelter I’d left her at practiced euthanasia because they had so many dogs coming through, up to 30 a day. Obviously, I panicked. I wrote the shelter and told them if it came down to her not getting adopted and having to be put down, I’d come back and take her. I was worried I was already too late. Bad day. I got an email back from the main office in the UK from a guy who promised me he’d call them at first light and see if she was ok.
I had a bus to catch. Amme was getting nervous about being able to board the train, so she came with me to take her chances on getting a bus ticket. We were told it was a 16 hour journey from one source and 27 from another. And we have seats, not a sleeper. It was a wonderful and much less stressful turn of events to ride with a buddy. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “fun filled”, but it went by pretty quickly and it was really super to laugh with another American. It was a government bus, which meant we were the only westerners aboard and they set us up in the front seats in a kind of glass enclosure. It was a lot like being in the zoo. A bunch of strange looks and mysterious conversation you know is about you and probably something to the effect of, “look honey, they scratch themselves just like we do!”.
In Udaipur, I got another email telling me Keap was not only fine, but “very cute” and will most likely be adopted. If for some reason she is not, they have agreed to hold on to her for me until the end of April. So that’s just great. Amme and I set up at a hostel in Udaipur where we met a guy Gary from London and Jason from CA. It’s really nice to have friends around, but at the same time a strange feeling because I’ve been on my own for so long and only in the last week or two have had constant human contact. I almost feel less like I’m in India, but I don’t so much mind the break.
Then Holi begins. Holi is the India-wide hindu celebration of the beginning of spring. I’ve been looking forward to it since I arrived and planned very carefully exactly where I wanted to be when it happened. I didn’t know too much about it except that it involved throwing bright and various colors all over other people in the streets and is celebrated virtually all over India. Despite my brewing excitement, I was warned a number of times by locals to stay indoors on the big day to avoid certain dangers inherent to big drunken public holidays. But I was not to be deterred, this was what I’d been waiting for. Besides, I wasn’t going out alone, I was traveling in a pack with Amme and 4 guys from the hostel, so I didn’t anticipate anything I couldn’t handle. The night before the paint, there was a big party in the center of town, at the main temple. That day there’d been bundles of hay all over the roads and I’ve never sneezed so much in my life. That night, they set fire to the bundles and bonfires seemed to lurk in turned corners where you least expected them. There was a massive bonfire set up in the middle of town, but not yet ablaze. When we showed up, people were crowded around the hay and a stage upon which were two types of dancers: western and tranny. In India, though it is the norm for grown men to hold hands in public out of friendship, it is not acceptable to be gay…unless you are also a transvestite. Then no one bats an eye. So onstage were two lovely ladies accompanied by a few poor tourists who seemed to be there of their own accord. One of them looked like Gandolf. Hat and beard and everything. Amazing.
Eventually the time came to light the bonfire. There were a lot of people packed into the space, so the cops came around with sticks waving and warned everyone to move back. Then they laid out a perimeter of firecrackers around the hay and down the street. I was standing in the front, about 2 meters from the firecrackers, unafraid. I couldn’t see when they set off the train, but I heard it loud and clear, and this was confirmed by the large amounts of people and mayhem running out of the streets into the center. Of course when the fireworks started getting closer, I panicked like everyone else and tried to push back, back in the crowd, screaming and yipping like a little girl as the explosions nipped my ankles. But this was not enough. Once that danger had passed, I had to go around to see the point where the fireworks met the hay. I should also add that there were further fireworks taped to the hay pile. I had my camera out to take a picture, but the moment I aimed, there was a huge explosion and I jumped back once again. The setting was accidentally on video, so I captured that moment pretty effectively. I should post it in the next few days, with any luck.
Next day, we gather our forces and ammunition, don our white clothing and head out into the streets. All is full of “Happy Holi!”, and color color color. The nice people walk up to you, dip their hand into their paint dust and smudge it nicely on your face, and maybe give you a little hug. The mean people and children throw it in your eyes and up your nose and down your shirt and the really mean ones try to nonchelantly grab you as they hug. Then you yell and a policeman comes with a giant stick and chases and beats the offender. Unfortunately, they beat a few people who weren’t causing trouble as well, but at least I felt like they were looking out for us. Basically, the danger people had warned me about boiled down to the attempts of groping by drunken men to whom women, especially western, are taboo. And while this was very disrespectful and terribly annoying, I never felt myself in any mortal danger, and overall enjoyed myself. By the end of the day, I was absolutely covered in paint. It still stains some parts of my body, and I think it might be a few days to really get it all off.
I was all set to leave Udaipur for my next destination and say a sad goodbye to Amme, but because I’m such a good time, she decided to go where I was going. Yay! So we head to a charming little place called Bundi. My plan was to first visit the biggest fort in Rajastan in a town called Chittor that was on the way. Our bus from Udaipur arrived early in the morning and the bus to Bundi left later that night, so we had plenty of time to see the fort.
However, as we tried to leave the bus station, we were met by armed police officers who denied us entry to the road. It was strange, and we couldn’t understand why, but ok, we’ll take another exit. On the other side of the station, we tried to hail a rickshaw, but the driver informed us that both the road and fort were closed. We misunderstood him to explain that the closure was a result of a hindu/muslim holiday. Of course, this makes no sense and does not explain the presence of the entire police force, and we finally find out that in actuality the fort and road are closed due to hindu/muslim fighting that broke out the day before, leaving over 30 shops on fire. Today, there was a curfew and nothing was open. And there were no buses out until the evening, so we had some time to kill. We found one restaurant that was open and set ourselves up there, ordering a ton of food, watching Battlestar Galactica on Amme’s iPod and playing card games on a deck we made ourselves out of index cards. So there, ill fated fort expedition. So there.
Bundi is small and covered in pale blue. It’s a beautiful, quiet little town where the people are friendly and the mattress squishy. There’s a massive palace and fort complex on the hill overlooking the city, and we took a small part of today climbing up there to see what we could. The palace was impressive, but we were mostly concerned with the monkeys, which had virtually overrun the entire complex. The guidebook warned to bring a stick, but we had no idea what we were in for. They were everywhere, that house was theirs. They growled and shook their ears at us. We threw rocks and hissed at them, but eventually made a run for it.